Saturday, February 24, 2007

Who am I and what am I doing here?

Well, I was just reading Dean Dad's recent post on the short tenure of Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs, known in my Uni world as Provosts. And I have just been thinking about the pluses and minuses of provost (and other central administration) positions myself...

I have long wondered at the phenomenon of new Presidents who get hired at a university and quickly "sweep the decks," replacing most of those people (Provosts and Deans) who work for them. I understand that Presidents or Chancellors need to trust their Provosts thoroughly, since they do so much of the heavy internal lifting. Yet, sometimes the changes seem quite reactionary.

At one school where I worked, the new President came in, spent less than a week with the new provost, and summarily fired her, giving her a day to clean out her office. And this woman was amazing! I know she had herself on the market, because the slashing and burning of academic administrators is a longstanding trend and she was very smart, but it seemed to me at the time that he didn't even give her a chance to prove they could work together. And I believe that the university lost a great administrator.

That lesson remained with me as I took my first academic administrative position. I am not unaware of my own strengths (smart, creative, willing to take initiative, hard-worker) and my weaknesses (quick to forcefully share my opinion, a little cynical about power and its expression, and an unrepentant feminist, which some can see as a weakness). I know that some people are turned off by my directness. Though I am still a tenure-track faculty member, my administrative job is at the pleasure of the Dean, and I am aware of tenuousness of my situation. Add to that that I was hired without tenure, and it can make a girl pretty nervous.

Shortly after my hire, my Dean announced that she was going to retire, and we were conducting a search for a new Dean. Cue the shark music from "Jaws"...

Actually, I was happy with the new Dean--her style is understated and she is a quietly forceful person with a good mind. I also was pleased to be asked by the new Dean to stay on in my administrative position. I was also cautious, because she didn't really know me yet. You never know how long the good will will last or how well we will get along. So, I have soldiered on with the varied administrative aspects of my job, and for the most part, all has gone well. I still don't feel like I know the Dean well, and I don't know how long I will stay in this level of position.

But when I look ahead to jobs up the administrative ladder, particularly jobs in central administration, I worry about the losing the stability that tenure would provide, recognizing the ease with which you can be fired, let go, convinced to move on, etc. And while I eventually think I might want to be a provost someday, I am content to work my way up slowly. And hopefully I can remember to learn a little more each day.

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