Monday, March 29, 2010

Recruiting outside reviewers

One of  my favorite bloggers, Bittersweet Girl, wrote about the conundrum of finding people to serve as outside reviewers. As she mentions:
You need to get out there and cultivate connections with senior (read: powerful, famous, big names, recognizable names) scholars — ideally the kind of connection that makes Senior Scholar feel strongly invested in your future success — but not so close a connection that s/he becomes a good friend or a collaborator. That “just right” kind of connection which teeters on being unprofessional (Sr. Scholar needs to really like you, feel like s/he is involved in your career) but which doesn’t have any kind of professional paper trail (i.e., you never published anything together or anything else “official”).

She goes on to say that how to strike this balance and build this connection is a "mystery that is only revealed to individuals who already have tenure."

Okay, so here is what this tenured prof has to suggest:
  1. Meet people at professional conferences. Speak to presenters and co-presenters. Find the authors of articles you use and like and introduce yourself. Network with these folks at receptions. Give people your card, talk with them about your research and ask them about their own. Once you get talking with Dr. Mucky-Muck, ask if s/he will read your article before you submit it.
  2. Get involved in a national committee of some type in your discipline. I served on a committee in my area and got to meet a good number of people who were senior scholars. I helped organize panels and events and even managed a listserv at some point. I was able to learn who is doing what and to simultaneously get them to know me.
  3. Organize a panel at important disciplinary or research area conferences. Invite big name speaker to serve on the panel. (Serving on panels does not disallow someone from being a reader.) Try not to piss them off... I learned that the hard way.
  4. Get to know the friends of your co-authors. If you have famous co-authors or one of the folks above becomes a co-author and can no longer serve as an outside reader, ask they to introduce you to some people who might be good readers.
One other thing I did to meet senior scholars was to edit a book, which was helpful in some ways but not something I would recommend. I did get to know many scholars in my area. Unfortunately, I also had to edit their work, hound them for revisions and edits, and generally alienate at least half of them for some period of time, all while working my butt off for a publication that didn't buy much at my R1 institution. That said, people definitely knew who I was and had some investment in me and my work.

I would also advise that everyone check with friends about potential readers. Two of my potential readers had terrible reputations for slamming young scholars on tenure reviews, and I actually put them on my "no" list. Another of my actual readers would be someone I would tell others to avoid, because ze actually flaked out and never turned in a review. So, just because someone is famous and seems nice enough doesn't mean that they should serve as an outside reader. Be sure to investigate!

Another suggestion I would make is to avoid reviews from newbies who just got tenure. Their reviews don't mean as much to the committee, and these young scholars sometimes misunderstand their role as reviewer and can be very harsh in evaluating peers.

I am sure there are other ideas for recruiting outside scholars, but this blog entry represents one tenured lady's revelations of the mysteries I have uncovered. Any more suggestions?



Sunday, March 28, 2010

I coulda been a contender...

I was looking at the candidates for what could honestly be my dream job in the future, and I had a sudden realization. I might have been a contender for the job...right now! Not in five years, not after promotion to full professor, not after an intermediate administrative post, but right freakin' now! Not a shoo-in, by any means, but the pool is looking a little shallow if these candidates are the best for the job. Of course, I hadn't applied, thinking it was beyond my current standing. Hell, they had people on their faculty (and even their interim) who were way more qualified than me. But those people hadn't applied, and those who had didn't possess more impressive credentials than my own.

So, now I have to stand back and watch someone else who doesn't have much on me get the position. Worse yet, the gf had encouraged me to apply for it, and I had explained to her that I couldn't compete. It is a learning moment for sure. I am learning that the market for senior administrators is really quite limited right now, and my skills and experiences may allow me to compete for these positions earlier than I thought possible. Yet, it still feels wrong to look at those positions right now, because they would require me to skip over a lower, intermediate position.

I have always been a big believer in moving up the ladder one rung at a time. I have read numerous stories and reflections in the Chronicle and IHE about people who skipped a step, only to fail in the higher ranking position due to some lack of understanding. Of course, it is impossible to know if that failure was really due to their lack of experience, or if they would have failed no matter what. But there is something nice in knowing  the job above you well enough that you feel confident you understand the parameters and know you can do the job. When you skip that position to one above it, your understanding of the job, and your confidence that you will be successful in it, is more limited.

Yet, perhaps this is a particularly female way of looking at moving up. Many male leaders I see have no compunction against reaching for a much higher position, skipping steps along the way. There seems to be a different approach to taking on leadership positions, a "Sure I can" approach, rather than a "I'm not sure if I can" fear. They seem more comfortable blustering and fumbling their way through until they have figured out the parameters of the new position and made it their own. It is almost like watching people walk up stairs; women usually take them one at a time, while men are more likely to move more quickly taking two or three at a time. While I tend towards a more direct, masculine approach in interactions, something about this process of moving up in administration has me acting like a more traditional woman.

Perhaps some of my reticence is rooted in the way people react to my pursuit of higher adminstrative roles. Many people, even my academic friends, have talked about how ambitious I am. Others who aren't my friends imply that it is weird, self-aggrandizing, or some kind of power grab on my part. Perhaps it is those messages that make me a little more nervous about trying for a big move; nothing looks more like hubris and a hunger for power than a big leap ahead.

I wonder sometimes how one knows s/he is ready for such a big, stair-skipping move. I have gathered some recent proof that I may be ready:
  1. Other professionals in my life--friends and colleagues, including a few who hold that position--think I could do the job.
  2. People applying for these positions have qualifications similar to mine.
  3. I have ideas about how someone in that position could do the job well.
  4. I have friends and colleagues who have that job who would be willing to mentor me if I got such a position.
  5. I have other colleagues who have told me they would gladly come and work for me if I took that position.
  6. I am unsatisfied in my current position and want to be in a position to be doing more and operating on this level.
So, with all of that knowledge, I am trying to adapt to this new perspective, this idea of moving ahead more quickly. I know I am ready for something new and different, a new challenge that would allow me to grow and develop as an administrator. I want to shape something new, make contributions to the development of a program--its faculty, staff, and students. Perhaps now is the time.

Have any of you skipped steps in your path to administrative jobs in higher ed? How did you manage your self-doubts?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Meeting snark

Yes, the article in the Chronicle on "The Art of Meeting" is basically a solid "how not to host fucked up meetings" primer. But it ignores many of the lessons that I have learned about REALLY managing faculty, staff, and students in meetings. So below, I offer my snarky comments on Russell Powell's article, in essence, offering my own down and dirty, how-to guide for meetings that don't piss people off or make them want to scream at the top of their lungs or cry.

1. Plan ahead.  Russell notes that you should send out materials to people on the committee in a timely way--so they have a chance to read them before they come to the meeting. Yeah, I agree that is a great idea. I would advise that you plan to send it more than once, make copies for everyone to look at when we get there, and also plan to reiterate the most important points for people who overlooked the many emails. Sometimes, I even tell members in the emails what to look for in the written materials, so they feel more interested in opening the document. I also print out any written responses I get, because some people cannot wait until the damn meeting and feel that they need to respond to the group immediately, instead of waiting for the meeting whose purpose is to discuss the written materials. (Sigh.)

2. Prepare an agenda. Send it out before the meeting. Print copies for everyone and assume they will leave their copy in their offices. Assume they have not read it--other than the obnoxious anal type who writes you back to note any types or formatting errors--and go over it at the beginning of the meeting. Be willing to change the agenda if another issue comes up, and perhaps change the order if someone is especially worried about the agenda item or has to leave early. In particularly verbal or challenging groups, make it a timed agenda. Then you can use the old trick of saying, "Oh, we only have 5 more minutes on this item, so let's sum up the group's concerns/ideas/plans..." and get everyone back on track. You can also require that the group approve taking more time and identify what to do about the other items on the agenda.

3. Limit your agenda. Yeah, this is definitely a mainstay of meeting management. Also, start and end on time. If you don't finish the items on the agenda, make sure they go on the meeting schedule for next time.

4. Encourage participation. Um, yeah, about that. Certainly you want everyone to contribute, but lemme say that I wouldn't encourage the participation of everyone on every issue. It is like class: you gotta get the people who need to talk to do so, and shut up the ones who talk too much and think the meeting is really about them. And it never hurts to prime the pump and talk to committee members beforehand so you can see what they are thinking and ask them to speak out about their perspectives. This must be done carefully and with mutual trust--no throwing colleagues under the bus (i.e., "Jerry, weren't you just saying yesterday that we should cut all student funding for conferences?").

5. Serve light refreshments. Always a nice idea, but not feasible in my environment. Besides, if this were the case, my colleagues and I would wind up eating all day long. Though Powell argues against lunch meetings, I actually find them to be useful and sometimes necessary. This is especially true when trying to meet with staff, who may have no other time they can be away from their desks.

6. Maintain focus. This is the main role of the convener of the meeting--to keep people on target. As someone who takes this role very seriously, I will note that I have found a little lighter, looser touch in running the meeting is better. Allowing jokes, personal asides, and occasional flights of fancy can keep members engaged and build relationships among members.

7. Only call meetings when necessary. Duh. And nothing will make you more popular than cancelling a meeting. It is like cancelling class, but better.

8. Don't complain. Um, have you met academics? If you don't let us complain about having to attend meetings and the like, you have taken away some small part of our raison d'etre. Seriously. Besides, the answer to all faculty complaining is to move into the leadership role and run the damn meeting yourself. Worked for me... I hardly ever complain about my own meetings! :-)

9 and 10. Show up on time and be constructive. These are sometimes the hardest rules for faculty to follow. Many faculty struggle with time management, and really, why wouldn't we? Our lives seldom follow a clock, except as regards class meeting times and research funding meetings, so why would we make it to the meeting on time. AND most meetings don't start on time or end on time, so we feel less inspired to manage ourselves in a different manner. And being constructive is also not always part of our DNA--after all, we must admit that the goals of being constructive and being argumentative/critical can often work against one another. Powell argues that we should be the change we want to see, modeling timely and constructive behavior. I have my doubts, but I have been part of a more positive meeting culture, and it has made for much better meeting experiences.

11. Edit yourself. Dude, that is a t-shirt we should market to academics. Think of the possibilities.

12. Bring your calendar. While I absolutely think this rule is necessary, we also have to include the caveat that the damn phone on which you access your calendar should be muted! Stop with the pinging instant message and email sounds--they drive me crazy.

He also forgets a few important suggestions for successful meetings, so I will add them:

13. Keep (and review) minutes. If you don't, you are destined to repeat the same damn meetings over and over and have insipid conversations about trying to remember what was decided at the last meeting. Have an accessible archive of minutes, so you can see what action was chosen and why you decided to do it.

14. Everyone gets a vote. Unless there is some bylaw that disallows everyone voting, just give everyone a say in decisionmaking. I hate serving on committees with students or staff members that treat them like tokens. If they come to meetings and participate like everyone else, they should get a vote.

15. Don't be afraid to call the fucking question. Sometimes meetings grind to a halt because the group cannot reach consensus. Unless the group has agreed to work by consensus--and few university committees do--don't engage in endless, mind-numbing, emotionally charged debate and discussion. If the lines have been drawn, arguments well articulated, and compromise is impossible, call for the vote, make the decision, and move the hell on. Trust me, dragging it out makes everything worse. The losers will gripe and lick their wounds, but eventually they will heal and move on to other issues.

Oh, and one more unrelated aside to senior administrative candidates... when you are doing your job talk, it is unnecessary to make the joke about how impossible faculty are to manage. We are not cats, we are not children, and such metaphors are trite and annoying. Thank you.

Okay, all this snarkiness seems to make me think I am very ready for spring break!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Are state schools really just state units or not?

Updated on 3.10.10 at 6:30 pm

With the opinion released by the Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli , directing public colleges and universities to rescind all LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, Virginia is in a position to set a precedent for other conservative states to roll back protections for its LGBT public college and university employees. Cuccinelli argues that the institutions' Board of Visitors do not have the right to set these policies for their institutions, because they are creating a "suspect class" that isn't recognized by the larger state.
Colleges that have included such language in their policies -- which include all of Virginia's leading schools -- have done so "without proper authority" and should "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia," Cuccinelli wrote.

I am not a legal scholar, but his legal analysis in the letter cites a lot of legal precedents. Cuccinelli notes that cities and counties in the state, along with the Governor's Office, have all been apprised over the last 25 years that LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies are not appropriate given Virginia State Human Rights laws. It does assume that city and county entities as basically the same as colleges and universities, and it seems to me that this is the assumption that could be challenged in court. This assumption is pretty problematic, to me, and it was also problematic to a conservative Virginia law student, who offers an argument rooted in Virginia law, and it has implications for many different kinds of policy issues beyond antidiscrimination policies.

A quick review of responses to the letter shows that none of the critics, including the ACLU, is willing to argue that his legal reasoning is flawed. Instead, they condemn the larger issue of revoking protections for certain groups and basically encouraging discrimination.Students, members of Boards of Visitors, and faculty are appalled at the letter and the message it sends, and I would argue rightly so. But I would also argue that the current state of affairs leads us to two options: (1) Organize to pass state legislation protecting LGBT employees (bills that have failed to pass heretofore in the Republican-controlled assembly) or (2) move "state institutions" out of the purview of the state--removing institution employees from the rolls of state employees--and into the realm of "state affiliated" or "state related" institutions.

I am starting to wonder if the second option is where most public institutions, especially the research institutions, are headed. State funding for public institutions has declined over the last 20 years, and many institutions are having to find other sources of revenue. This national trend was found in Virginia as well; in a 2009 report, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia found:

Between 1992 and 2010, general fund appropriations to public higher education in Virginia fell from 14% to 11% of total state appropriations. More specifically, on a per student basis or full-time equivalent (FTE), general fund appropriations to in-state students declined by 18% at the four-year institutions and by 9% at the VCCS from 1992 to 2010 (in constant dollars). ... Virginia ranked 40th for state and local appropriations [to higher education].
Instead of relying on public dollars, these "state" institutions have had to rely on tuition increases and, for research institutions, research dollars to cover their costs. Yet, even as institutions move away from depending on the state for financial support, they still are compelled to follow state laws and classify their employees as state employees. Why is this? And why do state leaders in states that have declining financial support seem even more likely to want to exercise more control over the actions of their public institutions of higher education?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states classify college/university employees as state employees, covering them under state health insurance plans and requiring them to follow state employee policies. In some states, university and college employees greatly outnumber other state employees. Keeping the college and university employees classified as state employees benefits the state--it creates a bigger pool for health insurance, for example--but this example in Virginia clearly shows that it may hamper the ability of colleges and universities to create their own policies and programs.

And where is the line drawn regarding state control of its institutions of higher education? What policies should legislators get to dictate for state colleges and universities? Would it be appropriate for the legislature to pass laws requiring institutions only to hire instructors from Ivy League schools? To adopt specific textbooks? To ban the teaching of certain ideas? To withhold funding for schools that provide birth control pills in their student health centers? The balance between universities and the legislature already is tenuous, influenced by the sharing or withholding of state funds, and it is problematic to have the state government dictating colleges' and universities' policies for their employees.

I have worked in three different states for large, public institutions, and each one has promised to protect me from employment-related discrimination based on sexual orientation--a promise I find very important as an out lesbian employee. This move in Virginia would make me far less likely to take a job in that state, and it may prompt academics to leave the state for employment elsewhere. This aggressive move to limit the rights of Virginia colleges and universities to make policies for their employees may reap a larger whirlwind as state institutions consider new ways of defining themselves and their own futures.