Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Big Thirsty From Yuri in Youngstown.

Q: What qualities do faculty look for in a new president? What about someone taking over as academic dean? What do you think these people spend their time doing? What do you think they SHOULD be doing (because I'm here to tell you that 90% of have probably got the job descriptions wrong in your head.) My university is making some sweeping changes, and during my very enjoyable visits to this blog, I've learned a lot about what faculty with no administrative background think about the profession. I value your input!

I'll swing by and
pick up your
answers later!

45 comments:

  1. Captain Subtext translates:

    "I value your input -- absent administrative background as it is -- at 10% of the worth of my own opinion."

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  2. "I've learned a lot about what faculty with no administrative background think about the profession."

    Why don't you listen to something a student with neither administrative nor faculty experience has to say on the matter? Don't say shit like this. It makes you come off like a huge, huge prick. That sentence is just oozing with condescension. It makes you sound like a consummate asshole.

    Being a professor seems like a lot of work and not a lot of reward. So I think it's safe to say that most people who do it aren't attracted by the earthly benefits of the position. That is, unless they go into the far more lucrative and far less strenuous ADMINISTRATION (such as yourself).

    You should probably listen to them more, not less, and treat the administration as what it is: A SUPPORT for the faculty who provide the actual service that the College or University is all about. What you've basically said with this Big Thirsty is "I value your input, but what the fuck do PROFESSORS know about Universities?"

    Also, free snacks and soda/juice/coffee at least one day a week. And... free coffee every day, obviously.

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    1. You joke about coffee and snacks, but I kid you not, at our last graduation we (Faculty) were called to "line up" at 4:00. Graduation started at 6:00 and didn't end until after 8:00 pm. There was NO COFFEE, NO FOOD, No freaking WATER. (oh yeah, the "platform party" of admins and trustees got lots of food and dessert).

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    2. Yuri From YoungstownMarch 3, 2016 at 12:50 PM

      Conan, listening to faculty more is exactly why I came here. I always find this site to be full of tough and unfiltered opinions by passionate faculty. If you'd like to offer something more constructive than what you've written above, I'd sincerely appreciate your input.

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    3. Captain Subtext translates to help Yuri understand how others sometimes see him:

      "Conan, your comment was not constructive, and I 'sincerely' mean that."

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    4. Charlotte: I was not joking about the coffee and snacks.

      Yuri:

      God Help me, I will try. In Human Resources (see, Administration, like you!) we have something called CVPI. It's called Core Value Producer Input or Core Value Production Input.

      Basically, it means that 75% of the input you take to improve your processes should come from people who create the core value of your organization. So for Ford, the people who create their core value are the people in the plants making the product and the sales agents pushing the product to dealerships. So even though they make up perhaps 10% or less of the organization, because they are so important their input should matter most.

      It is also supposed to keep the organization rooted in what their purpose is. Put simply, your professors are your CVP's. Now, salesmen and assemblymen don't know jack shit about Finance. But when the salesmen say "Look, really need to extend the accounts receivable days from thirty to thirty-five because it usually takes about a month for the dealerships to get people in the door." Finance had better listen.

      I'm trying to explain to you why you saying "Well, you guys don't know anything about administration so I just want to see how my other administration-less professor-lackeys will feel" is SOOO having the ass drive the carriage.

      Maybe your professors don't know shit about business concepts (though I'm sure your business professors could probably whoop your ass) but they know so much more about the core value offering of your institution: Teaching. If you are doing an action and the reason why you're doing it does not ultimately align with what your core value production people (professors) think then there's a good chance you're wrong.

      Also, food for thought. If your administration is so far removed that people who are professional educators cannot understand it, your administration must be so far removed that they're fucking space cadets and have no idea what teaching involves. Which, of the two problems, is significantly worse.

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    5. Yuri from YoungstownMarch 3, 2016 at 2:12 PM

      Sorry, but I was sincere. Didn't mean any harm and hoped to get past whatever animus there was about the phrasing of my original question.

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    6. Fair enough. Sorry if my initial response was intemperate. Welcome back.

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    7. Wow, Conan HITS THE NAIL ON THE HEAD with his closing paragraph. THIS is one of the most important things to retain in your Presidential search: hire a President who has not accumulated so much administrative experience, and the administrative mindset that goes with that experience, such that they are now disconnected from the core mission of the institution: to seek knowledge and to teach that knowledge to others (at least, I HOPE that is a core mission of your institution...); you're hiring the President of a university, not the CEO of a corporation, AND NO THESE ARE NOT THE SAME THING; or, they should not be the same thing... . There's too many Presidents fixated on "balance the books... get more bums in seats to balance the books... change whatever rules and curriculum we need in order to boost applications, acceptances, retention, and graduations, in order to get more bums in seats... oh yeah, and somewhere in there, something something something about truth, knowledge, justice etc."

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    8. Thanks for coming by. Now fuck off you self aggrandize get asshole. New article by Conan tomorrow gonna skewer that pompous ass!

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    9. Alice the AdjunctMarch 3, 2016 at 5:22 PM

      Is anyone tired of allowing anonymous comments? Can it be turned off?

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    10. In the spirit of reconciliation I offer this constructive observation: constructs that are syntactic equivalents of "if you have a better idea, let's hear it" are less often invitation than foregone conclusion.

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  3. Based on our current president, I'd say we looked for a one man replication of Dunning and Kruger's fine work:
    "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments"

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    1. I wrote a 32 page essay on the Dunning-Kruger effect for my top level HR course. It fascinates me.

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  4. I'm not getting as much of the haughtiness in this request. Maybe I did not drink enough coffee this morning!

    I'll answer: as for the president---no idea beyond keeping their deans in line. Dammit---manage your people! And keep them from fighting with each other! Please!

    Academic Dean - should be spending time in Academics! As in Curriculum issues--program review, accreditation, new courses, new programs, program evaluation, faculty support and development, teaching and learning, scheduling so that program needs are met and gen ed course scheduling serves program trends (in terms of new students coming in). And the position needs someone who actually listens to their faculty (and does not just SAY they do). Ways to prove you are listening: do NOT come to meetings where you are allegedly getting "feedback" with handouts printed explaining the decisions you already made, do NOT pair up with faculty that no one respects----such people will not get buy-in for whatever new shit you are trying to pull, do give meeting time to faculty----leave! or just stop talking! let us talk during YOUR time about things you want us to talk about!. These things should take up the major part of an academic dean's job. If there is a need to spend 3/4 of the time in meetings with other administrators, have a "dean of meetings" and a separate "dean of academics." I'm serious. Call them what you want---but those duties need to be separated because if your dean is so often "at a meeting at the system level" then shit just plain does NOT get done. Have a separate person working under the dean do budgets and student complaints.

    That's all I have time for.

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    1. Yuri From YoungstownMarch 3, 2016 at 12:51 PM

      Wow, the Dean stuff is great. It's what I believe we've gotten too far away from. Thanks so much.

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    2. Well said, Bella. I'd add that if the academic dean has meetings with faculty to get "feedback" and "input", it would help if they don't fly into a rage when they don't hear what they want to hear. Or, if you do, at least be less surprised when faculty say sweet FA the next time you want "feedback".

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    3. If the aca. dean were to have ever taught a class of actual students, zhe would be quite familiar with the idea that berating the audience can seriously chill their desire to be forthcoming with feedback. Students hesitate to speak out of fear of being wrong in the present; faculty say sweet fuck-all out of disillusioment over what they've said never having made a difference in the past.

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  5. I appreciate this well-considered reponse, Bella.

    What probably set me off about the OP was "I'm here to tell you that 90% of have probably got the job descriptions wrong in your head." I think that even Captain Obvious could translate that.

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    1. I think Bella is probably a bit more reasonable than me based on what I've seen her write in comments and posts, but I definitely read it the same way you did. Maybe I just need to take a page out of Bella's book and give people the benefit of the doubt more.

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    2. In my dealings with Academia, I have found it "easier" to be slow to see an insult. It's a matter of self preservation to give people the benefit of the doubt, colleagues, administrators and students alike!

      :)

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    3. I hear you about the insult thing. I am actually very slow to perceive insult myself. However, I am slightly less slow to feel disappointment, and I do believe that one's words are often a window into one's soul.

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    4. OPH, I am not sure words are a window into the soul----I guess I am afraid of that being the case, since I sometimes say (and write) things I later realize I don't really mean.

      And while I do know it makes my life easier to not see insults everywhere, I actually have my times when I am always feeling insulted. I actually went to lunch with an old friend last week and he began by saying "well, you are probably feeling right about now like everyone is against you!" (based on some e-mails, etc----lots of drama and intrigue as always!). And it was true!

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  6. Presidents: Raise money.
    Academic Deans: Spend the money based on faculty needs. (And this requires objectively negotiating between competing interests, especially departmental. As The Donald would say: "It's something you have to be bigly bigly good at.")

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  7. Easy answer for the 1st question:
    At our uni, we should be looking for the EXACT OPPOSITE of the qualities we've looked for in the last several Presidential searches, because they were all fuckwits at their job.

    Our uni has made it all the way to national (CBC, CTV, Global TV in Canada), and then global, network news (CNN, BBC, etc) due to an Asshat decision or reaction to a situation by the President and associated minions.

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  8. The university president's main jobs, as it seems to me, are raising money/getting the university's finances in order and publicizing the institution. One simply can't let the VP run hog-wild and mismanage the institution's finances on the back of a coffee-stained envelope.

    At the same time, a president needs to work on strengthening the institution's academic profile, but not at the cost of upending the university's core values (e.g., land-grand practicality vs. liberal arts freedom; teaching-centered vs. research-centered). Change is inevitable, but some stability is important.

    In terms of what NOT to do, a president should avoid making decisions that directly or implicitly screw the university's educational mission and/or give the impression that academics don't matter. For example, it's a really bad idea to go whole-hog to establish a football program during a time of huge budget cuts and four-year-long salary freezes, and during that time, take a $50K raise.

    Not embarrassing the university is also important. For example, it's troublesome when Mr. President gets caught in a cheap motel room with meth and a 17-year-old male prostitute.

    An academic dean? I'll echo what Bella said, as she said it well, but I'll add this bit: Make some fricking decisions, stick to the established rules, and respect shared governance.

    If approving the purchase of bagels for a faculty meeting is your only clear decision in two years, then something's wrong. Put some of that decisiveness toward vital curricular matters that have festered for two years and generated enmity between departments.

    Then, when curricular matters don't get resolved the way you hoped, don't make an end run around the established, formal processes and try to ram things through via executive fiat.

    Similarly, pulling a George Orwell maneuver and claiming that shared governance means that faculty gets to share and you get to govern is not acceptable. A dean is not the Red Queen. Words actually have meanings; they don't mean whatever the dean intends them to mean.

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  9. Conan said "[administration is]: A SUPPORT for the faculty who provide the actual service that the College or University is all about."

    A-fucking-MEN. And I say this as one who is in a position to know.

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  10. Here is what I would look for in any upper level admin: a willingness (if not actual desire) to get their ass in front of some students from time to time. Teaching is not so beneath them that they should disdain it.


    All the administrators I respect at my joint do it.

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  11. I would like the administration to ever, ever, ever ask me what I need to do my job more effectively. Not lie to me, not lie to the board of trustees about me, not buy shit we don't need for the classrooms, not tell me what to do, not police me like I'm an employee going to steal from the supply closet, not yell at me for disagreeing -- but ask me, and listen to what I say in return.

    That'd be really fucking nice.

    I'd also like a pony.

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  12. Yuri from YoungstownMarch 3, 2016 at 8:35 PM

    Thank you everyone.

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  13. Conan nailed it, I think (excellent application of relevant theory to specific situation; somebody give that man a diploma, or at least an A). I'll also add that I've filled out a good many of those Chronicle "best places to work" surveys (which seem as much aimed at staff/administration as faculty) and have always been struck by how many of the supposedly "new" ways of managing (bottom-up, listen to your team, etc.) sound very much like the traditional but fast-vanishing structures of faculty governance. So maybe revive those, or at least stop doing things that undermine them?

    Seriously, whether you're a dean or a president (if you're a president, you may mostly need to encourage your deans/provost in this direction), treat the faculty -- *all* of the faculty, especially the ones teaching the most basic courses/vulnerable students -- as the resource, and the repository of wisdom, they are. Don't pay outside consultants to tell you about your student body, or to design/revamp curriculum; use the same money to fund and carry out an internal self-study, or to pay faculty who don't usually do service, but who regularly teach the course(s) in question, to review and update that curriculum.

    I also strongly agree with Mindbender, and with Ogre Propter Hep: teach regularly, in average conditions for your average faculty member (hint: that probably means taking the place of a contingent or maybe junior faculty member in an intro/core course, not teaching a small, seminar-style class for students at any level). Grade at least some of the homework, papers, and/or exams you assign (heck, in the semesters when you're not teaching, serve as a part-time TA for someone who is teaching a class with which you're familiar, just to keep your hand in, and get a sense of how the students and their needs/abilities are changing. An hour or two grading will tell you as much about the student body as an hour or two having lunch with a hand-picked subset of them, or reading the latest research on millenials).

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    1. Insist -- absolutely insist -- that your administrators do the same, and be fully qualified and up-to-date with teaching a basic course in the traditional academic field closest to their responsibilities and/or academic specialty). That means that you'll need administrators with terminal degrees, or at least M.A.s, in traditional academic fields (not higher ed administration or an MBA in higher ed or similar bullshit), *and* with significant teaching experience before they entered administration (I'd suggest at least 10 years of designing and teaching their own classes, on the grad, contingent, and/or TT level). Set out a clear expectation that administrators will return to the faculty at some point, or at least tackle a full-time teaching load on a regular basis (maybe this kind of leave could alternate with research leaves, if those are available to administrators). From the point of view of the faculty, there's a lot of valuable time (faculty as well as administrator) being wasted in unnecessary meetings; save money (and solve another problem) by replacing some adjunct-taught sections with administrator-taught ones (also, obviously -- I hope -- don't create Ph.D. programs if your graduates won't be able to get jobs that genuinely require that Ph.D.)

      Don't measure your success/worth by the size of your budget (especially if that means adding Ph.D. programs where you shouldn't, or overvaluing grant-funded research, even if it actually costs the university money). Many things that make for a bigger overall budget don't actually benefit the institution's core mission.

      Also, ignore US News and similar rankings as much as you possibly can.

      Finally, please, in the name of all that is good and holy (and just plain decent), if a contingent faculty member asks you where (s)he, and the core teaching she does, semester in and semester out, fits into your grand plan for the university, don't look pained,fail to answer the question, and say "well, it *is* a research university, you know." At least have some lip-service answer about the importance of hir work (and perhaps, in the watches of the night, work on actually believing said answer, and taking actions predicated on that belief).

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  14. As Conan says, administration supports faculty and students. Since our administration rarely asks faculty's opinion, I haven't given this much thought.

    I want them to spend more time working stupid shit like revising our mission statement. This leaves less time for them to fuck things up and their more likely to leave us alone. And don't rile up the students so that they protest. It's not the protests that bother me so much but I've seen the awful architecture that was used after the 60s. Those buildings look like ugly fortresses rather than spaces where people studied and learned.

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    1. Yeah I'm really not a fan of Brutalist style.

      "Do you like right angles? Well, you're gonna love this."

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    2. I think there's some debate about whether the rise of brutalist architecture on college campuses was caused by student protests of the '60s or merely correlates/coincides with them temporally, but either way, no, not a fan (and I see one of the better examples of the style on the horizon -- a landmark on a campus other than my own -- most days). All that concrete is also not very easy to redesign/renovate/rewire for changing needs (or even send wireless signals through).

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    3. Some of the things you mention were actually reasons universities, more than anyone else, adopted brutalist architecture.

      I don't believe riots/protests had anything to do with it (We're seeing a resurgence of both on campuses but no resurgence of the architecture).

      But it was in vogue and it really appealed to universities because it was cheap, space efficient and the lack of longevity of the buildings was actually an upside. Because they knew they only had a shelf life of about fifty years at which point they'd have to be knocked down. And Universities, who have been forced to become experts on begging, have long understood that it's way easier to raise money for a new building than it is to raise it for many renovations.

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    4. That sounds about right to me. In fact, I work in a building that is not quite brutalist, but some sort of close, slightly earlier, cousin (more brick; less concrete; somewhat similar angles and the leaky roofs, windows, etc. that tend to go with them), which is slated to be torn down sometime in the next few years (when we have the budget, so it may be a while) because, yes, that's cheaper than renovating it (and also allows the university to put up a taller building in its place; it was very tall for its day, but its newer neighbors have outpaced it).

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    5. I'm going to jump in and say that there are examples of brutalist architecture that I really like, though I admit that the style gave rise to more than its share of abominations with seventy-year design lifespans.

      Wilson Hall (AKA "the high rise") at Fermilab is an out-and-out brutalist construction that is attractive, comfortable to inhabit, and functional as a combination of office space, collaboration space and tourist information center for the lab.

      Mind you, I don't have to maintain the thing and I'm not sure that the physical plant people like it as much as I do.

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    6. My joint has all the soul of a multi-storey car park.
      Having said that, a car park has places to actually, you know, park a car.

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    7. Wilson Hall is pretty cool, PP, and I agree that it looks pretty functional and comfortable, too. Maybe it's the curved lines, which I don't think of as typically brutalist (though I agree it definitely qualifies)? And/or the fact that it appears to have a good deal of light penetration into the interior (a major lack in the building in which I work). Whatever it is, the result is pretty nice.

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  15. One more: for either the a President or a Dean, an ability to say, with a straight face and full confidence and seriousness, to a peer at another institution: "my x is smaller than yours, and that's a good thing because," where x equals anything usually considered important/prestigious (budget, building, size or number of programs, student body, etc.), and the "because" is a well-thought-out explanation of how that thing fits into the larger goals/mission of the university.

    Or to look at it another way, anyone who places "managed a xxx million/billion budget" high up on their list of prior administrative achievements is suspect. Size is certainly a significant measure in some situations, but some university administrators seem caught in an extremely unproductive "mine is bigger than yours" contest with their national peers, to the detriment of their local institutions.

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    1. Put another way: it's not how big it is, it's what you do with it.

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    2. Yep (and all implications about gender, sex hormones, et al. and how they influence intra- and inter-university politics, mostly for the worse, are entirely intentional on my part. I won't say "staff all university administrative positions with women for a decade or two," because that would be illegal, and refusing to drawn on the talents of 50% of the population would be stupid, and plenty of women have bought into the "mine is bigger than yours" ultra-competitive mindset, and I'd sound like an overoptimistic suffragette time-transported 100 years forward, but I will suggest that some university presidents, like some candidates for US president, seem to be doing their best to confirm the worst stereotypes about their sex).

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    3. I am frustrated that search committees and voters are unable to discern confidence begotten of experience from arrogance begotten of ignorance, thus they too often choose candidates who fall to the wrong side of the midpoint of that axis.

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