Paul L. Caron

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Is Returning To The Faculty After Deaning An Honor? Or A Demotion?

Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed:  Does Pausing Your Administrative Career Mean It’s Over?, by Margaret Farrar (Former Dean, John Carroll University):

Last year I was given a career choice that was not, in fact, a choice. The particulars of my situation aren’t important, but here’s the upshot: Last March, I was sitting in a meeting with my university’s new president, discussing my reappointment as dean, and it wasn’t going well.

Ultimately the president offered me a graceful exit: He suggested I stay in the job for an additional year while I searched for a new deanship elsewhere. That way, I could write my own career narrative as one of continual ascent. I hadn’t been ousted — I had decided to "seek a new challenge," "apply my skills to a different kind of institution," or (in the words of LeBron James, when he left Cleveland the first time) "take my talents to South Beach."

I was grateful for the option, but of course the offer wasn’t purely altruistic. An additional year would give the president more time to find my successor. This was what used to be called "a gentleman’s agreement" — a polite, quiet arrangement that would ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved.

I took a weekend to think about it. I knew what I was supposed to do: Accept the one-year extension and start job-hunting; onward and upward. Instead, come Monday morning, I told the president I would stay but not as dean. I opted to take a pay cut and join the faculty. ...

Certain faculty members — either the best of us or the worst, depending on whom you ask — find ourselves on a similarly regimented administrative path: department chair, associate dean, dean, provost, president. ... [A]dministrators are expected to move frequently, and many do. For a variety of reasons, deans are changing institutions more often than ever before; the average term for an academic dean is now four years, down from five years a decade ago. If you are at all serious about your administrative career, the consultants say, you need to be thinking about your next move up the ladder soon after arriving on a new campus. ...

In reality I would’ve stayed in the deanship as long as the faculty supported me in the role and I remained effective. But of course the faculty’s voice is not the only one that matters, and what I hadn’t anticipated was having six different supervisors — three provosts and three presidents — within four years. I hadn’t anticipated that finding a toehold in those shifting sands would be such a challenge. ...

After two decades of onward and upward, can I hit pause on my administrative career? By rejecting a gentleman’s agreement, will I no longer be welcome in what is still, overwhelmingly, a boys’ club? Does declining to pack my bags and move mean I will be stranded at the station forever?

The last search consultant I worked with thinks so. I like her, because she’s forthright and funny, and so I asked her this question point-blank during our last phone call: "What’s my shelf life, as a faculty member? How long can I do this before I’m out of the game entirely?"

"Eighteen months," she answered promptly. "Any longer and people will, you know …" ...

 For academics, there is a whole genre of "quit lit," some of it quite moving, chronicling why they left teaching and research behind. However, there are comparatively few public stories by administrators recounting their decision to step down and what happened next. ...

If my decision to step down from this deanship does mean an end to my career in administration, I suppose I am comfortable with that fact. I am a tenured professor here. I have always loved teaching and writing, and have always been profoundly grateful to have a career that allows me to do those things. Rejoining the faculty has always seemed to me to be an honor, not a demotion. And if the right opportunity comes, I hope that the institution is one that regards leadership as a quality that exists beyond a prescribed series of roles, held for an appropriate length of time.

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Our third President asked for this on his tombstone:

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia"

Teaching and writing is good :)

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jan 16, 2020 8:17:44 PM