Paul L. Caron

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Academic Bait-And-Switch: Do Professors Make Good Deans, Provosts, And Presidents?

Steven Zhou (PhD Student in Organizational Psychology, George Mason), The Academic Bait-And-Switch: Do Professors Make Good Administrators?:

Academics sometimes have a bit of an unfortunate reputation of being big picture thinkers, with our heads in the clouds (or ivory tower) and disconnected from the realities of everyday life. ... Why, then, do we expect people who excel at being an academic to turn around later in their careers and lead the “business” side of the institution?

It seems like quite the bait-and-switch: faculty are hired for their skills in research and/or teaching, only to be expected later to shift gears entirely and employ a completely different set of skills — ones that they may not actually possess — in leading the institution (aka academic administration). ...

[S]ome faculty stay where they are as purely a research and teaching faculty member, but the upward career mobility is limited after one has achieved tenure and “Full Professor” rank. And certainly, there are some people who pursue an administrative faculty career without going through the research tenure process, but it is rare and nearly impossible to obtain top leadership positions (such as Provost) without having received tenure first.

This is how the system has been set up as a bait-and-switch that hires and promotes faculty for research and/or teaching, but then expects them to lead and administrate. However, the skill sets required are completely different. ...

What’s the solution?

First and foremost, early career faculty should receive extensive training on leadership and administration. ...

Second, in order for faculty to be incentivized to take part in such trainings, the tenure and promotion criteria need to change. No faculty member would sacrifice precious hours attending a training on crisis leadership when they could be instead working on yet another publication to rack up the citation counts necessary for promotion. Unless the candidate in question wishes to remain a research or teaching professor for the rest of his or her career, tenure and promotion should only be rewarded to faculty who can also lead and administrate.

Third and finally, academia should consider outside leaders and businesspeople. ...

Being an academic leader and administrator is extremely difficult, and not a lot of people want that kind of job. Sadly, the system we have set up now in higher education seems to recruit for such positions from a pool of candidates that have not been trained or thus far incentivized to develop the skills necessary for academic leadership. As academia faces a tough season in the decades to come — with the rise of alternative education options, crises in financial aid, and devaluation of the college degree — there is more need than ever before to hire the right leaders with the right experiences and the right skill sets.

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