Sunday, November 15, 2015

Amy Week: Is An Administrative Position Right for You?

The answer: No.

Next question.

Ok, enough of being cute, cynical and/or glib; let me wax about this some.

For three years I was the director of our social work program at the University of Washington Tacoma. Prior to that, I was a program coordinator at UNC Charlotte. As a bit of context, I had a half a dozen or so years in administrative roles in human service organizations, which provides a wee bit of credibility to my book, Navigating Human Service Organizations.

The University of Washington Tacoma is small but growing campus of the University of Washington. When I arrived 7 plus years ago, we had 2600 students. Now, we are approaching 5,000. As a small campus, our structure has been a bit funky (and is changing with growth)- directors really were both department chairs and deans. So, I had the opportunity and the burden of holding a position that allowed me to do both roles; I learned a lot. It was also a ton of work and really not the best representation off typical administrative roles (or, maybe it was- they are all a ton of work!).

I also learned that it was not for me. Frankly, I don't like having to be "on" each and every day. I far prefer the professorial life; I work really hard on my research and teaching, but do so largely at my own pace, and  on my own schedule. Paradoxically, the higher up the organizational ladder you climb, the less your time is your own. Your schedule is not your own; you must attend meetings that you do not have control over. You must like meetings, and see them as being of great value.

I also loved, however, being able to grow and develop programs. That was the joy of being in leadership on a rapidly growing campus, I got to be part of a lot of change, transition, and development.

Being the director is what got me here; my forever academic and physical home. For that, I am grateful, and in truth, for those of us who don't have grant funding and don't need it for our research, taking an administrative position the easiest way to move to a new university. Even productive scholars, unless you bring some type of rock star reputation with you, have a hard time moving unless it is for an administrative position.

But, all that is all about me. How do YOU decide?

First, you have to be real about teaching and research. How important are both to you? You are largely going to trade teaching for administrative work/being of service to your campus. You can do scholarship, but in small blocks of time only, so the nature of your scholarship must fit within that constraint. Most people's scholarship tanks once you become an administrator. It does not have to be that way, but it is what happens to most.

Here are some questions for you to consider.

Do you like to be on campus 9-5?
Are you ready to let go of teaching?
Do you wish to put others' needs before your own?
Do you enjoy helping others' develop their career (although many will ignore your help)?
Do you wish to "climb" to higher organizational positions?
Do you want to move to another university but feel stuck?
Do you love being involved in organizational life each and every day?
Are you cool with your colleagues not seeing you as their "friend" but as their boss, and all the implications of that? (and that does not go away if you step down, at least not right away, as you may have had to hurt some feelings and set some limits with people- not easy on relationships).

There are a lot more questions that I could ask, but I think the truth is, you have to spend a good deal of time reflecting on your motivations, and seeing if they are coming from a good and healthy place. At the least, engaging in some good reflective writing would be in order. Given the magnitude of the change, perhaps discussing it with colleagues, mentors, a therapist, a coach, a rabbi, other religious leaders, ect. It makes sense to discuss it with someone who knows the ins and outs of  university life, but it is perhaps even more important to explore it with someone you feel really safe opening up to (yes, you probably predicted that response, based upon my social work background).

On the other hand, if you are not planning on a move to another university but are considering trying out an administrative position, you can always do so and then step down. However, do be aware that depending on your role, as I mentioned, you may make some enemies in the process.

I realize that this questions is one that really demands a great deal more time, but at least I gave Amy (and other readers) a bit to think about (I hope).

I have one more question to address for "Amy week," and if I do a good job of focusing on my work today, I may even do it tonight, thus actually doing it within a week's time.

Rich loves challenges!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great list of questions! This is another issue where I feel a lot of "should"/"obligation" (taking one for the team/department...). This series of posts has helped me better consider my own needs and interests. Thank you for that!