See this article from the December 10 Chronicle of Higher Education,“Help Wanted, Please: Applicant pools for top administrative posts are shrinking.” Actually, by “top administrative posts,” they mean university presidents (what, there are other administrative posts?), but I suspect a lot of what’s here applies to dean-level positions too. The fall-off in applications is described as something of a “mystery” in the article, but the two general explanations offered don’t seem that mysterious at all. First, a lot of people aren’t applying for these jobs because of the increased level of fund-raising demands associated with these positions. Second, a lot of people aren’t applying because of the mixed signals they get from the “head hunter” services that are routinely used for “top level” administrative positions.
My initial reaction to this is sort of summed up in the title of this post: never say never because never is a long time and I (hopefully) have another 25 or 30 years of “happy academic” life to experience, but other than a stint as a “department-level” sort of administrator (a Writing Program Administrator position, director of a graduate program, an assistant department chair position, etc.), I cannot imagine being an “Administrator” (as in the dean’s office, the provost’s office, or the president’s office). Being a “capital A” Administrator defeats the purpose of being a “happy academic,” doesn’t it? Deans and the like are in the office every day all day long, they do nothing but attend meetings, they write reports that are read by other deans, they deal with problems both petty and not, and they hardly ever see students. If I wanted that kind of job, I’d go back to school for an MBA and try to get a job with Ford or something.
And for the academic-type who sees herself as making an accademic contribution to the world as a “top level Administrator,” I have to think the idea of being vetted by a consulting firm (as opposed to other academics) is probably unpleasant, and the prospect of being an institutional fund-raiser/cheerleader is probably not attractive, either. Like I said, this doesn’t seem that “mysterious” to me.
By the way, EMU has hired a consultant in its current presidential search. My hope is that someone on that hiring committee reads this article and notices that a couple of the successful searches for “top level Administrators” that have been done recently have minimized the role of the consultants.