Where have all the administrators gone?

As part of my blog reading and writing this morning, I thought I’d point people to Dean Dad’s post of a book I’m not liable to read anytime soon, the 2006 edition of The Search Committee Handbook: A Guide to Recruiting Administrators. He rejects the lame explanations in the book about why the pools of candidates for administrative positions have dropped in recent years and suggests instead that the reason why people aren’t applying for these jobs is because potential applicants just aren’t there. Universities and colleges haven’t hired enough faculty in the last twenty or thirty years, and these are the folks who would be applying for these administrative jobs now.

His explanation makes some sense, but from my point of view, I think it’s more than that. First off (and this depends a lot on who you listen to), a lot of administrative work has already been forced on to faculty. I say “depending on who you listen to” because I’m in a field (composition and rhetoric) where it seems pretty normal to do some administrative work, because I don’t think I have enough of a point of comparison to argue that the administrative work that faculty do now is so much more than it used to be, and because it seems to me that plenty of faculty managed to avoid this work by simply refusing to do it.

In my department, there are basically two types of faculty administrative work: the sort of thing that everyone does (most people pitch in to write silly program review documents, for example), and what I call “quasi-administrative” work, where a faculty member receives course release to head a program or a special project. For example, I am the writing program coordinator right now, which means I receive a course release a term to do stuff like advising grad students, scheduling classes, helping to recruit faculty, and other various paper-pushing activities.

Which leads me to reason number two: never say never, but I am unlikely to apply for a full-time administrative job (a department head, some sort of dean, etc.) because it strikes me as generally unpleasant and thankless, an opinion that I am sure has been formed in part by my experiences as a faculty member who has been called upon to do thankless administrative paperwork in the past. Being the writing program coordinator is kind of fun, mainly because it involves working with students and colleagues in my field. But doing this work full-time and doing this work with minimal contact with faculty and no meaningful contact with students seems like a bad idea to me.

Like I said, never say never. Administrators make more money than faculty, and there are some potentially interesting administrative jobs here at EMU. But this kind of work is simply at odds with my lifestyle as a happy academic. I like my job because I like to teach, I like to do research, and I like the extraordinary flexibility of my schedule (though it must be acknowledged it is both a blessing and a curse). Administrators don’t teach (well, some do, but they don’t teach much), they don’t do research (again, some do, but not as a rule), and they have to work regular and fixed hours (and they are expected to be at all kinds of administrator-like functions beyond 9-5).

Plus I don’t have the wardrobe.

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One Response to Where have all the administrators gone?

  1. collin says:

    I’m right there with you re the wardrobe and the schedule.

    I think there’s something to the supply-demand argument too. I don’t have the stats handy, but I remember David Noble reporting something like that, over the last 30 years, the # of students in higher ed is up 2 mil and the # of administrators has tripled, while the # of full-time faculty has actually shrunk.

    Part of it too is that, with the push towards corporatization, I’m not sure that academic training qualifies one to be an administrator anymore. The most visible posts (chair, dean, etc.) will probably hold out the longest, but it would be interesting to look at a decent-sized university over a period of time, and to see if the average background and training of administrators has changed more towards corporate management. I have no idea, but it wouldn’t shock me especially…

    cgb

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