So you want to be an administrator…



The administrative superstructure that characterizes American higher education is coming under increased scrutiny. Yet administrators keep multiplying anyway, as do the “managerial pathologies” that Benjamin Ginsburg vividly described in his recent book The Fall of the Faculty. It seems like a good time, then, for someone to try to provide guidance to the growing number of faculty who are fleeing the classrooms for the meeting rooms. So, to all the new and aspiring administrators out there—the future leaders of the “all-administrative university” that Ginsburg predicted—I offer the following advice:

Continue to teach, even if it’s just one or two classes a year. Teaching will keep you connected to the students and, more importantly, to your faculty colleagues and the conditions of their labor. It’s one thing to listen to faculty complaints about faulty classroom technology; it becomes a much more real problem when it’s you who has to figure out, on the fly and in front of dozens of impatient students, what to do when the technology you were counting on suddenly doesn’t work.

Keep an office in your home department and use it regularly—to hold office hours, to meet with students, to talk with your faculty colleagues, and to remind yourself that you’re a member of an academic department. (Be warned, though, that it probably won’t be as posh as your administrative office.)

Keep abreast of the trials and tribulations of the Lego Academics on Twitter (@LegoAcademics).

Follow Associate Deans (@ass_deans) too. If you don’t find it funny, give up administration until it becomes funny.

Do not refer, publicly or privately, to a faculty member’s unit (use department instead). Don’t allude to a team (it’s a committee) or to a cost center (again, use department or program). And never, ever talk about a strategic plan (aren’t all plans, by definition, strategic?). You might pin this list of business jargon to your bulletin board as a reminder of what not to say around your faculty colleagues.

When you have occasion to send an email or a memo to a group of faculty, begin with “Dear Colleagues” or just “Colleagues”. Don’t use imperious salutations like “To the Faculty”. You work with faculty, not above them. You are part of a faculty, not apart from it.

Never, under any circumstances, wear a magnetic name badge anywhere on campus.

When you introduce yourself, use this order: name, department, administrative position.

Don’t change the way you dress. If jeans and a flannel shirt have been good enough for you to teach in for the last 10 years, they’re good enough for you to attend meetings in. Plus, nothing screams “I’m not one of you anymore!” like a new silk suit on the person who used to wear Chuck Taylors to faculty meetings.

Steer clear of all the leadership institutes. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and your institution a lot of money.

Don’t call yourself an “academic leader.” Let the faculty decide whether you’re a leader. If it turns out that you do have leadership skills, they’ll show through soon enough (and come as a pleasant surprise to many faculty).

Say no more often to your administrative superiors and yes more often to your faculty colleagues. If you find yourself doing the opposite, it’s time to return to the faculty.

Remember that serving as an administrator is just that: service (temporary service, in fact). Service to the students, to the faculty, and to the institution. As soon as it becomes something else—a means of upward mobility, a power trip, a career trajectory—immediately return to the faculty.

Some of these suggestions might seem trivial, but I’m serious about all of them. I hope readers will add their own pieces of advice to this preliminary list.