Friday, May 21, 2004

A day in the life 

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has a day's log of a department chair. (Subscribers only.) As I start my second tour of duty in the position, I look at this as not news, but it might be to others:
My administrative day was calendar-driven. I'd barely get started on one thing when my computer would beep to tell me to change activities. If I ignored the beep, my secretary would come in and gently tell me where to go. I bought a Palm Pilot to direct me when I was away from the office. I never seemed to finish anything. I mentally stamped each file, "To be continued." I signed sheaves of papers I didn't have time to read just because the little flag said, "Sign here." My mantra for ending conversations became, "I gotta go."

Then it came to me: This was what the working world was like, the world where people went to meetings, played phone tag, moved paper from the in box to the out box. What made the university tick was exactly what drove the gray-flannel rat race that I thought I had escaped.

I quickly learned that this was not a bad thing. Universities can't do what they need to do without some paper getting pushed. And office routine turns out to be a lot like the arc of research: high points, low points, with lots of space in between where nothing seems to change.
Now SCSU is a lot different in that department chairs are still considered faculty: My contract is a faculty contract; the rules governing my behavior are negotiated in the collective bargaining between the faculty union and the administration. And I'm a lucky guy insofar as I inherited a department that works well, where delegation of authority is accepted and everyone understands we work from the same mission.

The author notes as well that "leading a department involves ingesting a lot of empty calories". It's added two inches to my waistline. My wife has started sending me to school with Atkins breakfast bars. Ick.