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Sep 29, 2006

Notes from the Dark Side

That is, of course, a joke for those university professors who have become administrators. Most university administrators complain about their jobs, and wish to return to a life of a regular faculty. Now, the complaining is done, in part, to reduce the competition. Partly, we want to deflect criticisms of our performance: “Oh, you think I am bad at it? Would you like my job?”

The complaints are well-known: the days are long, they are very tightly packed; you have to be here alll the time, there is never time to do anything else, and one has to deal with human conflict and resistance. All true, but I just want to set the record straight here: jobs like mine have an incredibly rich good side to them. Since I do lists as a part of professional deformation, here is another list: Ten pleasures of being a university administrator, not ranked in the order of importance:

1. The pay is better.
2. These jobs are anything but boring. Things come from you from all directions; it is a cross between tennis and dodge-ball. Dodging some balls and returning others feels like a game, unless you take it too seriously, which I don’t.
3. The opportunity to solve specific, practical problems is very important, at least for me. No that it happens too often, but when it does, it just feels really good.
4. The intellectual challenge of the puzzles we have to deal with is very gratifying. You’d see a problem that seems to be unsolvable, either because of objective circumstance, or because of subjective history of human relationships. It’s like watching a train going to wreck, and then avoiding the collision at the last moment. Well, it’s never so dramatic, I suppose, but stimulating.
5. You learn a lot of arcane, weird things. I suppose some people may not like it, but I really do. Seeing the world from this angle is just very entertaining. People are most interesting to watch in their struggles, problems, and challenges.
6. Teaching is not overwhelming, so one can enjoy it.
7. Organizations are infinitely interesting; they remind me awkward, slow monsters with many heads and tentacles, moving slowly somewhere no one really knows where. They behave not at all like individual people. They have their own logic, pace, and strange ways of accomplishing something. Just guessing what they are going to do next is a lot of fun.
8. One can avoid doing many boring things because there is someone else to do them. God bless secretaries, work-studies, and other wonderful people.
9. Your mistakes can always be attributed to someone else. I suppose, when you’re a surgeon, and your patient dies, there is no escape from the feeling of failure. IN our case though, there is always someone or something else to blame.
10. People listen to what you have to say. Not that they necessarily believe anything you say, but the pretence of being important is sort of funny. Most people do not realize this, but authority is an incredibly funny thing, just next to fraud and magic tricks. It’s the pretending that the emperor is fully clothed. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I often secretly chuckle at myself and other people who are in charge of something.

So, there; I like my job. And if I start complaining, just tell me to shut up.

1 comment:

  1. I have had similar musings...and your title called immediately a conversation I had with Jim Garrison over the weekend at the "listening" seminar I attended in Evanston, IL, hosted by Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon and Len Waks. Jim mentioned that his best friend at Va Tech is a professor who is now an administrator who speaks about the dark side. It would be fun to talk more about this. I have written about being an interim dept head and also an associate dean, and I had a series of exchanges last year when Nick Burbules was an interim chair....