Sunday, August 22, 2010

How's that New Job Treating You? Edition

I told myself I'd quit blogging when summer ended.  That's a bit over a week away, as classes start September 1.  Also nicely, from the count on the right, I'm nearing 500 blog posts.  Seems like a good stopping time.

I'm now not infrequently asked how the new "Area Dean" job is working out.  Just fine, thanks.  I figured I'd say a little more about it, and perhaps that will also explain why it's a good time to give blogging a rest;  I can't imagine people would want regular blog posts on this sort of stuff.

So far, the time commitment is about what I expected, but only because I was told to expect that it would take more time than I would expect.  There's a lot of meetings, e-mail, and writing.  Pleasantly, the time thus far has been spent on fairly worthwhile endeavors -- most of the time has been spent on hiring and promotion plans.  Since, really, managing those issues are the highest priorities of this job, that feels like time well spent.  Some time has been spent on letter-writing -- those CAREER, Sloan, and other fellowship letters get written by someone, and now that someone is often me.  Finally, some time has been spent as being "voice of the faculty" on certain issues.  For example, there are some non-trivial changes supposed to take place on our e-mail system, and unsurprisingly the CS faculty are more concerned than the average faculty member about this.  (A little knowledge is a dangerous thing...)  My job, where possible, is to be the consensus voice and contact point on faculty-administration issues like this.

Because I'm new -- and because it's summer and we're not having our regular faculty meetings -- there's been a lot of e-mail.  We're a consensus-oriented faculty in CS, so I want to represent the consensus.   I feel at this point it's important for me to check carefully with other faculty members before expressing a collective opinion (or even my own, since often it will be taken as the collective opinion).  Being new at the job, this means -- in my mind -- checking in with the faculty perhaps more than is truly necessary, both so I am secure that I am representing them accurately, and perhaps even more importantly, so that THEY'RE secure that I am representing them accurately.  I suspect after a few months, assuming that I've grown into the role and the faculty has developed a trust in how I perform the job, there will be less need for as many explicit checks on things.  (I suspect some faculty will just get tired of getting e-mail from me!)  On the other hand, maybe they'll appreciate this conservative style, even if it means they get e-mail pings on administrative issues more frequently.  We'll see.   

I expect further aspects of the job will reveal myself as the semester begins -- more committee meetings, more curricular issues to handle, more faculty concerns.  There are also some long-term initiatives that I expect CS to be at the center of that are just starting up but will require my attention.  (They're not ready to talk about yet.)  And, perhaps, I'll find myself involved in other activities like fund-raising.  (I may have to convince my Dean that, although my standard work wardrobe is a simple button-down shirt and jeans -- or a T-shirt and jeans over the summer -- I do own a few suits and ties and can be made to don them for appropriate occasions.) 

It is time-consuming, and it will, sadly, clearly eat into my research time.  I'm thinking about how best to handle that.  And when you're shafted with given a job like this, it really makes you appreciate your predecessors.  (I knew Greg Morrisett was doing a great job before, but now I really appreciate it.)

So far, though, it's all fine.  I hope to do some good in the position;  and I hope I end up being good at the position. 


Mikko Särelä said...

I definitely would want to read about such stuff. After all, it is part of the things that makes a university tick.

Anonymous said...

I would also definitely be interested in hearing about this sort of thing. A few reasons

(1) There aren't a lot of blogs about academic administration(with the notable exception of, so it is an under served market.You could say many things that haven't been said publicly before (or at least are not widely known).

(2) All of us in academia are affected by administrative decisions, it would be nice to get a "peek behind the curtains" into why certain things work the way they do.

(3) Many of us in academia might be asked to be chair/"area dean" some day, any information we get on what the job entails might be very helpful.

Obviously there are many details you can't talk about, but I think many of us would be happy to hear whatever insights you are able to share.