Category Archives: Academic administration

November 24, 2012, 3:45 pm

Been there, done… what?

I am at home this weekend grading papers, and as always, I see practices that remind me of myself as a clueless undergraduate. One student handed in a paper with the top left corner folded over, because she couldn’t seem to find a stapler or a paper clip. I cannot tell you how many times I did that… though it is hard to imagine doing that now.

Another student misunderstands academic writing culture and gives me a reflective paper full of “this writer believes” and ten-dollar words that obscure rather than illuminate the concepts he wants to discuss. I remember thinking that academic writing had to be complicated, and that using long sentences, preferably with a semi-colon or colon thrown in, would yield a higher grade. Good teachers and papers full of red ink helped me curb that practice.

The point, though, is that I understand where my students are coming from, especially the…

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July 24, 2012, 2:31 pm

They’re here!

Just like the ghosts in Poltergeist, you may not see your new faculty, but they are around.

Just to remind everyone: those faculty members you hired last spring from somewhere far, far away? They are actually moving to your town, setting up their utilities and newspaper delivery (if anyone still gets a hard copy newspaper), working on their syllabi, and finding the closest restaurants/movie theaters/post offices/etc. They *and any accompanying family members* could also be lonely in their new place, if they have no connections to friends or family in the area.

I have had some horrible moving experiences and some good ones, and contact with the people from my new department made a real difference. In our first big move, we arrived in the small college town on July 4th weekend. Our new home–the first we had ever …

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July 15, 2012, 10:41 am

Summer in administration: A fine kettle of fish

When I used to be a faculty member with no administrative responsibilities, summers were filled with the excitement of free time for projects, travel, and relaxation (“Look at all the free time I will have!”). Blog posts in early June were filled with plans. By now, in mid-summer, the to-do list would look longer than the time allotted to it, having spent part of the time visiting family and friends, taking care of overlooked tasks at home, and just trying to relax and enjoy a little vaca. Blog posts inevitably turned to how to get back on track, finish some of the looming research and writing, and eke out the last little bit of fun from the summer before the semester (and course prep) begins anew.

Summer as a full-time administrator is a whole different kettle of fish. I was honestly worried I would hate it. First, I still have to get up (on time!) and go to the office, every day. I …

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June 26, 2012, 11:25 pm


Two recent events in higher education have illustrated the tendency of decision makers outside of the university (i.e., not faculty, staff, or administrators) to overstep their mandates in controlling what happens within the university. The first one is the attempt by the Michigan legislators in their state House to legislate standards for students in counseling programs. The second is the unethical actions of the UVa Board to impose their “unique perspective” on the university by basically staging a coup and firing forcing the resignation of the President. Both of these actions miss some fundamental points about the role of each body, as well as the purpose of the public university in American society. Let’s take the actions one at a time.

First, the bill introduced in the Michigan legislature is designed to address an issue raised by Julea Ward, a student from Eastern Michigan…

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May 31, 2012, 10:43 am

Perfecting the Evaluation Process

The end of the year means one thing to everyone in academe: evaluation. Students are turning in papers, completing final exams, and doing presentations for assessment by their instructors. Faculty face two different kinds of evaluations: student evaluations and annual performance evaluations by their department chairs and/or Deans. While I have evaluated students for more than a decade, this year marks my first time evaluating faculty performance.

Like all the other firsts I have faced this year, I talked to peers with more experience, reviewed books about administration and faculty assessment, examined my own yearly evaluations from my prior schools, and looked through faculty files to see examples of written evaluations from the former department chair.

There are two parts to the evaluation process: the formal written document and the conversation between the faculty member and…

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November 28, 2011, 5:59 am

You’re (almost) out(ta here)!

One of my all-time favorite movies is Bull Durham. I would argue that it is a great movie for university administrators. While most people remember the film for Crash’s romance with community college instructor Annie (which offers the takeaway lesson that all professional athletes just need to find a sexy faculty member), academic administrators can appreciate the challenges the team and its leaders face over the course of the season. There are any number of leadership moments: settling arguments among players, inspiring the team, having to let players go, dealing with burnout (no video, but they stage a “rainout” with sprinklers to get a day off), and coping with burgeoning crises.** The movie also highlights the shifting tempo of the baseball season, which reminds me of the rhythm of university life, where stresses wax and wane over the academic year.

I was reminded of these shifts …

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November 9, 2011, 7:07 am

Suffer and permit

I know everyone has to have a take on the story of the multiple child rapes, and the cover ups, occurring for years on the Penn State campus, but so far, the higher education venues have been lacking. Inside Higher Ed’s focus on handling the media crisis is just plain weak, and I am usually an IHE fan. Even the Chronicle has looked for more oblique stories: “how is the campus handling thisthe student protestthe board statement…” This is a truly disgusting story of people on a campus ignoring repeated evidence, sometimes happening RIGHT IN FRONT OF EMPLOYEES. Only Chronicle bloggers get the story, like Michele Goodwin of Brainstorm directly takes on the campus administration’s priorities in dealing with this matter or Chronicle editorial writer Molly Yanity’s critique of the initial failure of ESPN and other sports writers to see the gravity of the story.

If you read the

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October 8, 2011, 11:49 am

A new proposal for training higher ed administrators

Okay, so I am going to do something I never do: share a dream. I am sharing the dream I had last night because it offers a strange, yet compelling idea for continuing education for administrators in higher education. And yes, I will admit that it is clearly proof of my being an academic management nerd of the highest order to dream about continuing education. Or, according to the dream dictionary online, I could be dreaming of training because I lack confidence, have anxieties about my abilities, or want to change my status in life… Nah, my dreams are usually more literal than that. I just came up with a good training idea.

Most everyone in higher education administration knows about the big training venues for continuing education. Harvard offers their Institutes for Higher Education (HIHE) for new managers, upper administration officials, and new Presidents and Chancellors, along …

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October 2, 2011, 11:53 pm

Assessment in higher education: On the train or under it

Collecting Data

Would that collecting data was as fun as collecting butterflies...

For those of you who are responsible for collecting data for outside accrediting bodies, I would like to invite you to join in on a moment of bitching whining reflection.  For those of you faculty and administrators who don’t have primary responsibility for evaluating our work with students, our new programs, our curricula, and our productivity, you might as well read the following as an educational piece, because you won’t be able to avoid the assessment process much longer.

We know the public has long had a distrust of higher education, thinking we were mainly pointy-headed, poorly-dressed, over-educated, socially-awkward types who earn too much money to do too little work: teaching students and conducting research. This trend has…

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September 13, 2011, 8:55 am

Editing self

Being a new administrator in a new system is an interesting process of learning: about the institution, about my colleagues, about my community, and perhaps, most interestingly, about myself. My newest lesson is about editing self.


With a snip here and there...

I have long prided myself in being open and honest. That isn’t because it comes naturally. I grew up lying a good bit as a kid. At some point in my teens, though, I started to think about integrity and needing to be consistent in my presentation and my actions. I wanted to be someone with integrity, someone who was respected, and lying just didn’t fit into that vision.

That said, I have learned that being in the leadership position means sharing information thoughtfully and sometimes editing my real opinions and reactions. I have had a couple…

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