Recently, I received news of a senior female colleague moving to a high administrative post. This same colleague told me years ago that I was not cut out for administration. I don’t think she was wrong, but it still stung, and I still begrudge her for it—who the hell is she to tell me what I can and cannot do? In hindsight, the above comment of hers, which she made when I was an assistant professor, did erode my confidence in my administrative abilities, and consequently the opportunities I sought or didn’t; we should all be careful when we wield discouraging words, even if—or perhaps especially if—we think we know better. 

It is, however, true that I have no intention of going into administration. I might do it if I absolutely have to, but not for any longer than necessary. (Maybe I wouldn’t feel this way if the colleague hadn’t made that remark, but I guess we will never know.) The thing is, I find working with people to be emotionally taxing, seemingly much more so on me than on many others, including those who successfully hold administrative posts for long periods. I don’t know if these individuals are naturally even keeled, or they are just good at disengaging their emotions from the job at hand. I can  compartmentalize, but only for a limited time, and couldn’t do it for days on end. 

I prefer to be boots on the ground, working with students through teaching and research. It is also probably good for everyone involved that I keep doing the things that both utilize my strengths and benefit the core mission of the university. 

What say you, blogosphere? Do you covet or avoid administrative posts?



  1. I don’t want the mandatory lobotomy, so no administration for me. Plenty of service, but I will never leave the faculty ranks.

    Seriously, however smart admins are, there is a certain kind of bullshit that they all praise despite the disconnect from anything that matters on the ground. I think they must know it’s bullshit, at least some of them, but power has a price.

  2. I avoid ie do not seek out. But if asked by my institute head to take up something I don’t always refuse. Someone has to do it, and my institute is small, we don’t get people from outside to do it.
    So as duty. But I DON’T ENJOY IT!

  3. Reminds of when I was interim department head. For context, I’m pretty quiet and usually don’t speak unless spoken to. So, after an NSF review panel, a few panelists went out for dinner. Another panelist turns to me and says “You don’t act like a department head”. Although I never had intentions of being “permanent” head, it was discouraging. I prefer the day-to-day on the ground activities.

  4. … I think it’s a compliment to be told you’re not cut out for administration? That’s like saying, “You’re really excellent at important research and getting grants.”

    I have zero patience for wasting time with meetings. I hate dealing with BS. I am not cut out for administration. I am highly competent but it would eat all of my time because I would need to do a good job and I would HATE it. I’m good at the paperwork and project management parts but the dealing with people parts kill my soul.

    Our admin assistant says I would be good at it except they’d have to drag me out from under my desk on occasion. “Dr. Rumblings is hiding under her desk again! Call security! Gotta get her out so she can go to her next meeting.”

    At a recent faculty meeting, I noted that they didn’t want me on faculty senate because the rest of the university would HATE our department. My chair said, the university would be better off, it would just be dragged to it kicking and screaming. Thankfully nobody thought nominating me was a good idea and a nice quiet gentleman was elected instead.

  5. I do not like admin positions, either. I turned down two different admin positions over the years. My kids were very young at that time, that was my excuse. But, I still do not want to do it. I am competent and I have the skill set but I really detest endless meetings. In my school, there are so many meetings… I rather teach two more classes than spending infinite time in meetings. You do not get much pay raise too. I am happy with my flexibility and freedom as a faculty.

  6. I think I would eventually still snap and tell someone what I really thought, like, making everyone do an e-portfolio is both stupid and pointless! Intro chem doesn’t want “digital storytelling” ! Calculus is not going to decolonize their syllabus because it is made of calculus! Most of our Black students come from the top 5% of U.S. incomes and don’t need remedial classes!

  7. If someone asked me to decolonize my syllabus I would reply that since turning 40 I’ve had to decolonize every 5 years. With my family history you can never be too careful about polyps.

  8. I’ve had physics classes that could use decolonizing– word problems can be especially problematic. It doesn’t hurt to scan through the textbook to make sure they’re using examples that aren’t racist/sexist/exclusionary. I would hope that this wouldn’t be a problem anymore, but I did get a textbook chapter to review that was insanely misogynistic just a couple of years ago, so…

  9. I assure you that the person who came to speak to us about decolonizing syllabi had nothing so sensible or concrete to suggest. It’s worth, for example, countering the genetic essentialism with respect to health that is present in every biology, biochemistry, and genetics text in the country. And it’s worth asking if one is making an effort to reach every student. But seriously, you should have heard this person. Three hours and not one concrete suggestion for the calculus person, who was all like, “but derivatives….”

  10. It depends what sort of administrative position is meant. I was vice chair for a year or two (I refused to be chair) and didn’t care much for it, but I’ve been happy being undergraduate director. That has mainly meant making decisions about student petitions for course substitutions, vetting senior thesis proposals, advising students in the major, making decisions on honors for borderline cases, updating the catalog (and the curriculum) each year, … .

    In other words, real, useful work that does not involve politics and doesn’t require convincing faculty to do their fucking jobs and put some effort into teaching courses. It also doesn’t involve dealing with deans or getting into wars about space allocation.

  11. We have a rotating department chair position and my turn comes up next summer. I am dreading it. I mean, on some level I think it’s better to have me in charge than some of my colleagues whose leadership styles drive me nuts (OK, just one of my colleagues, but he’s the current chair so it’s salient), but I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it, and I will eagerly step down once my 3-year sentence is up.

  12. I find this so fascinating — all of it — both in terms of the impact this person has had in your life perhaps without even realizing it, and regarding the nature of admin positions. I don’t think I’m cut out for admin because of the politics, and because I’m not good at reading between the lines. When people ask me what I think I will tell them because I assume they want to know (they usually don’t), and that confuses me. I’m not naturally manipulative. If I think my way is the best way then I will present my reasoning why, and others are free to counter with their own evidence. I can be persuaded! But usually people don’t try, they just get pissy and call me selfish and hope to sway others using public opinion and dragging me down with ad hominems rather than logic. It drives me crazy.

  13. I’m going to go against the grain here and say that I’ve really enjoyed the administrative positions I’ve taken on. I actively applied for both, because I could see that I’d be able to have a positive impact on those directly affected. I wouldn’t call either apolitical, because I’ve been involved in a women’s group on campus and in overseeing groups of trainees, and in both cases I’ve worked to make policy changes that will benefit the group – there’s always some level of opposition to change, even if it seems like a no-brainer like putting parental leave policies into place. But I haven’t been in a position like department chair that could put me in direct conflict with close colleagues. I would be willing to consider it if I felt like I could make a unique and positive contribution to the department, though.

    Most of the administrators I know really are just trying to do the best they can for their units, with varying levels of skill and success. I’ve been impressed with how some on our campus have handled the multiple crises of the past year. I’d like to think it’s only a small minority that are so horrifying they give all administrators a bad reputation.

  14. I think people are meaning different things by “administration.” I hear some people talk about their involvement in various campus efforts, but they still seem to be connected to teaching and research. If we just mean spending a lot of time on tasks other than teaching and research, things that I normally think of as service rather than administration, I guess I’ve done a lot of administration. Spearheaded curriculum overhauls, scheduling classes, chairing a university committee. But I’m still faculty, both in my HR paperwork and in my focus: I still teach classes, still do research, still participate in department meetings. My office is in a hallway full of faculty, not a hallway full of administrators with their own assistants.

    But I get to interact with a lot of administrators who aren’t in any way faculty. They used to be, but they aren’t now. And they are mostly so removed from what’s happening at ground level that they’re effectively lobotomized. They have no concept of how their policies and decisions affect actual things happening at ground level. Half of what I do in my interactions with them is inform them of all the things they missed because they ignored ground level.

    My department chair is a faculty member. Not just by proclamation and HR paperwork, but by practice. He is always seeing students and faculty, and not just through formal review processes but constant daily interactions with the substance of what they do. He is in no way an administrator. He knows what the ground-level effects of policies are.

    University administrators spend most of their time trying to validate everything Hayek said about central planning. They use buzzwords like “assessment” and “strategic planning” and “mission statement.” And I’ve seen just how disconnected these things are from what actually happens at ground level. Yes, yes, I know, there are people who assure me that when Done Right these things are all deeply meaningful. OK, and if done according to original intent I’m sure that Communism would work. But, you know, every time it’s ever been tried it’s been very, very different from the original promises. Maybe that means something.

  15. I am not faculty–I’m a research scientist–but last year I was pulled into pandemic planning for my very large R1 university. I covered a lot of ground and met a bunch of admins I had not encountered before at the college level and up to the executives. What I was struck by is how hard (almost) all the administration worked and how dedicated they were to their jobs.

    On the flip side, a lot of their work was in endless meetings with each other, which doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to transfer information. It’s very hard to turn a big ship like a university, so it took a lot of effort to get things changed for the pandemic situation. I can only imagine what it must take during less than emergency situations.

    There is a lot of kvetching about how overpaid our president is, which is true, but when it comes to supply and demand, it struck me that I would not take his job even for that amount of money. (And I had only tenuous contact with athletics and none with alums or politiicans.)

    Anyway, I have always known I do not want to more into administration. I can’t sit still in meetings well enough to do it and while I am good at bringing people together, I also have a habit of saying things that aren’t supposed to be said out loud. Plus, I like being in on things a lot closer to ground level, where you can play.

  16. I have a friend who became a dean, and her job is mostly fundraising (making pitches to donors)…which makes my skin crawl. But, I also think that many administrators are essentially doing what xyk does for her lab group but for different constituencies…i.e. advocating for them, doing behind-the-scenes work to support them, problem solving. I am stepping into a ‘center director’ type of role this summer and I hope that it will involve doing what I do for my lab but for a larger group of researchers. I am not going to pretend I’m looking forward to that admin, but I hope that I will make a positive difference and find that part rewarding.
    Anyway, just echoing the comments above – lots of different types of admin to be had, and the person who said you weren’t good at admin was obviously wrong because you have to be good at admin to run a successful research group.

  17. I . . .have done administration, have reason to believe I’m good at it (which is satisfying), enjoy the opportunity to make things better (JusticeWoman!), but know that it is not really valued and that the time that it takes *for me* to do it well according to my own standards makes it not a great choice right now. That’s what my post today is about, flying under the radar as a post about potato salad.

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