Nearly all university administrators are really faculty in disguise. We take jobs in administration for a variety of reasons. Whether we are a Department Head, Associate Dean, Dean or Provost, most of us want to both do our jobs well and remain active in our fields as researchers and writers who publish our work. As anyone who has tried to do this juggling act knows, it’s very hard, and the cost of success is often our weekends, and a full night’s sleep.
As someone who spent more than decade in administration, first as a Director of Graduate Studies in Sociology at North Carolina State University, and then as Department Head of Sociology at University of Illinois at Chicago, I’ve personally experienced this struggle. In addition, I’ve worked with administrators in my role as a writing coach, while running seminars on how to write for English language journals in universities across Europe and at my own week long retreats for academics. My experience, and those of my students and clients, provide some clues for how to succeed as an administrator who retains their identity as a member of their academic discipline and remains a publishing scholar.
Here’s the deal. You’ve taken a job, probably a full-time job, that is about institution building, improving the quality of education, devising plans for faculty development, or perhaps fundraising. This is important work. Whatever administrative job you have accepted, you believe in it. Your work matters. It is real work. Yet, from the moment that we begin graduate school, throughout the time have spent climbing the academic ladder, most of us have internalized the notion that our “real” work is our research, and that everything else we must do, from teaching to service to administration may be important but it’s not the work that counts. This is far more true at research institutions than at teaching intensive colleges, but it is increasingly true everywhere. More important, it is the cultural logic of most disciplines, your teaching matters but what makes you a real scholar, esteemed and valued by others in your field, is your research. This cultural logic becomes our private standard too, as assessment of our own self-worth often hinges on our success at publishing. I remember my first few years as a Department Head, having been hired to clean up an organization in some turmoil, spending every waking moment re-inventing the department, and loathing myself for not finding time to get my “real” work done. One of my private clients told me a similar story. She was widely acknowledged as a super star at her college. Yet, she talked about having felt somewhat unsuccessful in the last few years because she was not publishing at the same rate as when she had been a faculty member. This amazing woman had re-designed a major and was on every committee that had to do with diversity on her campus. She had won a major teaching award. Yet she had that nagging voice that only writing and publishing was “real” work.
Many administrators talk about that nagging feeling that they are not succeeding because they aren’t publishing as often as when a faculty member. That is nuts. The nagging voice doesn’t even increase research productivity. Now I’m glad to report that after a week at one of my writing retreats, administrators often finish that paper, and have it accepted. But my real success as a writing coach is when that little voice stops nagging, that “real” work is going undone as administrators invest in building programs for students, and supporting their faculty. My point here is to step back and remind yourself that your real work is administration. That’s what you have chosen and it’s what’s paying your bills. That’s fine. Careers are long, and investing in others, your students, your faculty, your institution is important and real work. Give yourself a break.
As a writing coach, and one who spent years an administrator, I also understand your desire to stay active in your chosen field. But let’s be realistic. You must find new strategies that work for your new role, and you must accept that you will not publish as much right now as you have done before taking an administrative job, or as you will, after you leave it. So how to be as productive as possible while living the life of an administrator? Be realistic. If your goal is to publish as much as you always have, you’ll just spend your time angry at your failure. Is being a publishing scholar part of what the university is paying you for? If not, ask yourself why you want to do it? If it is just because of that nagging voice, the internalized guilt that the only “real” work is publishing, try to re-evaluate your self-assessments. Your real work is administration and it’s OK if you spend your weekends with your friends or family, and not publishing. But if you love to do research and write, and you miss it when you do not make time, here’s some strategies.