As a faculty administrator with a travel schedule that gets me away from my station, I rely on a small group of dependable colleagues (who need to be tenured faculty) to act as officer-in-charge (OIC). I literally live much of my official life vicariously through a parade of OICs who have to make routine and (less often) controversial decisions in my name. At the opposite end, I haven’t had much experience being a temporary administrator. I recall only two times in recent past: one for a week supposedly as a “dry run” for my eventual assumption as Division chair the week after (but curiously, I served only a few days of this appointment); second as a 2-day OIC director for the Oil Spill program. Both of which were short, and frankly, unremarkable. I just had to deal with travel orders, payment vouchers and other bureaucratic things which require the boss’s signature or else somebody won’t get paid. In general, the expectations are low for an OIC: you show up, you sign papers, move things along, anything major you leave behind for the real man/woman to take care of.OICs fulfill the one basic requirement of a traditional society that puts premium on face-to-face engagements: being physically present. Come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a University manual or guideline regarding temporary positions and responsibilities.
The relatively “low” expectation of performance in OIC-ships does not apply to the Director of Student Affairs post. As the office responsible for the concerns of UPV’s 2500+ students (dormitories, students organizations, student-related activities, etc.), it is NOT a job for the weary and faint-hearted. As in many occasions, students get into scrapes, and if they do, the Student Affairs director (or his substitute) is expected to trouble shoot. I know enough of this trend from conversations with previous directors to not consider applying for the post: staying up in the city jail to process and eventually bail out a student who tried to hold up a taxi; camping late at a hospital to attend to an ill student (en loco parentis you are); mediating between two warring fraternities; appeasing guests at a major event for the rather untimely display of student male genitals during the famous Oblation run...the list goes on.
But reciprocal demands of friendship led me to accept a week-long stint as temporary student affairs director, during which I cut my first mettle. Two weeks prior, a fatal tricycle accident led to one student’s death, 2 seriously injured and scores of students traumatized for having witnessed the event. Despite prodigious debriefing sessions conducted by Psychology faculty members, there was gloom and a sense of ill foreboding on even the much-awaited student event of the year, the Hinugyaw (a themed fashion competition between academic groups). During the same week, the city campus dorm also had their Open House. Any other time, I would have skipped these events (in the past I use this week off to do field data gathering). Societal niceties require that I be present in both, even driving 80km back-and-forth the two campuses in inclement weather. In between, news came to me (via an SMS from the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) that one student was hospitalized for a “nervous breakdown.” That prompted a series of calls to the student’s friend at the hospital and a teary conversation with the mother. While sitting through 3 hours of deafening student cheers and pouring rain over GI sheets at the Hinugyaw, I had to track down by SMS the roommate of said hospitalized student and co-organization members to go talk to the distraught mother.
Lessons learned: (1) An administrator requires a distinct skill set from an academic. I just do not have the emotional wherewithal for these kind of things; (2) It is tougher dealing with students than adult faculty members with whom I can be frank and persuasive. I did not realize until being an OIC director how little I know of what students do outside of the classroom - the sheer range of extra curricular activities they are involved in. (3) being director of student affairs is the toughest job in my university - on call 24 hours for the largest number of clients.
They were lessons worth learning.
Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.