It has been more than six months since I gave up my position as vice provost at the University of Texas at Austin. I have been fortunate to have the year on leave, in order to catch up on my research, particularly the book I am writing on immigrant integration in Europe. For the first few months on leave I spent a great deal of time working from home and traveling to Washington, where I am a fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. This semester I have begun to spend more time on campus, and have often been asked whether or not I miss being in administration. People have also noticed that I seem more relaxed, and that I’m not rushing around as much as I used to. This has a lot to do with the fact that I’m on leave – I certainly haven’t slowed down, but my days are less structured.
I must admit that I felt so relieved during my first few months on leave that I thought I might not ever want to return to administration. But as I gain some distance, I realize that I had a good experience for the most part, and will probably get back into administration -- although not until my children are out of school. The truth of the matter is that administration takes a great deal of time and energy, which I would rather channel into my scholarship and my kids for now.
People tend to assume that I am happier being a faculty member rather than an administrator – that I have returned from "the dark side." Many of these people don’t seem to understand that this is a false dichotomy. I feel that it is a responsibility for those of us on the faculty with administrative skills to spend time in administration. There is no “dark side” if we consider that faculty as a whole are responsible for the governance of a university. We are all administrators in one way or another, whether you are a member of your department voting for changes to your graduate curriculum, or the president of a university.
The more time I spend back in my academic circles, talking in the hallways with my colleagues, participating in academic conferences and talking to publishers, I realize that I am much more confident and have a better sense of the issues that the university is facing during these difficult financial times; I also have a much better appreciation for the challenges faced by administrators, as well as the intellectual engagement that I enjoy as a faculty member.
Why do I feel that administration has been good for me?
- I recognize the importance of leadership in academia.
- I understand the pressures that come from legislatures, boards of regents, and the community that I didn’t realize existed as a professor.
- During these difficult fiscal times, I understand the trade-offs being made by the provost and president in order to maintain our standing as a top-notch university.
- I have a better understanding of what faculty governance means, and why it is important to the survival of the university as we know it.
- The most important lesson: I can’t do it all … and it’s important to choose what I want to do, rather than having it chosen for me or letting inertia decide.
I have gained a great deal from my time in administration, and I appreciate all the things that I learned. I have talked with many colleagues about the future, and I also see the importance of taking time to make my mark in my discipline, working with the next generation of scholars, and being a good citizen in my department. Of course, getting to full professor is also an important goal, one that is well within reach.
When people ask me if they should consider going into administration, my main question for them is, why do you want to do it and where are you at in your career? I encourage people with children to weigh the trade-offs of going from a flexible to a more scheduled workday. Often the demands go well beyond the typical workday. Are they prepared to give up their academic research? Many administrators are able to continue with their writing and research, but many find, as I did, that the demands leave them little time for their academic side. What are the long-term goals? Where do they see themselves in five or ten years? There are also many questions which should be asked depending on the specific administration position they are considering.
The next time I consider an administrative position (in about 10 years or so…) I will definitely sit down and have a long discussion with my spouse about the implications of such a move. It is a decision that will have as much impact on him as it will on me. However, we will at least have some idea of what we are getting into. I will be glad to be able to make that decision with eyes wide open.