• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Academics and families, ugly buildings, spending shifts and a fresh start.

September 3, 2015

When should an aspiring academic have kids?

My preferred answer: when s/he wants to.

There is never a perfect time, and there never will be. But as an industry, we still pretend that there is.

Rebecca Schuman offered an on-point perspective, suggesting that if academia and family life can’t co-exist, then so much the worse for academia. For some people, that’s the answer. She has made a choice with which she’s happy, and much of her description of the constraints rings true. The tenure clock and the biological clock can seem to compete.

For what it’s worth, I’ll suggest that the issues may look different in community colleges than at research universities. Here, if you teach well, you’re fine. At the community colleges I’ve seen that have tenure systems -- all of mine have -- getting tenure has been the default setting. You don’t have to be superhuman. It’s possible to have both a family and a career.

Work/life balance issues aren’t unique to women, to parents, or to academia. They’re everywhere. But you’d think that academia would be more attuned to these issues than it is.


For once, I’m glad to see community colleges ignored. If you haven’t seen the list of the ugliest college campuses in America, check it out.  

I can vouch that RIT and Hampshire are both, well, architecturally unfortunate.

The period of the greatest building boom in American higher ed was also the high-water mark of brutalism, which may be one of the ugliest styles of architecture ever devised. It’s ugly and off-putting, and also surprisingly high-maintenance. (I will never understand the appeal of flat roofs in snowy climates.) Timing is everything. Well, timing and taste. And drainage.


Orgtheory has a worthwhile piece on the largely unacknowledged shift of higher ed funding from states (in the form of operating aid) to the Feds (in the form of student financial aid).  As colleges shifted funding burdens to students, they effectively also shifted it to the Feds. Since the first rule of politics is “follow the money,” we shouldn’t be surprised to see an increased federal influence in higher ed circles.

For many community colleges, the picture is of an increasingly U-shaped curve. There’s an increased federal presence through financial aid, and a relatively strong local presence. But state presence has suffered greatly. That creates some awkward moments on the ground, when rules designed at 50,000 feet have to be applied in local circumstances where they make little sense. When the intermediary of state-level support has dropped, those moments matter more.


The kids start school on Tuesday. It’ll be their first day in their new district.

I know they’ll do great, because they’re great kids. (I may be a little biased on that point.) And the schools are impressive, from what I’ve seen. The Girl is excited that there’s a debate club open to sixth graders. The debaters won’t know what hit them. The Boy has already spent time with the marching band, and is eyeing the cross-country team.  

Still, as a parent, it’s hard not to be a little anxious. They didn’t ask to move here, they left friends behind, and they’re walking into schools where they have no history.  

Adaptability is a life skill. But I’ll still have my fingers crossed on Tuesday.


Back to Top