• 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

A retirement. "Forced fun." A vacation.


August 4, 2016

August 5 is Kay Ford’s last day at work. I mention that because she’s my mom. She’s retiring from Drexel University, where she has run the MBA Career Services office for the last ten-plus years.  

When she arrived at Drexel, the MBA Career Services office was an afterthought. She got it to the point that it was ranked #1 in the world by the Financial Times, twice. She knows what she’s doing. At this point, Wharton steals ideas from her.  

I learned from the best. She was even the first community college administrator in the family; she did corporate and workforce training for Monroe Community College in Rochester in the 80’s.  

Characteristically, she’s leaving Drexel in far better shape than she found it. She’s leaving with the respect of her colleagues, and of the students she has helped.  

At her retirement reception on Monday, her dean quoted her saying “I don’t do drama.” She doesn’t. She does clarity.

So I’ll say this clearly. Well done, Mom. I’m proud of you.


True confession: I’ve never been a fan of “forced fun.” Rope exercises, “field day” retreats, voluntold karaoke: they all feel more demeaning than exhilarating.

Now the New Yorker says science proves I’m right.  Woo-hoo!

The “forced” part is the key. Coerced emotions -- even allegedly positive ones -- bear the imprint of the coercion. If you want people to be happy at work, apparently, you need to give them the autonomy to be themselves.  

Yes, yes, yes. I’ve long thought that relative autonomy is one of the strongest attractions of the professoriate. Most people don’t get superstar salaries, if they get salaries at all, but they get uncommon autonomy in what they do and how they do it. Yes, a class may have a given day and time that it meets, and it will have certain goals, but how you achieve those goals is largely up to you.  

In administration, I’m more an enabler of autonomy than a beneficiary of it.  But that’s okay.  The goal is worthy, and now I have science to back it up.


Program note: for the next couple of weeks, the family and I will be dodging bears and watching meteor showers in Yellowstone Park. The blog will be back on August 22.



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