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  • 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.

Live from the League, Part IV
March 4, 2008 - 10:29am

There's a special kind of relief that comes from realizing that it's not just you.

I attended a presentation (and group exercise) on "How to attempt to prevent sensitive issues from becoming legal headaches." The room was packed, and it was a pretty good mix of retired administrators, active deans and chairs, and active faculty. The advice was pretty boilerplate - document everything, enforce rules evenhandedly, etc. But the discussion!

Somebody asked about the relative 'openness' of an official personnel file, as opposed to any administrative records a dean might keep in her own office. To a normal person, this is dangerously sleep-inducing, but to this crowd - myself included - it was a very live issue. People actually shouted out answers! ("But what if you get a subpoena?" "Well, *yeah*...") When I
innocently raised the question of the meaning and definition of "past practice," the entire room groaned in sympathy.

(As near as I can tell, 'past practice' functions mostly as a system for playing 'gotcha!' with new hires.)

The presenter broke us into groups and passed out 'case studies' with names removed, assigning one case to each group, to see how we'd handle them. The dynamics in each group were the same. "I had a case like this just last month!" "Don't you hate that?" "Ugh. Don't get me started."

It's not just me.

The presenter - a dean herself -- mentioned in passing that she's excited about the post-tenure review process she finally managed to implement at her college. It only took her ten years.

Ten years!

Even the presenter, who apparently has her stuff together at a high level, made reference to several lawsuits she had endured. The sad truth of this job, given all the protections that tenured and unionized faculty have, is that getting anything done sometimes requires being sued. Even if you win, it takes tremendous time and effort that could well have been spent doing
almost anything else. And for reasons I'll probably never understand, the legal system actually rewards people who take the approach that the best defense is a good offense.

It can be demoralizing. It's a little less demoralizing when you see that others are in the same boat.


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