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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

The Joys of Administration
July 27, 2011 - 8:30pm

This week I started my new position as Director of my university’s teaching center. This is my dream job: I have greater scope to effect change but am still very much connected to the nuts and bolts of teaching. However, as an administrator I work a regular 40-hour week and spend most of my time in my office or in meetings with other staff members and administrators. This is quite different than my solitary and itinerant life as a faculty member. Of course, becoming an administrator is more than just a shift in workplace or schedule; it is another culture and necessitates a shift in perspective. As a faculty member, I am used to being evaluated solely on the basis of my publication and teaching records (with minimal attention given to service). In my new position my “success” will be based on how well I can help other faculty teach. The administrative point of view is necessarily broader and my success will be less personal. I am also aware that some faculty members’ perceptions of me might change, and vice versa. But what I didn’t expect is that my new job is also making me happier in my marriage.

My new job completes a dramatic role reversal in my marriage: until a couple of years ago, my husband worked regular hours away from home, while I had a flexible academic schedule. Unfortunately, "flexible" often means that women academics do the majority of household work and childcare. After all, we can arrange our teaching schedules around our children's school schedules, we have more generous leave policies after giving birth, and we have "summers off."

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that my university’s generous “sick leave” policy allowed me to stay home with my daughter for her first five months, and that I was able to arrange my schedule so that she didn’t stay in daycare (most days) past 3pm. Nevertheless, as I now caution junior faculty, beware of scheduling part-time daycare when you have a full-time job. While my husband didn’t have my work flexibility, he was, for the most part, able to leave his work at the office. Working at home means that you never leave work and that the boundaries between work and home blur. It also means that you get interrupted a lot. Is one way of working “easier”? Probably not.

Over a year ago, my husband started his own photography business and now works at home. Since I am now at the office all day, he is the one home multi-tasking: caring for our daughter, processing photos, calling the gutter guy, picking up groceries, taking the car in for a tune up, etc. He often works 14-hour days and is up late; yet because he’s at home I doubt our neighbors see what he’s doing as “working.”

Recent comments in this blog suggest that there is still a certain amount of resentment toward faculty, a sense that we do not acknowledge the ways that we are privileged. I have seen this same attitude among faculty toward administration. As Donald E. Hall has argued, this unfortunate “us/them” binary between faculty and administration causes us to become further “isolated and entrenched” and keep us from fighting together for higher education (Hall 121). Faculty rarely know the budgetary constraints and competing demands that administrators confront; while administrators may forget the intensity of effort involved in faculty teaching and research – and demoralizing nature of our compensation.

Perhaps it helps when we switch roles and are forced to consider a different vista. Today when I came home, the house felt like a place of solace. The piled-up dishes seem trivial; after all, I will leave again early tomorrow morning to my clean, organized office where I can work in peace.


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