Archive for The Forces of Darkness – aka University Administrations

For Those Thinking It’s Safe to Get Back in the Water – Long December Part II

(Just to abuse the allusion, and referencing “You Know It’s Offically Winter in Norther Ontario When,” authoritative folks on mattering not to me local tv have been reminding us all week that hypothermia sets in within five minutes of falling through thin ice.  I’m figuratively donning the icepicks.)

The faculty-wide stage 2 part of the strategic planning process took place a little over a week ago.  Each of the questions tasked to the Senator/Senatrix-helmed sub-committees, and the eclectically harvested answers to them, was roundtabled:

  • What is it about our students’ learning and performance in classes that we are unhappy with?  What can we do to change it?
  • What does it mean to be a professor at University of Sudbury?
  • What opportunities and constraints are created for our academic direction setting by the environment in which we operate?
  • Who are the communities we serve?  What do they need?  Which of these needs should we attempt to satisfy?

And for all assembled to consider in sum:

  • What do we value?

Since no one else offered to committee up with me, I had nothing to bring to the party.  Hence, the day began with me playing lion-tamer in a discussion of my question, the 1st.  I guess it went alright, but not quite in the direction that the boss wanted, which I reckoned would have raised some hackles.

Of course, as has been said often since this process began, it’s always good (in itself anyway) to have conversations about these questions.  But, some thought that the boss’s orchestrating such a conversation as part of strategic planning might amount to asking us to build our own gallows.  What is it about our students’ learning and performance in classes that we are unhappy with? –> Who isn’t doing their jobs?  (Fear not, ‘they’d like to help us learn to help ourselves’.)

Anyway, some faculty with real concerns about the whole process felt a little better about it after this marathon committee of the whole.

Last Friday my favourite Forces of Darkness blog*** brought back to me all the faculty’s expressed fear and trembling (or do I want to say loathing here?).  Dean Dad, as he often does, entertains a reader’s query: 

I’ve noticed two distinct approaches to budget cuts. The first is an across-the-board cut: all departments (or employees or some other variation on this theme) get a 5% cut. The second is to pare underperforming departments and to spare the remaining ones any significant cuts. Any general thoughts?

The Dean speaks, with the candour his anonymity affords him, but not completely without the cant of his tribe:

The actually-make-choices approach is much riskier in the short term, and it carries a higher risk of imminent disaster. But if you get it right, it opens the possibility of actually strengthening the college over time. Getting it right would involve the standard moves — the SWOT analysis, environmental scan, etc. — but also a serious and sustained public conversation with the college as a whole. When push comes to shove, what does your college really care about? (This could be a very tricky exercise for a newcomer, but if you can pull it off, you’ll really achieve something.) Will future success require emphasizing a different set of programs, or doubling down on the existing core? What does your college offer that its relevant competitors don’t? …. Are there some historical holdovers, programs that were created in different times that just never quite worked?

The key thing here is that it isn’t just about finding the right answer. It’s about getting the college to find it with you. Involving more people in the process leading up to the decision will take time and patience, and you’ll have to endure some not-very-much-fun moments. But if it works, you’ll wind up with a better answer, and with one that might actually stick. You’ll minimize the political backlash, and improve the chances of keeping your best people. It costs more time and effort upfront, but for a long-term crisis, it’s the way to go.

To my colleagues: does any of this (like the portions I’ve emphasized, if it wasn’t obvious) seem familiar?

It’s a funny thing.  More than once in my time at our little college I’ve been approached informally and asked that I might consent to be deputized into service on faculty’s behalf in efforts requiring some heavy lifting and the making of some decisions with consequence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy (enough) to do it and I’m flattered by the confidence colleagues show in me.

But I’m under no illusions.  The work is largely thankless.  And I don’t think it scores me many points – add up the much greater than average (and ever increasing) amount of collegial gubernation I take on, and pressure to continue to perform with respect to other areas of academic activity (as defined by the CA, esp. research) may still be subtly or overtly applied.  

I and another colleague were acclaimed as the faculty representatives to the body charged with the work of the next stage in this process.  This Core Team is charged with the “integration of findings, management and facilitation of process, communication of draft documents to Board and Senate.”  Faculty SWOT, Board SWOT, staff SWOT, boss SWOT all into the Cuisinart to produce the maiden version of a plan we’ll all be expected to live with, er, live by.

But I always take heart in such situations.  The proverbial Kissinger dictum is my mantra, but I especially like the last half.  Now I’ve never been much of a card player, notably when playing for money; when playing for fun, I’m a bad loser (sometimes a bad winner, I confess in the name of full disclosure).   Still, I’ve gotta say, I’m a little edgy about this here figurative Board, staff, admin., faculty Canasta tourney.


***How dark is this (anonymous) force?  You decide:

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

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I Guess the Winter Makes You Laugh a Little Slower – Inaugurating a New Category

So next Thursday, the day after classes end, my faculty are asked to participate in a full day of strategic planning, as part of a project which commenced at the end of September and which is part of the mandate of our new President.

And today this from one of the blogs of the Forces of Darkness that I read.

The Home Stretch

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are the home stretch. This is the time of the semester when most professors’ and students’ fuses are the shortest. (In administration, the late April to mid May stretch is the worst.)

It’s predictable — hell, it’s annual — yet somehow, it’s always a little surprising. Like pain, it’s easy to forget until it returns.

For students, this is when deadlines and reality hit. Since all the classes are on the same cycle, they all culminate at the same time.

For professors, this is when the grading starts to snowball, the student confrontations escalate, and the various end-of-semester deadlines loom. It’s also time to prepare for the holidays. And it gets dark early. And cold.

I miss teaching, but this is the time of year I miss it the least. Oddly, it’s also the time of year when having a teaching background is most important. This is not the time to go to anybody with a time-consuming request, or to bring up a controversial new topic. It’s the time of year to shift to pure ‘support’ mode. There’s enough stress going around without my office adding to it.

So, since I don’t say this nearly often enough, let me just send some gratitude to all the faculty, t.a.’s, and staff who are among my wise and worldly readers. Your readership means a lot to me, and your daily work is what makes mine matter.

Hang in there! You can see the finish line from here…

Maybe this year will be better than the last.  I’ll have some inkling after next Thursday.

(Let it be noted that this was not categorized in “Why My Employers are DBs.”)

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