As Erin wrote last week, by mid-June most academics are settling into a slower tempo, working at the pace for reading, writing, and contemplation. I, on the other hand, am ramping up to a July 1 start date for my new role as Vice Dean of Arts at the University of Alberta.
What does that mean? I wish I knew. The position is relatively new to universities, and it means different things in different contexts. I like to think of it as the Leo McGarry position, though I’d be content to be half the strategic thinker he is. With the responsibilities of a dean being largely external (60% of a Dean’s job at the UofA is external), the Vice Dean often minds the shop, overseeing hiring and retention and programming. In our case, the Vice Dean is also in charge of space, consults closely on budget, and will coordinate international strategy and interdisciplinarity, as well as technology and innovation. You fill in for other associate deans (at the moment, I’m effectively AD Research, AD Teaching and Learning, and AD Grad, since there is a gap between people) and help sort out sticky HR situations. You push email, sprint from meeting to meeting, and respond to requests for information from – well, all over, from what I can see – while maintaining your supervisions, cranking out some research, and building the careers of those around you. Oh, and you don’t get to teach.
I know what you’re thinking, because I’m wondering the same thing: what on earth would compel anyone to take on such a role? Well, for one thing, I’m nosy. I like to know what’s going on with people, with departments, with institutions. For another, I’m bossy. (Yeah, I was that six year old.) I’ve always wanted a job with “Vice” in the title – ideally Mistress of Vice, but Vice Dean will do. And evidently I just can’t shake my career-long attraction to the intellectual question of how to make complicated institutions work better.
I will continue blogging here at Hook & Eye, though as I explained to my co-bloggers, the wonderful Aimee and Erin, there may be times where it simply isn’t possible. I don’t know, either, how freely I’ll be able to speak. That’s something I’ll have to feel my way through. But because I care about this blog and its readers – you! – and because it might prove useful to record what it’s like to learn a job like this, I want to keep my oar in.
So what’s it like to learn a job like this? Scary. Prone to anxiety in general, particularly anticipatory anxiety, I am definitely getting my fill of things to worry about. There is just so much I’ve never done; like most professors, I feel junior even though I’ve been in the game a long time now. How do you hire colleagues, from job ad to signed contract? How do you write effectively to the government? How do you think through a new process in a way that’s fair and expeditious? What if there is a dark side, and I’m on it? Whose emails do I answer first, and how promptly? How many and which errors are forgivable? What can I let go of? Where are the files on our subvention process, what are the terms of reference for this group I’m now chairing, and when is it okay (with me) to cancel a meeting with a student/friend/colleague? Will I lose my friends? Will my colleagues still respect me? Will they like me? – understand me, my job, the things I have to do? How much sleeve-tugging can you do before you’re simply an annoyance? How do you learn all of these things at the same time, and still stay on top of email? And would I worry about any of this if I wasn’t so conventionally gendered?
I will keep you posted.