administration · day in the life · learning · vice dean

One week in

I think I love it.

Not that being a Vice Dean isn’t hard. If I stand back and think about the responsibilities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and underskilled. I’m doing stuff I have never done before and learning hand over fist – but I really enjoy that. I find hard work interesting (see “protestantism”) and I like to be stretched.

Among this week’s insights/confirmations:

  1. I like working with women. In particular, I respect my boss, which is crucial to my professional wellbeing and something I learned the hard way; as a bonus, I also really like her. Our Faculty administration right now is almost all women: Dean, Vice Dean, Associate Dean (Research) – now, that’s radical! – and Assistant Dean (Admin). In fact, the men on the academic admin team are playing the “rover” positions (that’s a co-ed softball metaphor): Teaching and Learning, and Student Programs. I find this interesting. Especially gratifying is that the non-academic administrators, also predominantly women, like working with women too. Three times this week I’ve had women co-workers say, “It’s so great to work with a bunch of smart women.” Or, “It’s fun that we’re all girls.” Which is jarring to the ear, I’ll admit, but I appreciate the sentiment. Do I think gynocracy might also have drawbacks? Yes. Same perspective = good, but it also means we are likely to have the same blindnesses. It’s surprising to feel cautious about living the change we want to see.
  2. Not everybody plays by the same rules. Here’s a little fable. Once upon a time, the government of a province in western Canada proposed funding a dozen or so research chairs to be shared among four universities. I was tasked with developing the proposal for a social science chair that would fit the province’s designated categories. I did this by consulting the appropriate department chairs. Together we narrowed down the various possibilities to a single strong proposal, which we developed through several email exchanges. I took our proposal to the university-wide meeting chaired by the Vice President Research. And there I discovered that other Faculties on campus proposed several such chairs, all to be housed in their own shop. I felt both stupid and incredulous – and I still do. It turns out that when someone says, “I’m making pie, do you want some?,” it simply does not occur to me to say, “Yes, please. I’ll take the round piece.” 
  3. Only chumps beat the deadline. Before the Canada Day weekend I was told, “I need this for a meeting first thing Monday. So – Sunday night latest.” However, I had plans for the long weekend. I was having my family over for a bbq, and I was taking my littlest niece birthday shopping, and Mo and I were going to oil the deck. You know, weekend things, life things. So I got the necessary doc off my desk around 3pm on the Thursday before the holiday. What did that get me? A request for MORE work, sent at 3:50pm on Thursday 30 June. And a whole bunch of follow-up emails on the weekend.
  4. Schedules are good (for me). I have said it before and I’ll say it again: although I like to believe I am a wild child of nature, I am in fact a deeply routinized cardpuncher with a worrying capacity for repetitive activities. The formlessness of summers is something I find particularly difficult. I also love it, of course, but we talk about loving it all the time. More interesting to me is how satisfying it is to get work done, at work, even in the summer. I go to bed at night feeling good about the day. Related: I like working with people, and a workplace makes that happen.
  5. Strong principles make hard decisions easier. One of the things I worried about before taking on this position is that I would alienate friends and colleagues by being part of “the dark side.” That might still happen – I think fundamentally changing the default mindset of academia might be a bit more than I can achieve, at least in the first year – but I know why I am making the decisions that I do. When you make principled decisions, you might disappoint some people, but you sleep okay at night.

Whew. I think that’s it. Averages out to one lesson a day, which is not bad.