For some time, I've held to the belief that I do not have the right disposition to do administrative work. The prospect of administering a writing program does little to excite me. I like interacting with students in a traditional, classroom setting. I like writing. With tenure I feel I am in a place where I can decline tasks that don't give me joy.
I agreed to run the Civic Engagement Project (our service learning program) here at UM-Dearborn this year and already the work has allowed me to give administrative work a trial run on a slightly smaller scale. Slightly smaller in that the job is 1/3 reassignment time. Directing CEP involves less tedium. I love having the chance to develop new relationships with community partners and trying to enhance those we already have. Supporting our new faculty fellows is genuinely exciting. And I have a great yearlong Vista who is creative and energetic. Props to CEP. In all honesty, I dig the course release too, which gives me a lovely 2-2 teaching load for the academic year.
What have I learned about administration? You spend a lot of time on e-mail. I had really cut down on hours spent reading and writing the e-mails by switching to facebook for informal communication and unsubscribing from various listservs. Guess what? I'm back. It had been a long time since I spent more than ten minutes crafting the language in an e-mail message. Now that's a regular occurence.
I also have learned that you need to talk up your office. At the American Democracy Project meeting over the summer, one presenter called this your "elevator soundbite." You need to have an accessible, clear, catchy description of the work your office does. P.R. Easy enough. One of the challenges is being ready to pitch to your provost or dean or the new faculty member you just met or the dude at the rec center whose name you never remember.
Here's another thing new to me. Budgets. More specifically, making decisions about budgets. I'm not talking about household budgets, I'm talking about a program budget (albeit a meager one) where you have the prerogative to provide teachers with resources and offer professional development opportunities yet you also need to demonstrate frugality.
Closely connected to the use of monetary resources, another lesson has been that administration gives you chances to travel. Next month, to Boston to observe a very well-established service learning program. Each summer, the American Democracy Project meeeting. In February, the Campus Compact Institute at a resort in Traverse City, where I've never been.
I'm a big proponent of sucking the marrow and so forth and, at the risk of sounding idealistic, I never want to regret missing a chance to learn more and do more as a teacher at UMD. That's true if I retire from here in thirty years or if I find a new job next Spring. I have to admit that the challenges and opportunities of administration mean more chances to learn more and do more. I might even get the chance to work on those aspects of my disposition (on-again-off-again shyness, overly developed sensitivity) I thought might make this kind of work too tough.