Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ambivalent

This may go *poof* soon, but I think I need to write it to clear my thoughts and get on with what I need to do today.

The Chairship of Most Important Committee on campus is vacant, and there is a decent chance that I become the next Chair. A few months ago I expressed my interest and was enthusiastic about the possibility. It is an incredible opportunity for leadership and for learning more about my institution. I also believe that in certain committees, faculty actually do have the chance to shape and/or influence your insitution future. Also, Now, I am more ambivalent about whether I want the job or not. Why?

1- There is the possibility that I become Chair only because no other member of the committee wants it. It is a lot of work, and many people will probably criticize you no matter how good a job you are doing. That, in itself, is not a problem for me. I know that many members of the committee would welcome me as Chair. But I do know that a few people are trying to convince somebody else to become Chair (this other person is somebody I deeply respect) because they think I do not really understand or completely fit with my institution's culture. That is just code for "that Hispanic lady speaks her mind too often and is aggresive. She doesn't understand that in this country, we are more polite". They are right in a sense. I do speak up when I feel it's necessary. I could even be considered hot-headed for American standards. But I understand the culture of my institution perfectly well. I am just not willing to tone it down (more than what I already have) just to "fit". It really is a cultural clash, in a sense (university politics in Argentina are noisy, heated and can be a contact sport sometimes. That is also how higher education is still free in my country). And I am not willing to let that part of my personality go. At the same time, I am not sure I want to serve in such a context.* Yes, stepping down would mean that I don't want to fight the status quo. But the possibility of burning out and becoming bitter is too high, and I have never felt the need to be a martyr for a cause (I am being hyperbolic here, but I think I am also clear about what I think).

2- As I said, it is a lot of work. Amazingly enough, being Chair comes with a 2-1 course load reduction, so I don't think I would be overworked. I would have time to devote to it. And here is the problem: teaching is my passion. It is the end of the semester, and I have a lot beautiful notes left by students piling up in my desk. This year, a few of my favorite majors are graduating, and I am very proud of them and how I helped them (one, in particular, who went through some really tough times but managed to graduate with a double major and a 3.6 GPA). Last week, my Chair asked me what classes would I give up in the Fall if I became Chair of the committee... and I didn't want to give up any! I am excited about teaching.

3-And yes, I am scared of the possiblity. It means putting yourself out there, and become a target. And I don't know whether I have the personality for it or not. Some people thrive in those situations. Myself? I have never really tested how I would react.

*it is not only that. I have been dissapointed by a few other people I had in high esteem, and who have bend over backwards to justify a few situations I find unjustifiable.

As you can see, some days I want to be Chair of Committee, but others I find myself secretely hoping that they convince somebody else to become Chair. The situation will resolve one way or another very soon, but it has been keeping me awake last week

6 comments:

  1. I always feel like if someone else can do the work well, and is willing to do it, I'm happy. It's when nobody else can or is willing that I feel like I might have to. But even in those cases, I won't do it without adequate compensation so that I can continue doing a good job at everything I need to be doing.

    For me, a course reduction might be enough. I do like teaching, but I also know that teaching takes a lot of time and if I'm going to be doing more of something, something else has to go. In my ideal world I'd be teaching one course a semester (including summer) for 3 courses/year. And I'd be doing a bang-up job at it.

    It sounds like you're in a good situation-- either you'll do this or you won't. If you don't, the person in charge will do a good job so you can rest easy. If you do, then you end up with the advantages (and frustrations) that you mention above, but you'll get some extra time to deal with the frustrations.

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    1. Thanks, that is a good perspective to have, whatever happens. I really appreciate it.

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  2. Well... Personally, I would be wooed by the course reduction. But then, I think I'm naive about how much work administrative faculty members (like chairs) do, too. It's not that I don't like teaching. I do. It's just that there are a lot of other things that I like doing, too. I like managing people and doing schedules and organizing things. I think I'm good at it too. A lot better at it than teaching writing!

    Is there a vote on this or something? Is it totally in your hands, or will others decide/have a say?

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    1. There is a vote of the committee members. You serve for three years in this particular committee. You need to be at least in your second year to be Chair.
      What is making me doubt whether I want it or not is an institutional culture where if you are not a polite (in public) person, you are at best somebody who doesn't understand the "culture", at worst a troublemaker. I can be as polite as it comes, but I am not a hypocrite. Since I got tenure, I have spoken up and I know I have made a few people feel "uncomfortable" (I can be pretty sarcastic if I want to). Interestingly enough, both the Provost and my Chair seem to enjoy, respect and appreciate my attitude. It is other colleagues (and other administrators) the ones who are the problem.

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    2. Oh, and it really is time-consuming. I probably dedicated 5 hours a week to it my first year, and I was just another member

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  3. Well, sometimes you really need people to be honest and frank about things in order for good things to happen. I really appreciate "no-bullshit" people, and I think they make very good leaders. It's too bad that others get their feelings hurt so easily. But if you have the best interests of the institution at heart, then they will know you are all on the same side -- whatever makes your school better. It sounds, to me, like you'd be a good candidate. It's just whether or not you want the time sink.

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