To be the dean of a college and the chair of a department should be the pinnacle of any academic's career. The appointment suggests you are the leading professional, the one whose performance in the classroom is so exemplary that you have been given the responsibility of overseeing the work of the other academics (teacher-scholars). They will learn from your knowledge of the craft. The students for whom you are responsible are the seed corn of the future whose development will be enhanced by the time they spend in your care. You, indeed shape destinies, influence career paths, personal beliefs and social progresses.
That is the ideal, but alas, reality is rather different. After 33 years as a teacher and keen observer of administrations, I realize how matters have changed. Today's administrators (presidents, deans, department heads) must balance budgets, manage staff and students, negotiate contracts for services, and for maintenance of school grounds and facilities, as well as the demands and idiosyncrasies of faculty. Personally, I shall remember Ball State as a wonderful place inhabited by variegated people, some of them screwballs, but all of the with a love of learning. Administrators have to keep on top of a plethora of changes. Occasionally, they may enjoy the luxury of teaching. I am told that the greatest work of fiction in many schools is the head-teacher's diary, which at the end of the day bears no resemblance to what actually occurred.
No wonder too few people are coming forward to be administrators and head-teachers. The United States now faces, what I am told, its worst administrator shortage. Sometimes when a post is fulled in the department of other school units, the choice is from a range of candidates not entirely suitable.
So why become a head-teacher? Is it some masochistic streak that drives individuals who, despite all the job's red tape, still aspire to this position? Is it ego? Is it the need of power? There is still some element of the role that makes people feel the responsibility is truly worthwhile.
Personally, I see the position as opportunity to serve others, honestly and honorably. Perhaps, no other job offers the rich rewards that come from knowing you have had a positive influence on the development of so many individuals. The rewards of teaching and service are not measured in the value of a paycheck - they are to do with interactions with people. There are wonderful moments when the seductiveness of the subject matter and the skill of the teacher mean everyone involved has learned something new.
We should reward our best teachers and administrators appropriately, but we must ensure that the most important focus remains the craft of teaching. Evaluation tables can breed complacency for some and despair for others. Positioning in the U.S. News and World Report annual best college table list should not be dependent on the caliber of an institution's intake. We have made the easily measurable important rather that the striving to make the important things measurable.
We need to continue to prepare our students so that they can embrace the many challenges ahead of them. We need to continue, especially, to prepare academics to embrace the challenges, as well as relish the satisfaction that comes from teaching and service-serving as administrators and running schools and departments-establishments whose outcomes are so fundamentally important to us all. Let us acknowledge this contribution (Dean Ronald Johnstone, College of Science and Humanities; Dr. John Barber, Head Department of History; and others) as it deserves and respects and values those who are prepared to fulfill the role of head-teachers for the sake of us all.
There is no better investment than education. The character of society and our very nature as individuals, largely depends on its breadth and quality.
Write to John at firstname.lastname@example.org