TITLE: Department Head as Teacher
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: June 09, 2005 6:19 PM
DESC: An academic administrator should approach the job as more than pushing paper and running meetings. A big part of the job is still about teaching.
Some folks have expressed concern or even dismay
that my becoming department head will pull me
away from teaching. Administration can't be as
much fun as the
buzz of teaching,
with its paperwork and meetings and bureaucracy.
And there's no doubt that teaching one course
instead of three will create a different focus to
my days and weeks.
But the more I prepare for my move to the Big Office
Downstairs, the more I realize that -- done well --
a head's job involves a fair amount of teaching, too,
only in a different form and to broader audiences.
To address the problem of declining enrollments in
our majors, we as a department need to educate
students, parents, and high school counselors that
this is the
best time ever to major in computing.
To ensure that the department has access to the
resources it needs to do its job effectively, we
as a department must educate deans, provosts,
presidents, and state legislatures about the nature
of the discipline and its needs. And that's just
the beginning. We need to help high schools know
how to better prepare students to study computer
science at the university. We need to take educate
the general public on issues where computing intersects
the public interest, such as privacy, computer security,
and intellectual property.
These opportunties to teach are all about what computing
is, does, and can be. They aren't one of those narrow
and somewhat artificial slices of the discipline that
we carve off for our courses, such as "algorithms" or
"operating systems". They are about computing itself.
The "we"s in the paragraph above refer to the department
as a whole, which ultimately means the faculty. But I
think that an important part of the department head's
job is to be the "royal we", to lead the department's
efforts to educate the many constituencies that come
into contact with the department's mission -- suppliers,
consumers, and everyone in between.
So, I'm learning more about the mindset of my new
appointment, and seeing that there will be a fair
bit of education involved after all. I'm under no
illusion that it will be all
but approaching the job with an educator's mind
should prepare me to be a more effective leader
for my department. The chance to educate a broader
audience about computer science and its magic should
be a lot of fun. And, like teaching anything else,
the teaching itself should help me to learn a lot --
in this case, about my discipline and its role in the
world. Whether I seek to remain in administration or
not, in the long run that should make me a better