TITLE: The Melancholy Department Head AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 15, 2017 2:14 PM DESC: ----- BODY: In The Melancholy Dean, Matt Reed notes that, while most management books speak at the level of the CEO or a founder, most managers work further down the chain of command.
Most managers are closer to deans than to presidents. They're in the middle. ... it's not unusual that they find themselves tasked with carrying out policies with which they personally disagree. When success in a position relies largely on "soft power", having to carry out positions with which you personally disagree can be a real strain.
Obviously, if the disagreements become too large or frequent, the right move is to step out of the role. But that's the exception. More commonly, there's a vague sense of "I wouldn't have done it that way" that falls well short of a crisis of conscience, but can be enough to sap motivation. That's especially true when budgets are tightening and adverse decisions are made for you.
I have seen this happen to deans, but I also know the feeling myself. Here, department heads are administrators, and formally they depend upon the dean and provost for their positions. As public universities have to face falling state appropriations, increasing regulatory requirements, and increased competition for students, they often find themselves operating with more of a corporate mentality than the hallowed halls of academia we all dream of from yesteryear. Even with good and open leaders making decisions in upper administration (which I have been fortunate to have in my time as an administrator), more agency lives outside the department, more of the department head's time is spent carrying out activities defined elsewhere, and fewer strategic decisions are made by the head and faculty within the department. It does wear on a person. These days, academic middle managers of all sorts have to cultivate the motivation they need to carry on. The good news is, through it all, we are helping students, and helping faculty help students. Knowing that, and doing at least a little programming every day, helps me relieve whatever strain I might feel. Even so, I could use more closure most days of the week. -----