Faculty to Administration: The Leap of Faith

September
2008
Richard Mahon, Futures Ad Hoc Committee, Past Chair

When faculty leaders want to find out where their districts' deepest commitments lie, the advice of Deep Throat is often wise: "follow the money." In contrast, when it comes to the instincts that prompt faculty to seek positions of administrative leadership, it is almost never the money that provides insight into those transitions. It's the desire to use leadership skills in new ways to improve the educational experience of both faculty and students. Faculty leaders need to consider the paradox that we know how crucial talented academic leadership is to our colleges, and yet many of us would not recommend that leap to our most respected colleagues or consider it ourselves. And yet the well being of our colleges depends on filling administrative leadership positions with individuals who understand our mission and how to make our colleges effective. Such individuals are most often those with significant teaching experience, in our own classrooms, libraries, or counseling offices-rather than those recruited from non-educational backgrounds.

Resolution 13.02, "Transition of Faculty to Administration" from Fall 2007 asked us to "research barriers to and incentives for faculty transitioning into administrative roles and report back its findings through a future Rostrum article, breakout, or other appropriate Academic Senate venue." At the 2008 Spring Plenary Session, the Educational Policies Committee presented a breakout on "Moving Faculty into Administration-Barriers and Incentives." In addition to many faculty leaders present, the session also included observations by former faculty members Alice Murillo, CIO, City College of San Francisco (and former math faculty at Diablo Valley and Hartnell Colleges), Pat James Hanz, Dean of Instruction, Library and Technology, Mt. San Jacinto College (and former Senate Executive Committee member) and Katy Townsend, Dean, Caada College (and former faculty member and senate president at Palomar College). Four questions drove much of the discussion during the breakout: why do some faculty make the leap? Why don't others? What might make the leap more attractive? What next?

Why leap? Some faculty make the leap into administration for the reasons their colleagues would most respect. Just as they were prompted to become teachers to make a difference for the better, so they applied for administrative positions thinking they could make a difference. This motivation probably is not that different from the motivation that makes a faculty member willing (if not enthusiastically desirous) to become a local senate president. The fact is that it is difficult for the classroom experience to be as rich as possible without the bureaucratic stars aligning. Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in the California Community Colleges (Center for Student Success, 2007) makes it clear that our most fragile students are more likely to succeed when their classroom experience is supported by a wide range of other institutional services, from financial aid and counseling through tutoring and supplemental instruction. These services do not materialize without administrators who recognize their value and support their creation and sustenance. Faculty make the leap to administration because they believe they can provide the support and sustenance the classroom needs to achieve success.

Why not leap? What makes the transition unappealing? The greatest loss described by administrators who participated in the session was loss of classroom time with students. Even though the administrators in the session believed that they were able to serve more students and in very important ways, they still missed the challenge and satisfaction of interaction with their own roomful of students with all the unpredictable chemistry that daily interaction with students brings.

It's not the money. Effective practice C.5 in Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success noted, "research suggests that the most important rewards faculty experience. are intrinsic as opposed to extrinsic rewards" (Center for Student Success, 2007, p. 36). Several participants expressed the desire to be an administrator who leads and inspires rather than one who manages, and it is difficult to assign a monetary value to leadership. While administrative salaries almost always exceed faculty base salaries, even at higher step and column placements, faculty members who choose overload assignments and teach in summer session often earn more than many of their lower ranked administrative colleagues-without having to be on campus Monday-Friday 9-5, 11 months a year. Thus a faculty member whose goal was income maximization would probably seek additional teaching assignments rather than seek a transition into administration. Many participants in the session cited loss of tenure as a further crucial obstacle. Several participants also mentioned the loss of freedom to speak openly or critically as a significant deterrent from moving to administration. The implication is that tenured faculty can speak freely while administrators must sometimes toe the party line, against their own instincts-"it's not always easy to keep your own priorities," said one. Other senate leaders also mentioned the loss in both enjoyment and influence encountered by moving from the "top" of faculty leadership to the "bottom" of administrative leadership.

Whither to leap? Faculty who seek administrative positions at their own colleges often face the skepticism of peers who may have had great respect for them as colleagues but who have difficulty respecting them in their new roles, thus prompting them to look at opportunities elsewhere. The security for tenured faculty becoming administrators at their own colleges lies in their retaining the right to retreat back into their teaching role. Making the leap into a new district means accepting a host of insecurities: faculty have been very resistant to extending retreat rights to unproven administrators, even when they come from teaching ranks. Depending on the district to which one relocates, the salary may be less than the potential earning capacity they might have maintained as a faculty member, and in California, there are many colleges in districts where the cost of housing can pose significant economic challenges long after moving day. Faculty may not seek administrative positions for salary advancement, but they very well may be dissuaded from applying for positions that necessitate a salary reduction. Loss of retirement or health benefits is also a consideration.

Encouraging jumpers. If obtaining respect worthy administrators is important to us-as surely it must be-we will need to consider ways of making the transition attractive. One possibility is to encourage Boards of Trustees to provide a leave of absence long enough for a faculty member moving into administration in a new district to effectively evaluate the success of their transition provided that they can return to their teaching position if the transition seems unsuccessful. Boards might be more willing to provide that flexibility if they believe their own districts will be able to attract stronger pools for administrative searches in return. ASCCC cooperation with the Community College League of California (CCLC) might encourage creation of a core group of districts willing to offer such incentives. It would be fairly easy to create a trial period until a candidate either returned to their original position or received tenure in their new one. Harder to deal with is loss of guaranteed health or retirement benefits incurred by switching to a new district.

Because teaching is so important to faculty, providing the opportunity to continue to teach as part of a new administrative assignment might also be very desirable, not only to the faculty member who is thereby not compelled to give up what he or she loves, but also to the new administrator as a means of getting to know the local student population and community as part of their new position. Such teaching assignments might take place in the evening, in online or hybrid courses, or in the summer, but however they are structured, they allow a faculty member to retain a connection to the activity that is at the foundation of all of community colleges' multiple missions: teaching.

What next? The spring breakout allowed a small group of current and former faculty (now administrators) to discuss the challenges we face in attracting and nurturing new leadership in our system. Resolution 13.02 F07 also asked that we "work with the Community College League of California and representative groups of senior level administrators to discuss and develop pathways that facilitate the transition of faculty, who have a working understanding of the principles of participatory governance, into administrative roles." ASCCC President Mark Lieu took the topic to Consultation Council in the spring where there was agreement to form a task group to begin this fall. It may be that there are a number of things that can be accomplished with good will and informal agreement if a sufficient number of local boards can be persuaded that it is in their interest to open the doors of administration to those faculty willing to become administrators in their districts and who have the vision that things can be better. An improved mentoring and support system could also be a valuable component. A voluntary "free-trade zone" promoting faculty transitions into administrative leadership might be easier to achieve and be more effective. Boards of Trustees already have the legal authority to use a combination of leave and early tenure to create a more attractive environment for those moving from faculty to administration. Perhaps faculty, administrators, and trustees together can make such an environment a successful reality.

Center for Student Success. (2007). Basic Skills as a Foundation for Success in the California Community Colleges. Sacramento, CA: California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://www.cccbsi.org/publications

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.