What Have I Done to Myself?

September
2006
Wheeler North,

So you woke up this morning and it suddenly hit you that it wasn't a bad dream, that you really were elected to be the Academic Senate President of your college. And you realize that you've been in denial since that happened, thinking rosy thoughts about how to promote change and make the world a better place.

And now the reality of it all is sinking in.

You realize that your calendar is no longer a thing you possess; rather it possesses you like a rabid anaconda with epilepsy.

Every morning you wake up and set out to accomplish one thing for the day and you realize it's been the same thing all week, still yet undone. But you ask yourself "I know I've been really busy, but what have I actually done???" Your brain hurts but it's not a headache, you just can't shift gears that many times, that fast, while retaining any hope of concentration or focus.

Therefore some tips are in order for those of you who identify with any of the aforementioned qualifiers.

Get a nerd (probably your child) to teach you how to work and sync a PDA. Your schedule will be way too dynamic and overlapped to fit it all in a paper calendar/planner without erasing holes in the pages.

Add time to travel anywhere on campus. You will be stopped and engaged in many conversations every time you leave your office (AKA: cave, hiding place, zone of enchantment, or cone of silence).

Organize your email system. Do not put everything into one folder called "inbox." All non-web-based email systems (e.g. Outlook) allow the user to make folders for storing emails and other items in an organized manner. These can be stored on the email system's server or on a local drive in an archive. I save everything, and this has saved me many times. That said, learn how to be a power user of the advanced find features as it's tough to cull up the needed clues from last year's half toasted grey cells when you suddenly need to dig out a precious oldie.

On the other hand email can be the animal that eats you alive. Often times a phone call will get you a lot further than would an email.

Be social. Take the time to chat people up just because you like them. (And do this even if you don't like them; you might find in the end that you do like them.) Obviously if someone is busy then get in and out. But the fact that you remember their grandkid's graduation from boot camp will buy you many more favors than will knowing every district policy in the book.

By and large the greatest time sink for a Senate President is the job of appointing faculty to various committees.

while some local bylaws don't give this power to the Senate President, most do. And while we affectionately call the action verb here "appointing" it in fact is more of a process of proselytizing, to include begging, groveling, bribing, manipulating and otherwise coercing faculty to join in on the fun of yet one more hiring committee or slow- to no-action task force.

So it behooves one to spend some time getting to know your faculty. In my tenure as Vice President and President we rolled over about a third of our faculty, so keeping up was a chore. But in the end it gave me a much better handle on who was likely to be interested in doing the many odd "other" things that we are called upon for.

Be smart. Go into every meeting knowing more about the issues than anyone else if you can. This might mean reviewing those darned policies or Title 5 and the Ugh-Ed Code. Get a big red binder and put all that in there. When someone references these, pull out the binder and look it up right then and there. This will train folks to not misquote rules and regulations in your presence. (Actually, when I show up with my red binder, they often lead the meeting with, "OK, now what do you want?")

The idea here is not to beat people over the head with the LAW as that usually brings about a defensive reaction, but rather to be a student of such devices while trying to help others reframe their interpretations.

Institutional decision making is so often stuck in "we've always done it that way" or "the (you plug it in here) have said it must be done that way." But some time spent researching and asking a few questions will often lead to solutions that make a bit more sense.

While what you've gotten yourself into is a big deal give yourself credit for where you are now and time for where you are going to be tomorrow.

Very few leaders are born this way; they get carved out of the heat and passions of the moment and seasoned over the good times and the bad. The fact that you are willing to take on such a significant role on your campus is a really big deal. Make the best of this time and have some fun with it. In all likelihood when it's long over it will remain the part of your career most remembered.

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.