Bad Female Academic: Administrative Ambition

There is a pernicious belief in higher education, perhaps even more dangerous than believing that if you are a good researcher than you can’t be a good teacher and vice-versa. That belief is that good academics don’t want to be administrators or can’t be good administrators. Especially for those on the tenure-track, administrative responsibility is often the kiss of death, because of the politics. Being a position to make decisions very quickly can made friends into enemies. And once you get tenure? Well, why bother? 

Another reason that administrative ambition is met with distaste is that faculty are increasingly disillusioned by the university administration and administrators. As an increasing number of classes are being taught by part-time, underpaid adjuncts who are off the tenure-track, the number of full-time administrators is growing even more, and beginning to outnumber the faculty. And the relationship, through budget cuts and skyrocketing administrative salaries, is causing an increasingly adversarial relationship between the faculty and administration. A good academic doesn’t want to do anything with the increasing corporatization of the university.

When I was a PhD student, because of various organizational difficulties, I decided to become president of the Graduate Students’ Association. And, I loved it. Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to be at a university where the students (both undergraduate and graduate) were respected and an integral part of the decision-making process. Maybe it’s because I was in Canada, where presidents are academics and not from corporations and we don’t have high-profile/high-money sports. And I know that I was following a long line of serious, highly effective GSA presidents who set up a wonderful set of expectations for me to fulfill. Regardless of the reason, I came away from the experience motivated to move up the academic ranks with the goal of eventually going into administration in order to work to try to make the university better.

But even before my PhD, I would get involved, usually through student government. I was taught that if you didn’t like how things were going, you figured out how best to make them better. So, I did. And I always liked it. I figured that academia would be a great opportunity for me to do research, teach, and…be an administrator.

Yes, I am a bad female academic.

My dirty little secret. I have ambition, and that ambition involves moving up the administrative ladder. This, as I have outlined above, can be a dangerous thing to admit. Between the idea that true academics shouldn’t aspire to administrative positions and the idea that, as a woman, it could be seen as threatening to express any sort of ambition, I’m pretty much waving the white flag. I’m either going to be taken advantage of on the lower rungs, make too many enemies, or burn out. Or maybe, just maybe, prove that you can be a good faculty member and a good administrator.

The major roadblock to my plan? I’m not on the tenure-track. By choice. But that will be for next time.

3 thoughts on “Bad Female Academic: Administrative Ambition”

  1. I secretly feel the same, but I will not reveal my ambition until later down the road.

  2. You can be admin w/o being tenure-track. I know several admins who applied specifically for those types of jobs after deciding they didn't want to be part of the tenure game. All it takes is the PhD…

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