Administration: Leadership + Implementation

Other than that at the highest levels–presidents and provosts and deans–universities do a shit job of accommodating the fact that effective administration requires two quite different things, the personal and professional traits that make one good at also being quite different: leadership and implementation. This is why corporations have CEOs and COOs.

Way too few departments and programs have both a chair and a vice chair, with the former responsible for leadership and the latter responsible for implementation (i.e., getting shit done). This means that most departments and programs end up either saddled with visionary leaders who can’t be arsed to actually do shit like filing the forms to put people up for promotion, etc, while other departments end up with bureaucratic functionaries who dot all the is and cross all the ts but have no idea why they are doing so or what the big-picture goals are.

It is rare that one person has the ability to excel at both these aspects of administration, and it is fucking stupid to expect otherwise.

(h/t Dean Dad.)


  1. BugDoc says

    Agreed. Some of us are very lucky in that respect – my chair is both a visionary and good at implementation (or at least effectively delegating implementation). And he’s a really great guy and an awesome scientist! It is possible to have it all….

  2. says

    Now I work in administration, away from the bench, I am more aware of this than ever. It’s always been there, niggling away at the back of my mind, but as a postdoc it made little direct difference to me because my horizons stopped at the edge of the bench.

    Now though…well let’s just say that “dead weight” and “ineffective fuckwittitude” are terms now use frequently.

    I am trying to understand the signs and symptoms though. Some people people seem to be naturally very gifted at leading & thinking. How do I emulate that? If I am to stay in Academic Administration, I want promotion & rank (& a fucking pay raise), but I also don’t want to be one of the ineffective fuckwitted dead weights who spiol the party through ghastly ineptitude and i-dotting/t-crossing wankery.

  3. says

    Well put! I’ve always argued this. When I was chair, I was the get shit done type, and way too overwhelmed to be visionary. BUT I tried mightily to find some visionaries in the department and supported them as much as possible.

    But without the power of the title, they could really only be so visionary.

  4. The Barefoot Bum says

    It is rare that one person has the ability to excel at both these aspects of administration…

    I suppose it’s rare in the sense that monkeys rarely fly out my ass.

  5. says

    LOL, so true. But there is a third possibility you didn’t mention- the person who is great at both of those things, but whose own lab is a mess and/or whose science is boring. Personally, I would be happy with a department chair who is a good department chair, but I wouldn’t want to work in that person’s lab! I’ve never heard of someone who really could do all three!

    Could say the same thing about most grad programs, too. There seem to be only two kinds- the ones with a visionary prof in charge and a paperwork/scheduling mess, vs. the opposite- an administrative nazi in charge, with no idea what grad school should be about and no ability to listen to feedback from students or educators.

    I guess I just assumed that most departments can’t/won’t PAY for a second person to be “vice-chair”. And/or in the departments where I have seen this title, the “vice” person has no real power, even if they have vision and/or better organizing abilities than the Chair.

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