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I want to explain the particular situation in my university, and advice for how should I act (or at least how my mental status should be).

Traditionally, the management positions in my university (dean of the science school, head of studies, director of PhD program, etc) has been taken by either Full Professors (with a longstanding research record) or Associate Professors with some kind of recognition (an strong research record, mostly).

From a time on, there is an phenomenon that is happening: Full Professors are not willing to take these positions (most of them they have acted already taking such positions) and younger Associate Professors are more interested on research that on management (which is on the other side, something normal, as I think the same :-P).

My point here is that now all these positions are taken by people (mostly Associate Professors) without research perspective (people with 20 years at university but with 2-3 research papers), and without global perspective. The consequence is that the institutions are decreasing the excellence and the level, and this is something I consider very bad.

I am very active on research and I would like to continue in this way, but I am very worried about this, because I love the institution and I believe that if everybody contributes (just a little!) the things would go better.

Here is my dilemma: as an Associate Professor who loves the institution I am and who wants the best for it I am considering starting doing some management, because I do not like the situation I am seeing. Of course I would prefer to continue focussing on research, which is why I am at the university. My point is that my colleagues (associate professors) that do not care about this issue and continue focussing on research will have an easier path in the forthcoming years to be promoted to full professors (and being clear, a better salary is also something to take care in a decision).

So: which is the mental state I should take: as I want the best for my institution I should sacrifice a little (or a lot) my research time in order to do some management, or should I be more egoist, focus as I am doing, in research with a more chance later to be promoted to Full Professor and take this more apathic point of view?

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    This is a fairly common trend lately. See: Ginsberg, Fall of the Faculty. At my own university a few years ago the policy became that professors taking an administrative role had to give up their tenure, so obviously now absolutely no one wants to take those positions. – Daniel R. Collins Dec 2 '18 at 20:24
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    I heard a quote recently from Bill Clinton (fmr US president). He said when deciding to run for office you must ask yourself "Is there anyone more suited for the job?" If so, support them. If not, then you do it. Not sure if that helps, but it seems relevant. – earthling Dec 3 '18 at 14:16
  • @earthling: that sounds like a great quote :-)! – Gaussian-Matter Dec 3 '18 at 17:17
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This is a good question, but I don't see how anyone other than you can answer it. You write that you "[love] the institution ... [and] do not like the situation I am seeing." You also write that "I am very active on research and I would like to continue in this way." You have to ask yourself (i) whether you have the capacity to address both of these things -- some people do, and (ii) if not, which is more important to you. In other words: Would you be happy 5 years from now knowing that you did the best research possible but that you let your environment fall apart? Would you be happy 5 years from now knowing that you tried your best to make your university run well, at the cost of answering the research questions that drive you? Some people would answer 'yes' to the first question; some 'yes' to the second. No one but you can answer this.

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Sorry, but I don't recognize anything in your question that suggests why you would want to take on management duties. What you have sounds like a pretty good situation as you aren't describing any sort of dysfunction.

Realize that you can't do everything. You are probably better off focusing on what you do well and do, primarily, that one thing. It sounds more like you are interested in research, or the institution mostly rewards research. If so, do that, and leave the management to others, whoever they are.

Also be aware that a manager's chief job is to optimize he environment so that other people can do well. It isn't to be a "boss" or to carry out the main work of the organization. It is to enable others to do that. It involves working with people, rather than ideas, and finding compromises that let everyone succeed, not just within the department but within the larger structure as well.

My advice is to discover what you do best and to work into a situation in which you can do that and do it well. Management won't necessarily be any easier or harder than what you do now, but it will probably be very different. Among other things, expect to have much less time available for the research that leads to publication.

By the way, some institutions rotate many of the management positions (especially department head) among the tenured faculty. It isn't necessarily the most efficient system, but it gives everyone, eventually, a better sense of the workings of the organization as a whole.

I used to think that I could do a better job than any of my superiors. Often that was true as I had quite a number of poor administrators. I eventually wound up in a situation when everyone from the president down to my department head was excellent at what they did and was totally supportive of the faculty and students. Over a 45 year career it was a rare occurrence, and it didn't last.

  • "it was a rare occurrence, and it didn't last." - alas, how true, and, how sad. – Captain Emacs Dec 3 '18 at 0:08
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Others have already spoken to your personal dilemma, but I'd like to also address this:

My point here is that now all these positions are taken by people (mostly Associate Professors) without research perspective (people with 20 years at university but with 2-3 research papers), and without global perspective. The consequence is that the institutions are decreasing the excellence and the level, and this is something I consider very bad.

I don't think it necessarily has to be this way. Of the administrative positions most departments have to fill, there are the department head, the graduate director, and the undergraduate director. For all three of these, it is not necessary to be an excellent and recognized researcher: The skill set to be good at these jobs is actually quite different from that of being a good researcher.

Now, there clearly are colleagues whose research has come to some kind of halt, for many possible reasons. (In fact, that happens to some degree to most faculty over their career.) If they happen to be good at administration, I see nothing wrong with them becoming administrators in the department. In fact, it is one of the avenues for them to contribute to the department, have a job that is valued, and that helps them get decent annual evaluations that they couldn't get if they were evaluated on their research. So it is an honorable way to serve a department once their research wanes.

What you describe then seems to come down to the fact that you have people in these positions who are neither great researchers, nor good administrators. That's a bit of a shame, but it is something that can be addressed. For example, the (under)graduate director positions really are mostly administrative: talk to people, keep the wheels spinning, and things will be mostly fine even if there is little long term planning happening. If the people you have in these positions are good at keeping things going but bad at planning, then institute an (under)graduate committee that is responsible for the planning part. That's where the research active people can then spend an hour a week bringing in their perspective -- without having to spend 20 hours a week at the administrative part.

What I'm trying to say is therefore: Build structures that utilize the skills that people have and augment those they don't. These are things a department can do, and as a member it's up to you to make the necessary suggestions to make it happen!

  • I see your point, and I understand. The problem is not that they (despite not doing research) they are good administrators...the problem is that they are also bad administrators in general! In my country (Mediterrean European country) there is a generation of professors (50-60) who entered at the university with a permanent position because of the need of teaching personal, not because they had merits enough to get the position. In general they take the administrative job as a civil servant, doing the minimum to make all work and reducing the academic level... – Gaussian-Matter Dec 3 '18 at 6:39
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    I understand the issue. But I think that your solution -- to make sure that only research active faculty do administrative jobs -- is correct. – Wolfgang Bangerth Dec 4 '18 at 2:50

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