GETS IN THE WAY
Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Department of Marketing
Auburn University, Alabama, U.S.A.
It was a strange meeting.
Since another school had asked Hal to apply for their job opening as a department chair, he had a preliminary discussion with their search committee at a national conference. Hal asked why they might be interested in him. "You have an impressive research record," they quickly said. However, in the half-hour that followed, they repeatedly asked him how he felt about "giving up" all of his research activity in order to head their department.
The faculty at this university were interested in Hal as a possible chair because of his record of noteworthy research contributions. But they did not want a chair who did research. As a condition of hiring, they apparently expected Hal to stop doing the things that made them interested in him in the first place.
His first reaction was the obvious one, to note all the department chairs and deans he knew that continue to publish research while holding administrative jobs. Of course, most of these men and women might not be as prolific as they once were, but some edit journals or conferences while a few others write textbooks. I have heard more than once of an administrator whose research output exceeds that of all other department faculty in the department except for the holders of endowed chairs.
Apparently, this answer wasn't good enough. "For example," the search committee member said, "What if you had blocked Tuesday morning out to work on research and the dean's secretary called you about an emergency meeting of the executive committee."
"Uh, you..go..to..the meeting?"
A management professor (and former department chair) once told me that search committees define the issues in terms of things they liked or disliked about the person who held the post before. Maybe this school's prior chair was very irresponsible and never did the work, or did it at the last minute in a slap-dash fashion.
But Hal's basic answer didn't waiver: "If I come across an interesting question, I will study it. On weekends or late at night, I'll write. This is how I published research articles when teaching eight courses per year at another school."
For a person to develop a lengthy record covering two or three decades, research is the one part of the job that is not viewed as a job. For these scholars, research is part of who they are and what they do. They come across interesting questions, they research, they write. They no more "give up research" than they give up thinking. They might not write as much if they don't have available time, but that is probably why journal editors report of flurry of manuscripts coming in at the end of Summer. That is why holders of endowed chairs at research schools publish more work than established researchers who teach five or six courses per year.
Hal's questioners give a new spin about research "getting in the way" of something else that is important. Many people like to say that research gets in the way of teaching. And maybe it does, for some people. But that is only part of the tale.
It really comes down to how people want to spend their time. Committee meetings also can get in the way of teaching, same as golf, pregnancy, bicycle riding, office politics, alcohol-heavy lunches and extra-marital affairs with students.
Y'see, . . . .
Teaching gets in the way of research.Some faculty with active research programs give essay exams to classes of 80 while others whose research programs are inactive use textbook-generated multiple-choice tests for classes of 15. Some faculty are devoted to students and hold "office hours" from dawn till dusk, seven days per week. Others get up in the middle of the night and start writing articles for magazines or journals. Some do both (which is what drives some academic relatives crazy, since they think class is done and you should go home).
Writing e-mail gets in the way of writing a grant proposal.
Grading gets in the way of talking to colleagues.
Talking to colleagues gets in the way of talking to students.
Television gets in the way of reading.
Reading science-fiction gets in the way of reading research journals.
Writing a book gets in the way of writing journal articles.
Taking care of children gets in the way of everything.
And some people are grossly irresponsible, not doing their jobs even to the point of not meeting with classes, coming late to committee meetings, not showing up at their own exam times or delegating grading work to student assistants who are not competent to do it. Some find the length of the calendar a burden, so they give final exams on the last class day instead of during the final exam period.
Faculty are people, and while people talk of educators as away from reality, they are paid for doing a job, the same as at a business. While we are outside the pressures of a business, we witness some of the same personal pressures that face business, as once listed by Edwin Newman: competent people, incompetent people, ability rewarded, ability unrewarded, incompetent cronyism valued, loyalty from skilled people ignored, overstaffing, understaffing, good management, mismanagement, and unrealistic overestimation of time constraints.
And with the myriad of jobs that every faculty member is expected to do, everyone has his or her own distinct priorities.
Hal would be a responsible administrator. First and foremost, he would do the direct requirements of the job. He has never been late to class and has never skipped a faculty meeting. And whether he is a faculty member or an administrator, in whatever time in his life is leftover, no matter how small, he'll write. Because that is what he is.
[Note: This was first typed at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.]