I am acting department head this summer. Our usual DH wanted the summer off, and she looks at this as “training” for me, since she expects I’ll eventually take over for good.
Days like today make me wonder if it’s not more of a disincentive. I was hoping to put in a couple of hours in the morning, but I spent a good part of the day putting out fires: ensuring a student had the proper forms to graduate next month, dealing with upper management on what should be a simple hiring issue, figuring out if I should put a student into an already closed class, sudden deadlines for ordering new faculty computers, and so forth.
Now, understand that I actually like putting out fires (though I don’t like having unnecessary urgencies thrust upon me). That’s what makes management fun and challenging. It’s what I enjoyed most during the last half of my Air Force career.
No, the problem is figuring out how to do that and simultaneously teach multiple classes. Which is what happens to DHs during the academic year at our school.
I honestly don’t know how our DH does it. She is a born leader and a tenacious fighter for the department. And she’s a first-class educator. But she is oversubscribed, and it’s just not right. Nothing is suffering except most likely her health (and maybe her sanity).
I think it’s a great idea for a department head to spend some time in the classroom. Keeping that edge is critical, since the classroom is our business. But it really needs to be at a severely reduced level. Running a department full of college professors (use your imagination) and keeping students and administrators happy is a full-time job all by itself.
And don’t even get me started on what life is like for our department secretary.
I hope my superiors don’t see this — I may have revealed too much of my hand for negotiation purposes, if they ever decide to offer me the DH position.