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"To Be or Not to Be": Woman-Professor-Other (Administrator?)


November 16-17, 2007
Johnson C. Smith University
Charlotte, North Carolina

Leslie Gutierrez, Johnson C. Smith University

BerNadette Lawson-Williams, Johnson C. Smith University

Sharon D. Raynor, Johnson C. Smith University

Academia has frequently presented challenges to those in administration, especially individuals who also occupy positions as junior faculty members (both tenure-track and instructors). The conveners of this session are presently employed in administrative positions, ranging from department chair to program coordinator, while maintaining current teaching loads of three to four classes per semester and continuously promoting individual, professional, and educational development. Our commitment to teaching and research/scholarship has been overtaken by our attention to administrative tasks. We sometimes find ourselves questioning this decision “to be” administrators while also employed as junior faculty. Despite recognizing the potential benefits to our professional careers, we still sometimes harbor doubts and concerns.

We notice an interesting phenomenon, particularly at smaller teaching institutions, of tenured professors who have grown tired and weary of serving as administrators. They prefer to simplify their lives by dedicating pre retirement primarily to classroom instruction. They offer their support as they interview, recommend, and encourage new faculty members to take on administrative tasks along with their teaching assignments. Eager to promote ourselves within the academy, we decided to become administrators and to hopefully maintain a balance between our professional and private lives. In the midst of this endeavor, we have encountered challenges that were never imagined when we made the original decision “to be.” As time passes, we cannot help but wonder what might become of our tenure, promotion and/or good reputation, if we decide, “not to be” (or continue to be/serve as) administrators. While battling issues of sexism, racism, and classism, we sometimes lose our focus on both teaching and scholarship as we attempt to remain ‘on task’ and manage our departments and programs efficiently.

This presentation offers suggestions on how to create an environment where women who are serving in dual capacities, both as administrators and professors, can discuss effective strategies that promote staying power, professional development and proficiency in scholarship. The contributors will discuss their personal experiences (and battle scars) as a result of the decision to serve as administrators and professors, along with current trends and best practices in the academy. This shared community will focus on the promotion of women within academia who choose to become “trailblazers” early in their careers while working for their universities and continuing to serve themselves and their students. In an attempt to answer the philosophical question, “to be or not to be?” regarding service as academic administrators while teaching heavy course loads per semester as junior faculty, a multi-disciplinary collaboration was established(English, Foreign Languages, Health and Human Performance) to share strategies of endurance and survival within academia.

As Department Chair of English and Foreign Languages and an Assistant Professor of English teaching a three-three course load per semester, I frequently question my decision to serve in both capacities. Initially, my choice was based on a desire for administrative advancement, to build my credentials, and to bring a generational “new-ness” to the discipline and department that I love. Was I too ambitious to think that I could balance it all? Was I too eager to ‘do it all’ early in my career without considering how my academic life could tremendously alter my personal-spiritual-emotional life? As I rapidly approach my tenure review process, I often struggle with these decisions, not because I feel unprepared or overwhelmed with so much work, but because I sometimes question my priorities and dedication to teaching versus my administrative tasks. Since my first love is teaching and engaging and stimulating the minds of my students, I feel like this affair that I am having with administrative duties must end. But then, I must stop and remember the benefits and advantages of serving in both capacities at the same time at this early stage in my career. I have been introduced and exposed to the good, the bad, and the ugly of the academy. I have learned about preparation, order, priorities, endurance, tolerance and self-preservation from a different perspective. When teaching was my sole responsibility, I came to class prepared; I commanded order in the classroom; I set priorities for both myself and my students; I endured positive and negative situations, preserving myself and my sanity by teaching classes, convening office hours, and returning home. But as an academic administrator and a teaching professor, self-preservation is my main priority. Each day, I must remember to choose a wide variety of strategies to prepare, to command (demand) order, and to tolerate and endure.

Over the past three years, my biggest challenge has been making several paradigm shifts within short periods of time. The challenge of constantly having to balance my thinking as a faculty member and as an administrator has been a difficult lesson to learn, primarily because I have to be an advocate and a proponent at the same time. Throughout this process I have mentored junior faculty, encouraging them to continue to blaze the same trail. I advise them to cultivate a sense of self-preservation, which I believe is extremely valuable for women within the academy, particularly women of color.

Our survival in the academy is dependent on our own perseverance and self-preservation. For the time being, I will maintain my dual positions until I can no longer preserve my good-nature, my strong will, and my values, or when I no longer have the courage to lead or teach. When I would have to sacrifice myself or my moral courage, I would gladly pass the torch with no regrets. My decision “to be” woman-professor-administrator has yet to compromise my personality or my objectives, and so, I will persevere, as there are many more lessons to learn.

Underpaid, overworked, consistently under a microscope, and always faced with the pressure to perform, the dual role of professor and administrator can sometimes be overwhelming. Serving as Department Chair for Health and Human Performances and as an Assistant Professor may be perceived as an opportunity for career advancement, but it may also be seen as a curse, a double-edged sword, or a ‘catch-22’. Despite these factors, many women still jump at the opportunity to serve in dual capacities. The dichotomies presented by this situation provoke the question “to be or not to be?” Whether an individual is forced, urged, or requested to serve in these positions is usually a major attitudinal determinant of job effectiveness. However, it must be noted that self-confidence, temperament, and the possession of a strong support system are just as crucial to successful job performance.  Despite the immense personal, professional, and family time women sacrifice as professors and administrators, there are many who consider the potential to learn and lead.  These women also realize the prospective opportunities to assert themselves, network with various personnel levels, and step closer to tenure.  

Although my initial career goals never involved serving in an administrative capacity, I have found the experience to be an enlightening one that I believe has immensely expanded my skill set. While I have always envisioned myself making decisions that would have a positive impact on my students and colleagues, prior to assuming this position I never imagined myself solely responsible for an entire unit. Naturally, when I was approached to serve as a Chairperson, I was quite apprehensive. After having observed the numerous roles and long hours of labor associated with this position, I wasn’t certain that it would be a good fit for me. However, despite the drawbacks that I observed, I began recognizing the position as a wonderful opportunity to help launch my career as an effective educator and administrator. Now, I realize that I have the best of best worlds. Instead of concentrating on my inundated duties and the fact that I wear more hats than I can fit in my closest, I try my best to concentrate on affecting change. As the primary leader of my unit, I view myself as a shepherd to both my students and faculty. By representing their needs and interests, I earn their trust and respect.  Also, as I provide them with guidance, support, and positive leadership, I am able to encourage them to reach their full potential, thus strengthening the productivity of my department and university at-large. This achievement allows me to develop positive relationships with fellow administrators and university constituents. Furthermore, as I lead by example, I try to stay focused on my goals and utilize my influence to contribute to a positive workplace environment. So when I consider asking myself the question about whether “to be or not to be,” I opt to be! 

As young women of color in the pool of junior faculty serving in administrative appointments, we pose a triple threat in the traditional white Euro-American heterosexual male constructed hegemony.  Although we have clearly overcome obstacles, to what extent are we still being asked to re-make ourselves to fit this conventional image to be accepted/respected in the academia?  The unspoken disparities among the responsibilities allotted to men and women in the academy are visible.  Women are generally asked to perform more service duties and be more involved on committees than men.  Men usually spend more time on research than service.  An extensive commitment to service can be detrimental to women as less time is available for scholarship. We constantly have to be mindful not to perpetuate a culture of deception connecting race, gender, and age.  As women serving in such demanding capacities, we are forced to find a balance between our professional and personal responsibilities while contributing to our institution, disciplines, community, and families.  We must perform as administrators, mentors, researchers, volunteers, teachers, mothers, wives, and committee members to enhance our credentials to prove that we are worthy of these positions. 

As a young mother, without a terminal degree, in a non-tenured administrative position, I feel overwhelming pressure to perform at a higher level than my counterparts.  There is a constant fear of job security with little opportunity/support to continue my studies.  I teach four classes per semester, serve as the Foreign Language Coordinator, a member of several committees, a volunteer coordinator, and manage to be a wife and mother. There is a steady struggle to find equilibrium. The institution of higher education continues to confirm that this male constructed academy was, and continues not to be designed for mothers.  There is very limited tolerance for women who decide to have children.  My academic duties cannot be affected by maternity leave, a sick child or child care provider, doctor’s appointments, or extra-curricular activities. It is also my responsibility to confront governance issues involving departmental seniority as one of the youngest faculty members while also leading the department.  I constantly have to deal with stereotyping and need to prove myself to my colleagues.  It is an extremely political task to oversee a department that has been administered by the senior, typically male faculty.  Although I occupy a very visible position, I’m treated as an invisible administrator.  Senior and junior faculty do not follow appropriate protocol when problems arise.  Faculty direct their concerns to higher authorities, although I am the person assigned to address these problems.  Generational perceptions can affect one’s image as a leader.

Despite the many obstacles that we, as well as many other women, confront, it is essential that junior women faculty continue to serve in leadership roles in higher education.  Administrators make decisions that determine the quality of life for women faculty.  We play a strategic role in establishing institutional and departmental goals, recruiting and retaining students/faculty, and implementing curricular decisions.  As highly visible members of the campus community, we are unofficially deemed as role models and mentors for others.  Consequently, while grappling with the idea of continuing an administrative appointment, we choose to maintain our position as the “other” administrator as well!

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