17 July 2008

Working, Mothering, and Success

Those of you who enjoyed Curious Girl's last observation about what makes a good department chair might be interested in this conversation, which took place in the family bathroom at the pool:

Curious Girl: I don't like this bathroom (gesturing at puddle on floor and various stray pieces of toilet paper, the kind that always appear in pool bathrooms on busy summer days). It's too litter-y.
Me: Well, lots of people are here today, and it's hard to keep a bathroom clean when so many people are using it. (I notice she's done with her business.) Here, dry your hands before you pull down the toilet paper--that way it won't shred in your hands like it did last time.
Curious Girl: Mama, that is such a good idea you had! What a good idea! That is because you are an apartment chair. You are right about everything. You are right all the time, because you are an apartment chair.
Me: Actually, sweetie, I'm not right all the time. I make mistakes. I just try to learn from them and do better next time.
CG: You are the best apartment chair!

So what does make a good department chair? It's certainly not the ability to be right all the time! I've spent some time this summer doing some hard writing--a few documents that had to be written regarding some issues that some of us didn't handle very well (in some cases, that us is me; in other cases, that us is other people; in some cases, the us is a combination of me and other people). The documents I've written are all different (not to mention unbloggable in their specificity), but all attempt to look ahead and imagine ways that similar future situations might be handled with different effects. One reason I am a good chair, I think, is my ability to step back from situations (even those where I'm part of a mess up) and imagine ways they could play out differently. Good chairs need to be able to see administrative and personnel possibilities, thinking about different ways to move groups toward a goal. Good chairs need to advocate for their department and their colleagues--which means sometimes, pushing people, and other times, getting out of the way.

It certainly doesn't mean being right all the time, but I trust it's OK that I'm rather tickled at the impression Curious Girl has developed about my acumen. And it's true, a good apartment chair does have the opportunity to introduce little tweaks to the system that just might keep things from shredding during use. Not such a bad outcome for a day.


Wordgirl said...

First of all, let me thank you for your kind notes on my blog -- and secondly -- APARTMENT chair -- god that made me laugh out loud.

I have a moment of panic wondering if YOU were the new department chair at my college -- but regained my senses -- the housing pictures seemed to suggest a climate a tad more hospitable than the frozen tundra...

We just hired a new dean -- which was a bit strange because our first and only acquaintance was her tying up the business of my being a bit of a loose end at the college -- strange to have such a cursory conversation with someone about the end of your job after having been there for 8 years...but it isn't her fault, of course, how else could she have approached it my being a stranger to her?

At any rate -- my two cents is that it is tough, tough tough being administration -- you have to manage people -- and not just people but the egos of the academic world -- wonderful people often but people who do love to hear themselves talk -- and if my college is any indication people who are often quick to set up an adversarial position with administration (0r is that only English Depts? U of MT had notoriously awful English Dept battles that were legendary)

Your writing reveals your kindness and thoughtfulness -- not to mention how whipsmart you are -- I'm sure Curious Girl is spot on.


Wordgirl said...

PS -- I've been meaning to thank you because I think it was on your blog that I read about the gardening shortcut that changed my life! I didn't dig up the turf this year when I expanded my gardens but put down the newspaper and mulch in the spring. PERFECT.

Totally random, I know. :)

Phantom Scribbler said...

MB wishes you were his apartment chair!

(And now I keep picturing you as, you know, floral and overstuffed or something.)

elswhere said...

I bet you are indeed a really good apartment chair. The kind of reflectiveness and consideration that's evident from your posts can only be a benefit to everyone involved.

In the time I was at one school I saw some excellent and some cringeworthy and (especially toward the end) some EXTREMELY ugly administration-ing, and came to understand that what distinguished a good administrator wasn't that he/she (but usually he; imagine that) would always do what I wanted or agree with my priorities, but that I could trust that what he said was the truth, that he'd be honest with me even if the message wasn't going to make me happy, and that he was working from a bigger vision that made sense in some way.

Songbird said...

I just love this.

landismom said...

That is great. What an observant girl you've got there!

Suburban Gorgon said...

Too funny. That child is wise beyond her years.

Arwen said...

Too funny, that CG. And so sweet!

elswhere - I think you've nailed it down. I agree; I tend to respond not to people whom I necessarily agree with 100%, but people who I think are THINKING about what they're doing.

susan said...

You guys are right--I also respect administrators who a) have some sort of vision/principles, b) communicate pretty straightforwardly and c) will answer questions and d) not hold grudges.

lisa said...

Ahh, we so need to get our girls together someday. Sad that you are moving further away-even though you already lived 1000 miles away, we had that fantasy that we may have danced together at some point at the Atheneum before we met in FA land. Now, I don't have a physical space to connect you to-though I do speak German, and I know there's lots of dancing there ; ) ~lmc