Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Posted by Arjendu on March 11, 2013

On July 1 I will leave the Dean’s office at Carleton College and ‘revert’ to being a faculty member, at the end of my 3-year rotation as Associate Dean of the College.

It’s a (somewhat) unusual thing we do at Carleton: Our Department chair rotate regularly, and our Associate Deans as well. Since the Dean’s office interacts pretty heavily with people across other divisions at Carleton (Dean of Students, Vice President and Treasurer, etc) the regular change of management tends to catch people off guard and puzzle them. Likewise at institutions across the country with whom we interact, I believe.

Here’s a quick observation about what this rotation means to me (perhaps I’ll blog more about this wearing my faculty hat later):

Yes, it’s true that it can be weird to change jobs, and weird for everyone else when a whole new person with a whole new decision-making style and perspective shows up every three years (not that long, if you think about it, on the scale of an institution that changes rather more slowly otherwise). It also means that I spent an enormous amount of time on a very steep learning curve and neither the College nor I seem to be taking advantage of all the experience I’ve gained.

I could explain at length why and how that I have no regrets about taking this on at all — I enjoyed it — and am equally without regret at returning to being a physicist full-time. But for the moment, let it suffice for me to note that there is no moral hazard in such a situation. That is, every decision I (or my colleagues with the other portfolios here) make in the managing of faculty or curriculum is something I have to live with when I return to the faculty ranks. There is no forgetting what it was like, and what it will be like, to be in the trenches, and there is no ‘pulling up the drawbridge after me’ attitude that might result if I started thinking of faculty as ‘them’. Personally, I wish management in other divisions and other industries worked the same way: Coming from and returning to the ranks.

And if I’d been told I was going to be away for more than 3 years from doing Physics, I wouldn’t have contemplated taking it on, as irreversible a leap into the unknown as it would have been. No Peter Principle applying here, in short.


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