Tuesday, February 17, 2015

8. Administration never ends.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:
1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)

Let me call the second year of the Seminary, "Growing Pains."

1. Becoming an administrator was largely a new experience for me. I had never thought of myself as an administrator. In earlier times, Keith Drury would rebuke me whenever I would say something along the lines of, "Of course I'd never do that, because I'm not an administrator."

It is thus doubly curious to have some say to me, on learning of my return to teaching, "But you're such a good administrator." Others would no doubt disagree, but I have come to think that I'm not too bad at administration in the end. The key, I believe, is to know your strengths, to leverage them, and to manage your weaknesses.

Many will know that I consider a good deal of what I do as "whack-a-mole." No matter what I might think I am going to do when I come into work on a certain day, emails will pop up. The phone will ring. And there will be something relatively urgent to do before whatever I had planned.

Steven Covey has given a nice way to conceptualize this situation. My days are often filled with what he calls Quadrant I activities--urgent and important tasks. In Year 2, these filled my evenings, nights, and early mornings. And of course there was no time then for Quadrant II activities--those things that are important in the long term but not immediately urgent. Those things get put on the back burner until they eventually turn into crisis and become Quadrant I issues (e.g., assessment or accreditation).

2. My position is currently half time faculty and half time administration. The administrative part involves things like:
  • representing the Seminary on broader university academic committees
  • chairing internal Seminary academic committees
  • engaging accrediting bodies and overseeing assessment
  • leading the hiring process for new professors
  • setting the academic calendar, assigning professors and adjuncts to courses
  • handling student issues, processing transfer credit
Any one of these might cause a mole to pop its head up at any point, needing to be whacked. Just yesterday, I "spun a plate" for two students in Bogota who needed to withdraw from a course because they didn't realize it had begun. I "spun a plate" for two independent studies for two different students and arranged to buy back books from one student for reasons I won't go into. I counseled with a student who has an emergency situation who is contemplating dropping a course. He'll get back to us. I stamped six or seven adjunct faculty contracts. I put the Seminary on the agenda of the Graduate Council for two items next week. I attended an assessment meeting. I helped get some Spanish assignments up online after our online platform finally became available again. Etc.

I won't mention the Quadrant II activities I didn't do yesterday that are nagging in the back of my mind.

I just joke sometimes about being attention deficit. But there is something about our emailed world that works pretty well for me. An email pops up. I whack it. Next. Tenley Horner brings me two transcripts to evaluate. Done. A little later, she brings two more. Becky Perry brings me two contracts to sign. Great.

I got the idea of "spinning plates" from Russ Gunsalus. Sometimes you don't have time to finish a whole task, but you can give a plate a spin to keep it spinning. Eventually, it will get done.

Someone else would work differently, but this manner of operating plays to my strengths. Wayne and our support staff work with me in a way that leverages my strengths and minimizes my weaknesses. It works.

3. I'll wait for a later post to address the gradual development of infrastructure at the Seminary. Suffice it to say, we are in a better position now than ever in this regard. Wayne has done a good job of filling in gaps and the faculty have helped us see what they are.

There would be other ways to configure things. The Dean's position, for example, could be full-time administration. I personally prefer models where academic leadership is rotated among a faculty. The academic leadership of most seminaries follows this model. Gifted faculty members take academic leadership for a few years, then later return to the faculty and someone else takes a turn.

This helps prevent the kinds of adversarial relationships that can develop between faculty and administration when these two roles are essentialized--each can relate to the other. This makes leadership more attractive to strategic thinkers on the faculty who love the business of education enough to sacrifice a few years of teaching and writing. They know they won't have to do it forever, but they care enough about the direction of the institution to serve for a stint. And it keeps an institution from being run by individuals who thrive on bureaucracy, an ever present danger.

There are other ways to structure things. Someone might look at the tasks I did yesterday and say, a Dean shouldn't be doing some of the things you're doing Ken. Bob Whitesel always says that there are strategic, tactical, and operational leaders. The Dean's job should lean toward the first two in relation to academics. Other faculty could be given release time to help with some tasks. For example, Colleen Derr has been our first "Adjunct Coordinator," training, helping, and evaluating our adjuncts.

In the end, there is no one way to structure these things. And to some extent, you best design the structure around the people you have.

4. One of the first things I noticed about administration is that it never ends. As a faculty person, the semester ends, you turn in grades, and it's over. Administration never ends. You may set it down, but it will be waiting for you when you get back.

Sabbath thus becomes very important. I strongly support the goal President David Wright has made of setting aside time from university email for part of the weekend as a Sabbath. It's also important to take vacations as an administrator to avoid burn out. P.S. Pastors take notice.

5. In the first and second years of the Seminary, Karen Clark and I were doing almost all the tactical and operational tasks in the Seminary. One of my weaknesses coming into this thing was a hesitance to delegate and an enjoyment of being a hero. If you enjoy being the hero in an emergency, you are less motivated to come up with long term solutions so the next emergency doesn't come. And a failure to delegate inevitably means your organization will not be able to grow past a certain point.

As Wayne put it in our third year, "You can only survive for so long off of heroic efforts." So the second year was a year of growing pains, at least for Karen and me, I feel. I suspect she and I pretty much were just trying to keep our heads above water.

But some Quadrant II things did get done. In the second semester, I revised the MA in Ministry curriculum. It had been designed on the basis of "low hanging fruit" in 2004 by none other than David Wright himself, who as Graduate Director at that time changed it to an online program.

But with the addition of an MDIV, I felt the MA should be steered a little more toward lay leaders and non-profit leaders than to ministers. We took out a Worship course and replaced it with a course called Spiritual Life and Leadership. We replaced a course called Leadership of Preaching with another called Transformational Communication. We replaced Contemporary Theological Trends and Theology of Holiness with introductory courses in theology and church history. Biblical Interpretation and Cross-Cultural ministry were tweaked into line with the MDIV core as Bible as Christian Scripture and Cultural Contexts of Ministry.

We are incidentally about to revise some of the leadership courses even more and, I think, bring it to its best form yet.

I remember a moment at the beginning of the second year when Lenny Luchetti and John Drury were sitting in the Noggle conference room (since we co-habitated with the undergraduate ministry school for the first four years, in the northwest corner of the building). Lenny and John both volunteered to help with something I had been doing alone. I remember a sense of load lifting off my back that I experienced physically. It was a sigh of relief in which the load left as I exhaled. I wouldn't have to do it all any more.

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