Thursday, April 21, 2011

New President Interview -- Part 6

Teaching, Research and Detractors

Part Six of an imaginary interview with the newly appointed president of the College.   Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental. 

Q>  When the College was in the hiring process how did you handle those who said librarians don’t know about teaching or research?

A> Those kinds of thoughts were never part of my experience.  I have been both a teacher and researcher.  My dissertation is available electronically and still receives more than 1000 hits per month.  Just last week a student asked a question that is answered in a chapter of my dissertation.   Some librarians have doctorate degrees and most teaching experience.  For tenure, librarians in many institutions require 30 credits beyond a library science master’s degree.  Many librarians in academia have a subject master’s degree. We see a wider range of students than any other faculty member. Librarians are comfortable helping the youngest freshman and the most senior scholar with their research.  What detractors don’t understand is the librarian’s expertise is information.  As a group librarians need to know about all the disciplines in the College, not just one.

The route to help students and faculty understand the role of information in society is a long and difficult one. When I taught data base searching I held up a 900 page directory and said, “This is the directory of the data bases available from one source and none of them is searchable with Google.” I repeated the demonstration with two additional directories of data bases.  I also showed them the paper indexes that are the source or antecedent of the electronic data bases. Some of the ways we search is based on what data base designers learned from the process of creating paper indexes and bibliographies.

In some schools the library building is a showcase with ornate entrances and reading rooms.  Look at the pictures of the reading room in many of the old and prestigious universities on the East Coast.

In some institutions (non-colleges) the library is the best room for meetings.  While I like the idea that people enter and use the library, these meetings do not increase library use.  Frequently the librarians complain that these users do not respect the main purpose of the library.

In the job recruitment ad for a college president in a major metropolitan area, an earned doctorate was mentioned as an ideal, but not a requirement.  “A proven leader” was a requirement, but not any particular education or experience. The person eventually appointed to this position has as his highest degree a master of public policy. He has no experience as an educator, scholar, or college administrator.  His most recent experience was as a manager at a consulting and outsourcing company.

I have a passion for learning and I want that passion to be contagious to staff, faculty and students.

Q> On the other end of the scale, there are people who belittle and demean others in their own department as well as others in other departments. Some department chairs or senior faculty use their position to bully underlings and even colleagues in their department or other departments. How do you propose to handle them?

  It’s sad when people go through graduate school without learning the basic manners taught in elementary school.  Dealing with people is a constant learning process.  There are difficult people in every place.  I just saw a training video for dealing with difficult situations.  Part of the solution is diagnosis.  Is there an identifiable trigger?  Is the behavior endemic or epidemic? While there are more possible situations for me to deal with here, I’ll offer some of my strategies.
            1. Remain calm.  Yelling and screaming will not work with students, faculty or anyone else. Speak clearly and with authority.  That means don’t be hesitant or “wishy-washy.”
            2. Clarify and try to understand the problem.  Listen and rephrase until both parties are clear as to the difficulty.
            3. Identify a source or trigger for the behavior.
            4. Help the parties come to an understanding as what they really want.
            5. Offer alternatives or options so that both parties can at least get some of what they want. 
            6. When the above fail, call for more expert advice or help.

Q> I heard that a major city’s community college district has a chancellor who comes from the business world. Many academics assume that no one outside the academy is qualified because only someone with teaching or research experience knows the demands, challenges, and pitfalls of the academic life. How do you feel about non-academics as administrators?

I have heard many people criticize that chancellor and I would like to believe it is an individual case and not because of the business background.  I wrote an article more than ten years ago about how libraries need to think more about acting like a business.  However this was more about marketing and dealing with the public, not about the financial bottom line.  The for-profit colleges heavily advertise their institutions to gain more students.    The College defiantly has to follow solid marketing and public relations principles.  This chancellor does not have the credentials on paper to do the job.  However, I have been wrong in the past concerning people without the paper credentials.  These people, however, knew their limitations and strengths.  They worked hard to build on their strengths to serve their institutions with wisdom and leadership.

We should be interested more in student success than in the number of students who fill statistics.  While I believe in the need for educated people and an educated community, our College and college in general is not for everyone. Graduation rate is not the only criteria for measuring success. Some students attend classes with no intention of graduating. 

After seeing the behavior of the chancellor that you mention I would say that teaching experience is essential for a college administrator.  That is because every supervisor is a teacher.  Every parent is a teacher.  Only through close contact with learners on a regular basis can one learn about different learning styles and how students progress from nothing to something.  However, some of my greatest teachers were not my classroom teachers.  Books, lecturers, and conferences are good places to learn.  In high school one great influence on me was a teacher whom I heard only one lecture.  His theme was, “we need more men of God and fewer men of war.”

If a non-academic is appointed to a college administration position that person needed to be willing to learn what takes to be an academic and a student.  While some of that knowledge, can be learned from readings and listening to others, the systematic nature of a class should be required.  There are several graduate programs at the certificate and degree levels for these people to gain a theoretical basis administering a college.  In general I feel that any new administrator needs to learn a great deal about the institution and administration in general.  I will be enrolling in a program to gain more expertise in areas that I weak in.

Q> How do you propose to handle your detractors?

A>  With patience, honor, dignity,  and  wisdom.

Q> I've heard professors say it's time to shutter the library because it's outdated -- everything's on the Internet, after all -- the college needs the space, and the library's a money pit. How do you propose to handle those critics? Remember, too, you'll be accused of undue bias toward the library if you give too much consideration to it.

A> I’m for the students. If making library improvements helps the students, I’m bias toward helping people be better students.  That is not undue bias; it is what is required for educated students.  Some professors will complain about anything.  If they can’t suggest an improvement that we all can live with than they are speaking empty words.    If they think “everything is on the Internet”  I’ll just show them the directories of data bases that I mentioned above.   Some teachers seem to take a long time to learn about libraries and information services.  Many professors when they write books thank the libraries and librarians who helped them with their project.  They are the norm, not the detractors.

Libraries do cost a lot of money, but it is cheaper than not having a library.

---- to be continued
Wilbur Wright College

1 comment:

Daniel Stuhlman said...

Via e-mail from Charles Kelley:

I hope this librarian gets the job. He sounds not just capable [but also] rather wise.