A Day in the Life. . . .
©2002, Tim Lightfoot

Notes on piece: A setting that I believe has been almost completely ignored in fiction is the University. However, this is a great place to find farce, sarcasm, and satire, often delivered by people who don't know that they are doing it.....
I have been asked to share with you a normal workday for an academic department chair. Admittedly, it is not exciting, but I can say that I am working hard to make our educational system better, more organized, and more efficient.

First though, I have to confess that I almost didn’t become a Department Chair. I knew what a terror I had been as a tenured faculty member; always asking the department chair for more resources, bothering him when I had problems with my students, disputing his version of events in faculty meetings, and writing hot memos to the President of the University (my Chair once called my memos “radioactive”). So I was worried that once I became a department chair, my former “academics-in-arms”, would turn on me. However, I didn’t realize the vast power, control, and impact that I would wield as Department Chair. Since becoming Chair, I have found that each day brings new pleasure and new challenges in my continuing quest to perpetuate the stereotype of a mean, ruthless, and conniving bureaucrat.

Most of my days start with a leisurely reading of the local newspaper at my desk. My secretaries, both of whom depend upon me for guidance, are able to handle most aspects of the morning tasks. After I have caught up with the local news, I will usually do a bit of light paperwork, casually denying student requests for more course sections, better access to facilities, and for student lounges. Through some of my management training, I have learned that I should only touch paper once. Therefore, since I usually have to touch the papers several times, I have learned that meeting with students about their needs is usually useless, wastes my time, and in the end, just wastes a lot of tissue. My motto has become “Get over it” (note to Secretary - send motto to Nike for possible use in next advertising campaign. Inform them they can use it for a small fee. Negotiate for me and be sure to let them know we think their current slogan “I can” is weak.)

After my light paperwork is done, I usually start my “administrative power rounds” (APRs),visiting the other administrators on campus that work so hard to make this university what it is. Technology has made these power rounds somewhat easier; many of us now just meet in an electronic chat room (power.academic@aol.com) and discuss the management issues of the day. For example, yesterday’s topic in the Administrative Chat Room was how to further plan for future needs. Yes, many people accuse us of planning to plan, but the preparatory work is necessary so that when we actually plan, we develop initiatives that will let us later plan more efficiently. Frankly, these APRs also serve another valuable function: they keep us away from the distracting students, faculty, and staff that seem to work so diligently to use our valuable time. This seems to be why many of the administrators on campus are involved in APRs which usually terminate at about 11:30 am which allow for our group administrator sessions (GAS) in the University cafeteria.

These GASes are an example of the efficiency which good management can bring to a campus. GASes allow us to prepare for the rest of the day, devising new ways in which to make our faculty more efficient and also allow us to reload our food stores that have been depleted by our heavy morning workload. We even jokingly call these sessions our “Plan and Spam Sessions” (PASS). However, it is hard to eat and concentrate on weighty academic matters at the same time, so several of us are now backing a plan to appoint “assistant chairs” who can take over our morning paperwork so that we, the department chairs, will have more time for PASSing. I am proud to say that the “assistant chair” idea was my idea and was roundly approved at the latest PASS. Just another example of how hard we work to make our campus more efficient.

On most days, after PASSing, I return to my office and allow my secretaries to take staggered 30 min lunch breaks. Being the kind and beneficent boss that I am, I allow them to use their desks as their lunch table, thereby reducing the wasted time that they might otherwise spending walking back and forth to the cafeteria. I know that they appreciate the fact that I am always trying to figure out ways that they can be more efficient in their time at the University.

My early afternoon is usually filled with development of new forms and procedures to be implemented in the Department. Because I am not good with writing tools (we all must know our limits!), I was able to hire a graphic designer who actually designs the forms. Yes, hiring a graphic designer may seem like a luxury, especially in an institution that is funded with tax dollars, but in actuality, I was able to hire the designer with student fee money we received last year. I have found that the students don’t know the difference between a one- or two-year old computer in the computer laboratory, thus, freeing up that money to be used on worthwhile projects such as our forms project. Therefore, not only are we able to have a computer lab, but we can also hire a designer to help implement the forms for all of the efficiency procedures I devise. A clever use of limited resources if I say so myself!

I usually handle development of procedures myself. Even though I hate to brag, I am actually quite good at developing new processes and procedures. I have been complimented by my faculty on this talent on many occasions. I regularly receive accolades like “Yeah, right, this will save time!” and “Geez, I bet it took you a long time to think up this!” from my coworkers, further spurring me to work harder (oops, that’s smarter NOT harder) to make my department a model of efficiency (ME), a paradigm of progress (POP) , and a division of progressive educators (DOPE). My hard work in ME POP DOPE has led me to institute innovative corporate programs such as total quality management (TQM), quality assurance programs (ISO9000), and quality student retention (ISOCONFUSED).

By this time, I’m sure you’ve recognized that I possess probably one of the most important bureaucratic skills; the ability to generate meaningful acronyms. I try to be modest, but I do work hard on this talent. I try to set aside 10-20 minutes per day, usually right after my procedural invention processing (PIP - see I do it unconsciously now!), to work on this important skill. Just last week, my resolution to turn the Dean of the Day job (DOD - dull, confusing) into the Substitute Object For Admiration (SOFA - much snappier and a step up from being a Chair!) job was accepted by our President. Therefore, I know I’m on the right track with this acronym stuff process (ASP).

After I’ve PIPed and ASPed, I do the really hard work of the day: budget allocations. However, through the PIP, I’ve been able to streamline this process by requiring the submission of a 20 page budget request form called the BEG (Budget Encumbrance Guard) from anyone that wants to spend money in my department. The use of the BEG has reduced the amount of budget allocation requests from my faculty by 94.6% over the past two years, thus saving more money for needed items, like a border around the top of my office walls, and demonstrating to the faculty how efficient they can be with what they already have in the department. Because of the increased efficiency through the use of the BEG, I now have more time in my day for other important functions and more money in my budget.

Recently I’ve added two new items to my daily to-do list: strategic planning and developing the new faculty conspiracy plan. Strategic planning is a relatively recent phenomenon in higher education having been miraculously sent from the corporate world to help us organize academia. I had noticed that there was way too much spontaneity in academia, and strategic planning seems to be the best way to eliminate this distracting and nonefficient chaos. Academic chaos (ACH, I call it!) was evident in my department’s professors’ research (they were investigating things that they didn’t set out to investigate!), in their teaching (they claimed that many lectures depended upon the questions the students asked them), and in their program development (they claimed that spontaneity allowed us to develop programs quickly). So the Strategic Articulation of Area Gross Academic Initiative Narrative (StArt-AGAIN) has really helped focus our efforts in a more efficient manner. We now have faculty strategic academic plans (FAC-SAP), where the faculty yearly develop a five year plan for what they will research and research over that period. Of course, periodic (every 3 months) outcome evaluation is required of all of our FAC-SAPs. Our motto is “We access to excess!”

Our departmental five year strategic academic plan (DEP-SAP) is done every year, so we can plan new programs based on our system and not chaos. Even our technology needs are planned long into the 21st century (Tech-SAP). Many critics say that all of our plans do not give us the flexibility to change. Poppycock, I say. Every 6 months, our faculty are required to modify their FAC-SAPs and our Departmental Evaluation Program - Desired Outcomes committee (DeEP-DO) does a complete review, reevaluation, and modification of our DEP-SAP. Again, I hate to brag, but through my efforts, similar efforts have been instituted at the College level (aka: Discipline DeEP-DO or more fondly as “DiDeEP-DO”) and at the University levels (aka: Institute DeEP-DOor as “InDeEP-DO”). I am thrilled that my leadership has brought this type of thinking even to level of our curriculum. Throughout the University, we have begun to institute courses in “Planning and Evaluation” to help spread this marvelous organizational thinking to our students (VIRUS-DO).

Usually I end my day with the most enjoyable activity I have: continuing development of the new administrative vs. faculty conspiracy plan (A/FAC-CON). I’m really not supposed to write (or talk) about A/FAC-CON, but I’ve noticed many of my own faculty often talk about A/FAC-CON in the halls, so it appears that they are already aware of it. One of my most treasured professional moments was when I became Chair of my first department, my first Dean gave me his tattered copy of the first A/FAC-CON, originally drafted in the early 50’s when tenure became common in the United States. A/FAC-CON has developed as a normal function of University faculty life, and it’s continued life seems to be assured by the hall whispers that perpetuate its existence in spite of the numerous task forces, socials, and other efforts by well-intentioned, but misguided young academic administrators. Imagine my thrill, when I was chosen by the Committee of Most Administrators (CoMA) to help in the revision of the A/FAC-CON. While I can’t speak too much about the new revision (that would spoil the fun of faculty trying to figure out the new devious twists and turns we’ve devised!), I can say that it gives me pleasure just thinking of ways to harass and obstruct the performance of my faculty. I can truly say that I’ve lain awake at night, just dreaming these tortures up!

So, in a nutshell that’s the day in the life of an ordinary department chair. I and all of my colleagues across the United States are working hard, sometimes even 6 hours a day, to make our educational system better, more organized, and more efficient. So, the next time you see a department chair, thank him/her for their efforts. My faculty do! (note to secretary: cancel my team-taught class tonight and schedule my next deposition in that class action faculty lawsuit for tomorrow. Also send a note to the CoMA that this class-action lawsuit may provide us new ammunition for the next A/FAC-CON).

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