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“What I am Working on Today” Blog

Sorting Personal and Personnel File

February 24, 2017

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

As I enter my final few months as director of the Greenlee School, a position I have held for 14 years, I have begun to tackle the most dreaded of jobs—sorting files for my successor, Angela Powers. I have thousands of such files. Most of the digital work has been done, but there are confidential memos and benefactor letters as well as personal cards and records that I must go through piece by piece.

Entering and leaving administration is a bittersweet compromise. That’s the irony. You give up freedom as a professor, and you make a difference as an administrator.

Not much has been written about this. One of my favorite writers, Carol J. Pardun, wrote an insightful piece —“Why I am Dropping Out of Administration”— in The Chronicle of Education.

If you are considering the administrative life, you should read her article, especially her conclusions. Here is one I have followed diligently:

Leading faculty members is not at all like running a business. It's about creating an atmosphere that allows faculty members to accomplish their goals and dreams. Some administrators fail to understand that.

Before I took the helm at the Greenlee School, I wrote about that tenet in a 2003 Chronicle piece titled “A Professor Turns Administrator”:

When you apply for a faculty job, it's all about you. When you apply for an administrative job, it's all about what you can do for others.

However, like Pardun, I will be an administrative dropout.

When others learned that I was stepping down as director, I fielded nominations for deanships. But I wasn’t interested. I wanted to return to teaching because the faculty and staff at Greenlee are among the most collegial and supportive anywhere. That’s not a boast. That’s the product of hard work, and I have files to show it.

When I became director at Greenlee, I was prepared for a challenge. The School was in the news, in a bad way. Consider this headline in the Chronicle: “Iowa State U. Takes Over Its Journalism School in the Wake of Racism Charges.” A dozen years later, the Greenlee School won the AEJMC Equity and Diversity Award.

In between those articles a plethora of paperwork was generated, and going through those files today, I am exhausted.

My intent here is not confessional, so I will not divulge details. But suffice to say I have a file titled “Anonymous Notes.” Little did the writers of these notes realize that my Ph.D. in English included textual editing, enabling me to decipher who in fact was sending those missives.

Yes, I wrote about that, too, in Inside Higher Ed.

Pardun’s writes this about faculty incivility: “Some faculty members are simply hard-wired to disagree with administrators. When an angry faculty member wants to fight about, well, everything, I've tried to remember that it's not because of me, the person, but because of me, the administrator.”

In worst-case scenarios, when you have to inform campus security, and I’ve done that, well, it is about you as a person and as an administrator.

Here’s a secret about collegiality: To achieve it, some people are going to lose power. When you establish rules that mitigate maximizers of discussion, promote equity and diversity, and advance others on accomplishments rather than cliques, you will be challenged and, if you’re lucky, your dean or provost will support you.

You can’t count on that, though. You can only count on your commitment to make a difference in the lives of faculty and staff.

There is no other reason to become an administrator. The rewards are worth it. I have those files, too, boxes, actually, of cards, notes and letters from colleagues who are lifelong friends.

I am eager to rejoin their ranks at the Greenlee School.

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