Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Fingers Crossed

So much depends, sometimes.

When I first came to NWU, the Underwater Basketweaving department had a administrative assistant who was less than friendly and less than efficient.  I had to wait for my travel reimbursement forever, because they hadn't sent it in for a long time.  The also took the office furniture and arranged it as a sort of fort so that they were sort of hidden from students.

Then that person retired, and we got the most wonderful person; they were friendly and efficient, helpful, kind, just great. 

And the feel of the department changed totally.  People wanted to drop by the office, to say hello, to get a smile in return.  Things got done and done well, and if you asked for help, you got it, and it was done kindly.

So, one of my first acts as chair is hiring a new administrative assistant.  I had help, thank goodness, from a couple of really smart, good colleagues.  And we've hired someone, and are waiting on paperwork to finish things up.

In the meanwhile, I'm hopeful and worried.  I have good reason to believe the new person is both friendly and effective as a worker.  But if they aren't, then it's on me, and the whole department's going to have a hard time of it.

I've never really been the final say on hiring anyone before.  I've served on plenty of committees, but there's always been a lot of input from others, and I wasn't the final say.  But this time, I am.  And it's scary.

I hope I quit being scared about my job.


  1. A couple questions:

    (1) How long is the probationary period for your new staff hires? Observe the new person very carefully during that period for signs that they are not up to doing the work efficiently or that they cannot behave professionally with staff, students, and faculty. It's a lot easier to fire someone and replace them than to live with a problem staff member for a long time. And it's not fair to a staff person to come to a job that makes them miserable.

    2. Does your U. have any training for new chairs? When I first became chair, there wasn't any summer training (there is now), but there was a leadership seminar every 2-3 weeks run by the Provost's office that was partly nuts and bolts (e.g., how does budgeting work, what offices are there on campus to support students, how to manage people, how to manage time and email, etc.), but also discussion of effective leadership when you have little disciplinary authority, how to keep the big picture in mind, etc. It was very helpful, both practically and for getting to know other chairs and heads in other parts of the university.

    Also, disciplinary associations are getting into the chair training business. The American Historical Association has had a summer program for a couple years. Does MLA have one?

  2. 6 months. I really do think this person will do well. It wasn't just me searching; I had two trusted colleagues also on the committee. Still, it feels like a big responsibility.

    I was signed up to go to a training thing in Chicago, but it was cancelled. The Dean and several deanlings have had sessions with each of us about leadership, budgeting, and so forth, which was very helpful. (The MLA also has a program, but I was signed up for a more general program through my campus. I'm guessing the MLA program was also cancelled.)