So, how am I holding up under the administrative yoke, you may ask (or not, but the answer will come anyhow). The truth is that the job is demanding–mostly people demanding money for their projects and initiatives, that is, but the position has its satisfactions and successes. As when I chaired my department, however, I think my greatest success came on my first day.
Rewind to four years ago when I started chairing the sociology department and was confronted with an opportunity to address a frustration that has plagued all of us in academia, day-in and day-out: crappy staplers. It’s hard enough to find one that can consistently get through 2 or 3 pages without jamming or crushing the staple, but when confronted with a 50 page manuscript, the situation can drive you to distraction. (And please, don’t give me the line about binder clips–they’re just not the same and you know it!)
So, my first act as chair was to order the biggest, most expensive stapler I could find, something like this (except bigger). Yep, a $500 stapler. And I gotta say, that was the best decision I ever made. That thing can staple through a small paperback just as well as 2 pieces of tracing paper–absolute heaven!
When appointed as Associate Dean, I set my sites even higher. You see, I have been irritated since the day I first arrived at ND by the décor in the on-campus hotel. The lobby sports some lovely built in bookshelves that were populated by none other than a rather large set of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books! How could an academic institution as illustrious as Notre Dame flout the field of literature so openly? And they weren’t even good condensations–one was Jaws 2–not even Jaws, mind you, but Jaws 2! What? Was the original too complicated to follow? I was surprised the English department wasn’t out front picketing!
I vowed to get rid of these books, but how? A chance came when the then Dean owed me a favor and I asked him to intercede. Being a creative kind of guy, he hatched a plot. He bought a whole slew of books by our faculty and donated them to the hotel so that guests could check them out and peruse our work. Sounded like a good idea–and in fact, those books are over in the lobby now–but it didn’t serve its underlying purpose–they just moved the Reader Digest books up to a higher shelf! I began to consider theft as the only way out.
But then, my new appointment. On my first official day, I was having lunch in the hotel’s restaurant and spied the offensive volumes on the way in. I decided, on the way out, to try the direct approach. I marched to the desk, asked for the manager on duty, and walked him over to the bookshelves. Pulling rank as the big new Associate Dean, I explained the problem, pointed out that I had even seen visitors making fun of the books, and asked him if he could get rid of them. It took a couple of days, but then it happened, and I give you, dear readers, my greatest administrative accomplishment…an empty bookshelf: