There's a column in, um, tomorrow's Chronicle (? I write this on Wednesday, about Thursday's column - I guess I'm far enough behind in time zones that it's tomorrow already...) by a woman (pseudonym Kathryn Ryan) writing about how as a "mid-career academic," she's looking for a senior administrative position. She's been been "tenure-track faculty...program director, assistant provost, and dean," and would like to keep moving up.
I wish her well, and this post isn't intended to be my usual snark about the Chronicle's First Person columns. It's just an interesting question - basically, what should a college dean (or provost, or maybe even president) look like? Here I'm assuming that she's talking about a college dean, as in, head of academic affairs, rather than, say, dean of residence life (if there is such a thing). I could be wrong about this - that's just what "dean" seems to mean in this context - a head honcho of some kind, not just one of the assistant honchos. She makes a really important point:
As long as those doing the hiring continue to privilege candidates who fit a preconceived image of a senior administrator -- white, male, and graying -- then we can be sure that our institutions will miss the opportunity to create a new generation of leaders who will be needed sooner rather than later.
I think this is absolutely true. And yet, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around working somewhere with a 36-year-old dean. (For the record: I'm 38, and not remotely mid-career, though I'll allow that most people are more mid-career than I am by this point. Or at least, I may be "mid-career," but not "mid-level," or is that middle management? But anyway.)
In theory, I'm all about judging based on the background/experience, not someone's age. In practice, it appears I've run up against a prejudgment about what I'd expect of someone in such a position. Which is, honestly, someone older than 36. (Not sure what my cutoff would be. 40, maybe? Not like that's not completely arbitrary or anything. Check back with me in three years about whether I feel the same way...)
Partly, I'm just curious how someone gets to be mid-career, senior administrator material, by 36. I know I'm a turtle in this whole academic race, but she also specifies that she has a degree in the humanities, not generally a speedy degree-earning area. Was she in her first job by, say, 26? I suppose it's possible if she went straight from undergrad (though five years would be fast) (although I shouldn't rule out the possibility that she finished college early, too).
In any case, starting a t-t job at 26 would give her 10 years experience working full-time in academia. If that's the case, did she earn tenure? Presumably, yes, to put her in a position to become a senior administrator - most administrators I know of come from tenured positions - though I suppose not necessarily. (Obviously Dean Dad proves the latter, given he came from an institution without tenure!) If she earned tenure, that's six more years, so that would put her at 32. (Unless again she was fast-tracked and went up early. Can't rule that out.)
Say she earned tenure at 32 - that would give her 4 years in administrative positions prior to this column. That seems awfully little time to reach the senior level. Of course, one could be a program director before earning tenure, too, so she may have started that administrative path early (which is what she says herself: "I realized fairly early -- while still in graduate school, in fact -- that the career I really wanted was an administrative one. Opportunities arose and I took them, perhaps mistakenly believing that my track record would ultimately matter more than the time it took me to reach a senior post"). And again, she may have chosen not to go after tenure, which would potentially start her full-time administrative work even earlier in her career.
The other thing to consider is that I'm a little hazy on what "senior level administration" really actually means (see comments on "dean" above). Someone at Former College who has a Ph.D. in the humanities is now a vice-president of Various Stuff there (not faculty stuff or student stuff, in case that makes a difference). This person graduated from college three years before me. So it's certainly possible to be a young, senior administrator, whatever actually counts as senior. (Okay, three years older than me may not be that young, but just shut up, 'kay? This old lady's getting cranky!)
I lay out this timeline not at all to cast doubt on Kathryn Ryan's path to administration or to question her qualifications. This post isn't meant to ask: do you think Kathryn Ryan is ridiculous for assuming she could/should get a deanship at 36? or to say, How on earth could she do that, she must be making it up! Rather, I'm asking an honest question here: what is the general path to senior administration? Is Ryan's trajectory as unusual according to the norms of administrative culture as it seems to me? Would you, personally, support the candidacy of a dean who was 36? Why or why not? Support your answer with examples from the readings. (Oh, wait, it's not an exam question - sorry!) Do you think your response has anything to do with whether you're older/younger than this person? (This is me asking myself if I'd have felt differently about this if I were currently 28 instead of 38.)
And if you think me even raising this question smacks of ageism - well, feel free to tell me that, too.