“It’s hard to conclude anything other than that higher education has done a spectacularly bad job of managing talent,” writes McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. We wanted to know what Chronicle
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“It’s hard to conclude anything other than that higher education has done a spectacularly bad job of managing talent,” writes McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. We wanted to know what Chronicle readers made of McClure’s diagnosis, so we posted some open-ended questions. A large number — more than 150 — of you responded, describing frustration at the lack of clear career ladders, bitterness at being passed over for jobs, and bewilderment at seeing those on the outside, often with less education, finding more financial success. Here is just a small sample of what you shared with us. Respondents have been kept anonymous, and excerpts have been edited for clarity and style.
Have you felt trapped in a dead-end job? If so, how did it change how you feel about higher ed? How did it affect your career path?
I’ve been stunned at how little focus there is on career advancement. I’ve had six different supervisors over five years, and only one ever seriously talked to me about how I hoped to grow within my position or within the university. Across the board, managers here are solely focused on their advancement or keeping their jobs. It is not surprising to me that dozens of my colleagues have left the institution, and sometimes higher ed altogether, in the short time I’ve been here.
I’ve given up trying to pursue higher education as a career after 10 years of trying to get a full-time position. I’ve interviewed once for a spot during that time. Getting closer to this industry means seeing the ugly truth and hopelessness that pervades our administrations and systems.
While for the most part I love my work, I am increasingly exploring options for leaving the profession. My boyfriend is eight years younger than me and has only a B.A. but is earning almost twice in the private sector what I make.
At my institution there have been long-timers in leadership positions who have no intention of retiring anytime soon, which means there is no way for any midcareer professionals to move up. It gets worse when we staff up: We are bringing even more people into the organization without giving them anywhere to go. It’s like we are all the marching band in “Animal House” when they turn down the alley and march into the wall.
I am still passionate for my students, but it hurts that I am equipping them to make more money than I will ever see. I have no opportunities for a raise unless I change titles or leave. I don’t want to leave my students, and I love my job, but I’m stuck with no opportunities for growth unless I leave, which would severely uproot my family.
I’ve been in a position with no upward mobility for the last seven years. I’ve lost my faith in higher-education administrators and feel defeated when I see the progression of friends’ paths in non-higher-ed organizations.
I have been working only 18 months at higher ed in research administration, and I can already see the writing on the wall for a future filled with no career growth. I love the mission and work that I do, but there is a reason my university is understaffed. I can see LinkedIn inquiries becoming more tempting.
We’ve had so many staff members quit that it’s miserable for the rest of us who have stayed behind. I can’t get travel reimbursements processed. I can’t get the website updated. I can’t even spend the money my office was allocated (because I’m a temporary administrator). It’s a Dumpster fire. And there’s no evidence the administration is going to do anything to fix it.
Higher ed is a scam of a career, making us get master’s degrees for a career of low-paying jobs unless we are willing to get doctorates or hop across the country every few years.
What do you think your institution could have done differently?
None of the colleges I have worked for have a formalized path for career progression, which would have gone a long way toward keeping me employed there. It is difficult to sit in a job for many years without knowing if it will ever go anywhere, especially as you see your colleagues jumping ship for better opportunities.
Training and investment in me as a new employee. I basically had to teach myself the job from a disorganized Dropbox folder of documents and a few colleagues in other departments taking pity on me.
For people who are holding on to their leadership role for a long time (20 years) or are close to retirement age, there ought to be a point where their boss reassigns them to some kind of “special adviser/special assistant” role where they can keep doing some of the things they are really good at but clear the field for new blood to take over departments or programs.
Institutions should consider valuing administrative talent as they do academic talent. Academic department heads and deans are often identified through national searches, while administrative deans/directors and department heads are often pursued with a “who can we get for the least money that will do the most work” mind-set. We are well past the age when “anyone” can be a higher-ed administrator (including faculty members who choose to dip their toes into these waters). For those that move into administration from other roles, a formal professional-development plan relevant to their new role is needed. My Ph.D. program prepared me to be an administrator, not a faculty member. We should recognize the reverse is also true.