Turning to the Dark Side of the Force
By Gerson Moreno-Riano, October 25, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, Professional Development

“You’ve crossed over to the dark side, my friend.”  This was how one of my colleagues greeted the news that after a five-month national search I had been appointed to serve as dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies at Regent University.  Does academic leadership in such an administrative post mean going over to the “dark side?”

Since July 1 of this year I have had the privilege to serve in this post.  And, frankly, the experience has been nothing short of amazing.   I have grown and matured in ways that I could not have imagined.  I have been able to collaborate on as well as lead various initiatives that are having a profound influence on countless of lives.  I am serving so many others.  I have learned and am learning so much about myself as a human being, an academic, an administrator, and a professional that not a day goes by in which I am not amazed about the tremendous opportunity with which I have been blessed.  So what is so “dark” about all of this?

Maybe my experience thus far is unique and thus an outlier.  Perhaps the current context of my institution allows me to serve in such a manner that there is no “dark side” to this opportunity.  Sure there are issues, personnel problems, politics, etc.  But this existed when I was purely a faculty member though not in the same magnitude.  Thus, where is the “dark side” of campus leadership and administrative service?

During these past three months, I am coming closer to the conclusion that perhaps the “dark side” is a matter of perspective.  I don’t mean to suggest that it is a question of relativism or subjectivity.  Rather, I mean to suggest that the perspective of administration versus faculty is differentiated by a depth of vision.  Both pursue an educational vision yet one has a broader, deeper, more comprehensive vision than the other.  Both serve.  Both lead.  Yet one is charged with a more holistic – a more comprehensive – responsibility than the other.  The depth of one engulfs the depth of the other.

The depth of administrative academic leadership may appear “dark” to the shallower depth of faculty responsibilities but only due to the tendency of the latter to fall prey to an isolationist mentality.  The fallacy of only seeing the trees and not the forest afflicts all organizations and it is the job of leaders always to see both the trees and the forest.

Academic leadership in an administrative role is essential to develop, build, and maintain educational excellence.  Faculty alone cannot do it.  Administrators alone cannot do it.  Both are necessary.  Both are essential. 

Only when faculty can rise to the calling of leadership and when leadership can rise to the calling of faculty will academic excellence be well-rooted across America.  As long as “the dark side of the force” mentality pervades how faculty consider academic administrative leadership, we should not expect holistic excellence but merely pockets of excellence.  Great education is built on more than just such sporadic pockets.

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Nathan Harter on Oct 25, 2010 at 7:16 am

Very good that this posting addresses the imagery of a "dark side". My suspicion is that faculty regard administration as exerting a kind of influence on someone over time to change their way of thinking. A new administrator might not yet be under that influence. Perhaps the experience slowly transforms the administrator from one worldview to another.

The counter-imagery of surface and depth is hardly more useful, however, than the imagery of darkness and light. With regard to the institution's mission, it may be the case that an administrator must weigh more factors and see things from a broader perspective, but the faculty could argue that there is a necessary depth to their work that administration cannot afford -- a digging, a specialization that the subject matter itself requires of a scholar. Perhaps while faculty are busy gaining depth, administrators are gaining breadth. But then I wonder if all these metaphors interfere with the message being conveyed here, so let me back up to say the following.

Administration is plainly different as an activity. And in my opinion, faculty prefer that other scholars undertake that activity, rather than having failed scholars retreat into administration or having those with little or no appreciation of what it means to be one make decisions affecting those who do the work of the faculty. Maybe that is why the author here feels so bouyant: he has demonstrated his competence as a scholar and thus has earned the respect of his colleagues. And may God bless him in that work.

It is heartening to find an administrator reflecting on his vocation in this manner.

Lee Trepanier on Oct 27, 2010 at 5:56 am

I agree that one of the problems with faculty is their lack of recognition that they are part of a community at the university and administrators play a critical role in that community. Having said that, some administrators see their role the same way. I wonder if you have any suggestions of how to bridge the isolation on both sides - faculty and administrators - to forge a scholarly community.

about the author

Gerson Moreno-Riano
Gerson Moreno-Riano

Gerson Moreno-Riano has been appointed as Dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies at Regent University.  He is also an associate professor of government at Regent.  He has been at Regent since 2006.

Moreno-Riano's latest publications include the co-authored The Prospect of Internet Democracy (Ashgate, 2009) and the edited volume The World of Marsilius of Padua (Brepols, 2007).  He is currently at work on two commissioned projects: 1) a companion to Marsilius of Padua and 2) organizational evil in the modern era.