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The College Administratorís Survival Guide

reviewed by Peter J. Burke - November 30, 2006

coverTitle: The College Administratorís Survival Guide
Author(s): C.K. Gunsalus
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0674023153 , Pages: 264, Year: 2006
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The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” certainly applies to this text. The reader needs to get past the curious cover photo on the dust jacket to discover the gems of wisdom the author has embedded in the book. Written from the perspective of a new department chair on a college campus, there are numerous realistic scenarios painted from actual anecdotes that guide appropriate action for a college administrator. The directions provided transcend the department role and may be valuable for those in higher education leadership positions, from committee chairs to college presidents. While scant attention is given to the management side of administration, such as budgeting or program planning and approval, the focus on the human interaction that leaders experience is very well done.

A pervading theme of the author is the importance of a calm and neutral personal disposition when carrying out leadership activities. “You must know yourself” (p. 11), “model the desired behavior” (p. 19), and know that “the only factor you truly control is your own behavior” (p. 70). The author recommends “establishing a human connection at the beginning” of negotiations (p. 83), and she stresses the importance of good communication skills, especially listening, as part of a leader’s necessary demeanor. Problem solving is more likely to occur with a “cheerful and optimistic” (p. 96) attitude. The disposition offered as most valuable for working with other employees, especially aggressive ones, is “a calm and assertive approach that is neither punitive nor aggressive” (p. 135). The author warns to “be persistent, positive, and above all, calm” (p. 140), but concludes that “likeability matters” (p. 214).

A subset of the personal disposition advice is the need for regular and intense introspection and rehearsal as a prelude to decision making for college administrators. The author recommends “focused introspection, in advance” (p. 11) as a grounding technique that includes “thinking about interactions patterns in your personal life” (p. 15). In this context the reader is warned to “think about your role as an administrator in the institution” (p. 16), and to frequently “step back and take a look from a slightly longer perspective” (p. 24). Advice to “stop and think about the central interaction” in order to “articulate to yourself what’s going on” (p. 37) is introspective behavior necessary for successful leadership. The author suggests a three-step process of preparation for what may be uncomfortable interactions, including: identifying patterns; sketching out a strategy in an outline that includes the pertinent points that need to be communicated; and then having the administrator “practice how you’ll say them” (p. 127). Part of this technique is to have a “key sentence” (p. 116) prepared and rehearsed before the meeting.

The advice in the book is replete with the caution to know both policy and procedure and to follow the rules exactly. A summary statement in this regard is that “there are a set of key points in an academic integrity proceeding at which the intuitive response is the wrong response: following your instincts will get you into trouble” (p. 174). The author cautions the reader to “know what the policies are” (p. 39), to always “figure out what policy, procedure, or principle applies to each issue” (p. 42), and, again, before taking action, to “find out what rules and procedures apply” (p. 154), since “process and procedure are your friends” (p. 147). There is also good advice, however, in the suggestion to “reexamine and revise the rule” (p. 112) when it is clear that administrators as a group are constantly avoiding enforcement or applying it on an ad hoc basis.

While Shakespeare wrote "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (King Henry the Sixth, Part II, Act IV, Scene II), the author would not agree. A lawyer by training and profession, the author repeatedly reminds the college administrator to seek “legal support” (p. 65): “Do not try to handle legal matters by yourself…Get advice. And follow it” (p. 144); “Don’t play lawyer” (p. 145); and “Take the advice of your institution’s lawyers very, very seriously…Do not do anything without advice at every step from the lawyers” (p. 163). It seems clear that legal advice is the coin of the realm for the author. She is also very explicit in the need for appropriate documentation from college leaders in order for the legal staff to do their job efficiently and appropriately.

Additional topics well worth the time for academic administrators to ponder include the use of what the author calls “blue therapy” (p. 129)—when it is necessary to involved a uniformed police officer from the local or campus police—how to deal with issues of academic freedom and plagiarism, what tenure really means in an academic community, care in protecting individual civil rights, the legal issues of notice and due process, and the interpretation of federal policy such as FERPA and ADA. The author devotes a good amount of time to handling academic stars, and a full chapter to working with “bullies” (Chapter 5). The final section of the book, “In Praise of Praise” (pp. 224-225) summarizes an important behavioral disposition that is supportive of both the environment and the individual. This book is a good read for anyone in higher education administration, or for anyone contemplating a move into that role.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 30, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12861, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 10:27:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Peter Burke
    Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin
    E-mail Author
    PETER BURKE, Ph.D. Director of The Education Doctorate (Ed.D) graduate program in educational leadership and a faculty member in the Education Department at Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin. The educational leadership graduate program is a cohort program for practicing school administrators that results in a school superintendent license and an Ed.D. Degree. Author, co-author or co-editor of four books, five monographs, several book chapters and numerous articles in professional journals on topics such as leadership, school improvement, teacher growth and development and the supervision of instruction. In 2005 the second edition of a textbook, Supervision: A Guide to Instructional Leadership, was published by Charles C Thomas. Ciurrent projects include expanding the leadership preparation curriculum at Edgewood College to take on a PK-16 approach to educational leadership and administration. The Edgewood curriculum is described in: Burke, P.J. (2004). The educational leadership program at Edgewood College showing the way Ė Best practices in educational leadership programs. In C.S. Carr and C.L. Fuller (Eds.). Educational leadership: Knowing the way, showing the way, going the way. Lanham, MD: ScarwcrowEducation.
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