Best Job in America

When I came to the United States I had an Australian history in which promotion inevitably moved through the hierarchies of rank (up to professor), whereupon a person became a Head of Department. Usually the position of Head of Department came with necessary resources and power. Accordingly, I did not hesitate to become the coordinator of science education at Florida State University (FSU) and when the moment seemed right I used my connections with the Dean to transfer the science education program back to Curriculum & Instruction, the department in which it was situated prior to suspension. In addition, we relocated science education back to the building in which it was housed prior to suspension. Soon after there was a hiatus within the department of Curriculum & Instruction and I agreed to be the acting Head of Department. What a mistake! The large department was constituted by units such as science education and mathematics education – each of which had been separate departments just a few years before I came. Furthermore, most professors in the department were senior and regarded themselves as world leaders in their fields. It seemed as if there was continual conflict, especially between faculty in the science and mathematics education programs. This conflict involved all manner of things but was essentially related to an economic downturn that reduced the resources available, such as merit pay money, for distribution among faculty. Accordingly, there was a highly competitive environment among faculty with a sense of entitlement.

In the midst of the turmoil I was experiencing the Dean invited David Berliner to present a keynote address at the Dean’s Seminar. I had known David through my affiliation with AERA and when we spoke prior to his presentation he shook his head at me when we discussed the problems I was experiencing as a head of department – “Didn’t anybody tell you that a tenured full professor is the best job in America?” His comment was offered as advice, which I took immediately, seriously, and quickly; relinquishing my role as acting Head of Department, and resuming my position as a tenured full professor.

Since then I have, for the most part, resisted getting involved in administration and taking on administrative roles. Occasionally, it has not been possible to follow this advice, but it is part of my axiology. I do not see my mission as providing leadership through administration. I regard my primary role to be scholar, researcher, and teacher. Of course I view these entities as multilectically related.

Interestingly, David Berliner became the Dean of Education at Arizona State University and is now retired as Regents’ Professor Emeritus. I wonder, did he forget to follow his own advice or did he only see it as applicable to me (especially)? In any event, his advice served me well.