Monday, April 25, 2016

Could Your Department be The Warriors: Character, Strength in Numbers

NOTE   If you would prefer another team, say the San Antonio Spurs (with Duncan, Gino'bili, and Parker) I am sure we can make the change in the remarks below.

In watching the Golden State Warriors vs. the Houston Rockets yesterday, there was a clip where the Warriors' coach Steve Kerr said something to them to the effect that how they would play today would show their character. And when Steph Curry could not play in the second half, Kerr referred to their theme, Strength in Numbers.

Schools and departments are ranked and evaluated as a whole. Professors may see themselves as individual scholars, and evaluated as such (salary, offers from other institutions,...). But we as a school are evaluated as a whole, in the rankings, in students' choice to attend our school, etc. In effect, detailed information about individual faculty is less influential in these evaluations than is that overall impression (surely affected by your stars and the depth of your bench). 

That means that we must have Strength in Numbers. Showing up with our students at the relevant meetings, publishing in the most-read, most-prestigious journals, invited to give talks at the right places as well as everywhere else. Franchise players, like Steph Curry, do not make the Warriors so formidable without their being part of a team who has the character to deliver when Curry is not there.

The next five years aare a chance for us to show our character, and to instantiate Strength in Numbers. For departments and field committees, that means a sense of focus as departments and degrees. For research centers, that means that not only are centers sources of scholarly publications, they are as well sources of syntheses so that they provide informed overviews of policy in their area. For individuals, not only must we step up our quality, we need to figure out how to help our colleagues do so as well. (Quite crucially, we need to figure out what not to do, what tasks to lay by the wayside, so that we can focus on what is most crucial. We cannot do it all, and we cannot play injured for long.)

What I am talking about is likely quite incredible, since leading a department is likened to herding cats. We are going to have to coach ourselves, since there is little reason to believe that instituional demands on chairs and deans will enable them to be coaches as well (but if they are Steve Kerr-like so much the better). Perhaps geniuses are a dime a dozen, as in that quote I sent you. But we can make each other's work better and more effective. 

You will readily note that I have no practical prescriptions. I know it is difficult to change individuals. I write this under the influence of watching basketball on television on a Sunday afternoon. I'm hoping that we can over the next few months, as we sculpt our departments, figure out how to show our character and have Strength in Numbers.

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