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THE DEPARTMENT OF CHEM

What Starts Here C

David A. Laude

ment in 1971 by President Stephen Spurr to the position of vice president of UT Austin. She handled many of the sensitive issues that faced universities at that time, including affirmative ac- tion, and she served as a major advisor to President Spurr, who had not previ- ously encountered the culture and poli- tics of Texas.

The question, “Why have so many chemists and biochemists proved to be such successful administrators?” elic- ited similar responses from the various leaders. The management of large re- search groups has been described as a laboratory for higher education admin- istration. As Fox puts it, “Managing a large research group is like managing a start-up business.” Similarly, Francisco compares “operating research groups to operating small versions of compa-

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nies.” Faulkner specifically describes the parallels between the work of the research chemist and the higher edu- cation manager. “Over the years, this question has come to me many times. I always give a serious answer and a tongue-in-cheek reply (to follow). First the serious one: Actually, I do believe that there are experiences that develop academic administrative skills among chemists. Mostly, they are rooted in the fact that chemistry is the largest-scale, single-investigator science. While that picture might be changing, I think it still is an accurate descriptor of the aca- demic field, especially in leading uni- versities nationwide. A consequence is that all chemistry faculty members in such settings get quite a bit of ex- perience with personnel management, budget oversight, fundraising, facilities management, and other topics that turn

John C. Gilbert

out to be important in academic leader- ship posts. Chemistry departments also require some pretty big supporting fa- cilities for research and teaching, and faculty members have to act as over- seers of them. Many, like an electron- ics shop or spectroscopy facility, are staffed and have sizable budgets, so oversight roles give faculty members still more experience in the areas that I have just named. Overall, I believe that everyday life as a faculty mem- ber in a leading chemistry department does more than in most other kinds of departments to test and develop ad- ministrative skills; and I further believe that this is a reason for the common presence of chemists in academic ad- ministrations nationwide. Now, tongue in cheek: Chemistry is a field with well- developed theory that can be used to understand phenomena, even quantita- tively. But (at least compared to phys- ics), it never seems quite to work. One is always pulling here and tugging there to establish a picture. Chemists are comfortable with the practice and are skilled at it. Perfect for administration, too!” What Faulkner refers to here has been called by Laude the “messiness” of chemistry: “Chemists work with quantita- tive logic and systems. This is messy in comparison to, say, physics. I’ve sat on committees and realized that I could see the problem, break it apart, and see the solution.” Monti sees the discipline as “looking at a whole variety of observa- tions and then digesting them into conclu- sions.” But he asserts that administration is not as ideal as science. “There is less Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28
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