Day of Higher Ed: One Day in the Life of a Women’s Center Director

As pretty much everyone in higher education knows by now, the Washington Post published a terrible (as in full of nonsense and lies) op-ed piece a week or so ago about how “lazy” university faculty are and how little work they do (I am not linking to it because it has had enough traffic. It’s easy enough to find if you want to read it). In response, Lee Skallerup put out a call to make yesterday (April 2) a “#dayofhighered,” requesting that folks document their day in the form of tweets, blogs, etc. in order to show that, in fact, we do work plenty hard in higher ed.

While I am not faculty, I joined other staff like Kristen Abell and Higheredmaven to document a day in the life of a staff member. After all, as Higheredmaven points out:

the assaults on my existence have been just as harsh and brutal over the past few years of college cost scrutiny as they have for faculty members. Dubbed “administrative bloat,” college and university staff have been blamed for everything from out-of-control tuition hikes to pervasive and systemic inefficiencies

So, yesterday, I kept a time log of my day — but first, a few introductory notes:

  • Currently I hold a full-time position as director of the UMKC Women’s Center, a part-time position as acting director of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program, and teach two classes — one upper-level WGS course (“Queer in the City”) and one second-semester German language class. My days thus tend to be rather full indeed.
  • For some reason that I do not understand (but am extremely grateful for), I have had fewer meetings than usual this semester and yesterday was no exception with only one meeting scheduled (today, on the other hand, I’m looking at a full day of meetings).
  • I also currently serve as co-editor for the Student Affairs Women Talk Tech blog and it is my week to edit and publish our bloggers’ posts.
  • Yes, I consider Facebook, Twitter, and blogging work. Both the Center and Program I direct use social media extensively to communicate and engage our constituents, while the SAWTT blog contributes to the profession by highlighting the work being done by women in student affairs. Social media is also where I build my professional network and get a lot of my professional development. Yesterday was actually a light day for me as I did not have time to post on the Women’s Center Facebook page or check to see if the students were posting properly.
Without further ado, then, here is my day on Monday: April 2:
  • 5:45 a.m. Get up, feed cats, make coffee (as is evident from yesterday’s tweets, academia would come to a screeching halt without coffee).
  • 5:45 –  6:30 a.m. Check email, Facebook, Twitter, start writing this blog post, look at the news in the Chronicle & IHE, finish up some grading, edit and publish post on Student Affairs Women Talk Tech.
  • 6:30 – 7 a.m. Take walk (if exercise doesn’t happen at the beginning of the day, it usually doesn’t happen at all. Unfortunately there are more days without exercise than with). When possible, I much prefer a neighborhood walk over the gym.
  • 7 – 8 a.m. Get ready for work, eat breakfast.
  • 8 a.m. Head to the office.
  • 8 – 9 a.m. Work on agenda for today’s staff meeting.
  • 9 – 10 a.m. Email, prioritize task list for today, sort out payments for our upcoming 40th Anniversary Gala. Check with assistant director about a program we are working on.
  • 10 – 10:50 a.m. Teach Queer in the City class.
  • 10:50 – 11:30 am. Work on putting out mini fire that’s come up with a vendor for the Gala. This is one of those unscheduled and unexpected things that throws off my day a bit and makes me late for the staff meeting.
  • 11:35 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. Women’s Center staff meeting, at which we divvy up final tasks for upcoming events.
  • 12 – 1 p.m. Lunch with my husband (who is a faculty member at the same institution) in my office while continuing to deal with vendor / contract issue. I also get a “pop-in” visit from a student and spend part of my lunch advising her on what classes she can take this summer to fulfill the WGS minor requirements.
  • 1 – 1:50 p.m. A little class prep, more email, catch up with staff member who was out of the office last week.
  • 1:50 – 2:15 p.m. Revise and print interview questions for applicants to the Sue Shear 21st-Century Leadership Academy, for interviews that will be held later this week. Also send email recruiting staff members to attend the Gala as guests of the UMKC Staff Council (on which I serve as President-Elect).
  • 2:15 – 3:30 p.m. Schedule a meeting and look over materials to prepare for student staff training. Work on check in list for the upcoming Gala.
  • 3:30 –  4 p.m. Send out a couple of emails and then gather my materials before walking over to the training room.
  • 4 – 5 p.m.Train women’s center student staff on the new Facebook timeline for pages.
  • 5 – 5:30 p.m.  Head back to office, gather course materials, respond to a couple of emails that came in while I was doing the training.
  • 5:30 – 7:35 p.m. Teach German class.
  • 7:35 – 10:30 p.m. Come home, help prepare dinner, eat, catch up on blog reading, peruse the #dayofhighered tweets, check email and respond to a few, make a frozen custard run (it was HOT yesterday!), and read some of Mockingjay in preparation for our Hunger Games book discussion to be held on Wednesday. Consider finishing up and publishing this blog post, but was too tired and so put it off until this morning.

There you have it — a fairly typical day. Doing the time log was an interesting experiment for me and I noticed a couple of things:

  • Email dominates my day in a way that’s not great. I knew that before, of course, but it wasn’t until writing this down that I really noticed it. After this, I plan to try to find ways to change that — what will be most difficult there is changing other people’s expectations in terms of response time.
  • Recording my day may have made me a bit conscious of being sure not to goof off, but given the amount of work that has to be done in a day (and yesterday was typical), there isn’t a lot of time for goofing off anyway.
  • While I try to plan my days pretty carefully, there are any number of things that can happen to throw them off like yesterday’s unscheduled student visit and mini vendor crisis. The result of those was that a couple of items on my to-do did not get done. Today I will have to figure out where to reschedule those in order to get them finished this week.
  • I also noticed that I make a lot of decisions (small and large) over the course of the day. Should I buy a computer program or use the remote labs version? How often should the students update the Facebook cover photo? Should I bring in the contracts office to deal with the vendor issue? Etc., etc. Again, I think I knew that, but it was only through writing it out that the extent became clear.

Finally, I want to note that it seems obvious (to me, at least), that I do indeed work hard and produce value for my institution. Over the course of a day, I interact (both virtually and in person) with students, staff, faculty, and community members in a variety of ways that help make my institution a better place. I’m proud of the work I and my colleagues (locally, nationally, and globally) do in higher education and wish more could see the value in what we do.

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