The biggest problem with academia – and there are a loo-full of problems in academia – is that the best and brightest in research are appointed to leadership positions.

While the best and brightest in research are often great and inspiring leaders, my experience has been that the best and brightest in research will just as often devastate a faculty with the same ease with which they publish research results in accredited scholarly journals.

About two years ago our dean of faculty called me into her office. Our departmental head was retiring and I was expected to take up the position of Department Chair.

A clear ‘fuck no, I’d rather sing in front of an audience‘ formed in my mind, but at my age the layer of social polish has thickened, and a gentle but definitive “I decline, but thank you” escaped my mouth.

She insisted.

I cried.

Let’s move on.

I’ve never lingered under a misconception of who I am. I’m no leader. I’m a soldier and will give you my life, but I don’t want to put up with those things leaders step up for. Besides, I’m one meeting away from needing bail money.

The chair position was filled by the most senior member of staff: a quiet, unassuming man with an incomparable publication record and who just happens to eat souls in his spare time.

Last week this Chair of ours called us to a meeting in which he spent two hours informing us of our collective uselessness. We don’t work hard enough; real academics don’t take weekends. We don’t prioritize appropriately, our excuses are outdated, our time management skills couldn’t find a flame in hell.

This from a man who teaches one class for every nine we teach.

When I was a little girl I was seduced by the idea of serving a great leader. I watched movies of military greats, political heroes and of a blue-painted William Wallace atop a horse, screaming for freedom. I read books on the Great Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and other leaders who managed to rally a great mass of people behind a common cause. I imagined what it must feel like to one day work for a leader that could entice from me my very best.

I’ve spent this weekend feeling utterly worthless. I know I work hard and I know what kind of character my line manager has, but it didn’t stop me from feeling that I’ve let down my faculty and my students. It doesn’t matter that my manager is a tool. He is my manager and his words stung.

Maybe I’m childish in my wish to serve under good leadership. I’m old enough to dictate my own career and emotions, damnit!

But I can still remember what I was capable of under Great Leadership, the few times I’ve experienced it. It rises me early and focuses my eyes on common goals. It dares me to believe I’m greater than my history would suggest. Great Leadership has made me feel part of something outside of myself. It pulls me out of my own, imprisoning thoughts and thrusts me into opportunity and possibility.

Instead of finding the best and brightest in research and bestowing upon them the wreaths of leadership, perhaps it’s time academia find proven leaders. People who tend to people. People who fling our ambitions into the heavens and make us bigger than we really are.

Until then, I’ll just be here…my useless self…on top of a horse…William-Wallace-less.

Time for chococino…the tequila bottle is empty…


  1. Hi, thanks for sharing. I wonder if the profit motive is making academia are more difficult place to work?

    Would it be ok to re-post this piece on my blog, with a link and credit to you? I write and share stories about anxiety and sensitivity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Samuel! I’d be honoured if you reposted. 🙂
      I suspect profit-making is absolutely contributing to changing academic environments. With us, they’ve more than doubled our class sizes too, which makes teaching law extremely difficulty… But with so many people unemployed, I try to remind myself of my fortunes…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, Agatha. Doubling class sizes sounds very bad. I had a brief experience of the field and my impression that academics in the particular institution were pursuing personal career agendas, rather than working together well. I wonder if this might be reflective of a wider issue?


    1. Well, at this point we’re still a pretty cohesive team, but the pressure from above to exclusively focus on own research will likely have the effect that we all pursue our own thing. Shame really…

      Liked by 1 person

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