Maintaining Academic Scholarship in Administrative Roles

Contributors: Lyndsay Jenkins, Ph.D. (Program Coordinator; Florida State University), Gregory Fabiano, Ph.D. (Associate Dean of Research, University at Buffalo), Mark Swerdlik, Ph.D. (Program Coordinator; Illinois State University), Daniel Gadke, Ph.D. (Interim Department Head, Mississippi State University).

While few faculty end up in administrative roles, it is certainly not uncommon for school psychology faculty to end up somewhere on the administrative ladder (e.g., coordinator, head/chair, dean, clinic director, etc.). Relatedly, it is also not unheard of for junior faculty to be asked to serve as a program coordinator or in other positions earlier in their careers than might have been expected. One of the biggest concerns with taking on administrative roles, is their perceived inverse relationship with maintaining scholarship. In any position, the pursuit of scholarship needs to be purposeful and protected. Fortunately, the field of school psychology is ripe with examples of successful scholars who have spent much of their career in different administrative roles. Below, Drs. Lyndsay Jenkins, Gregory Fabiano, Dan Gadke, and Mark Swerdlik lend their advice on how to maintain scholarship across different administrative roles.

What is your current (or previous) administrative role and duties?

Jenkins: Currently I am the program director for a NASP-approved Ed.S. program. As a program director, I am responsible for program data collection (for accreditation purposes), managing current students in the program, recruiting new students, communicating and meeting with prospective students wanting more information about the program, organizing interview days and the overall admission process, and miscellaneous tasks ranging from updating the program website to thinking about future changes to the program.

Fabiano: I serve as the Associate Dean for Interdisciplinary Research in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo. Duties include meeting with faculty to support the development of programmatic research, support faculty who are engaged in strong, programmatic research, and planning and implementing training workshops related to submissions for extramural funding.

Gadke: I serve as the Interim Department Head for the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Foundations at Mississippi State University. In this role, I have a diverse set of responsibilities, which all focus on maintaining the overall health of the department. This largely includes, managing the needs of all programs (5 graduate program areas, 1 undergraduate program, 1 non-program area), supporting faculty and students, monitoring the budget, coordinating hiring procedures, etc. In the role of Interim, I also maintain a 1/2 teaching load and 100% of my research responsibilities.

Swerdlik: I have served as program coordinator since 1987. In addition, from 1987-2005 I served as director of our on-campus Psychological Services Center (PSC). Primary duties associated with the school psychology program coordinator’s role includes serving as program advisor to all of our specialist degree students, coordinating recruitment activities for both degree programs, admissions and practicum placements for both programs, serving as the university supervisor for doctoral level internships, consulting with the chair about course scheduling and assignments, and chairing the policy making body for the program-the School Psychology Coordinating Committee (SPCC). The coordinator is also the “point person” and lead writer (with input from program faculty) for all internal and external program approval activities and reports. Over my career as coordinator, I have been involved in numerous internal reviews mandated by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, numerous reviews by the Illinois State Board of Education, six NASP program reviews, and five APA accreditation reviews (Wow, it just doesn’t seem like that many J ). I have compiled a detailed list of all of the job responsibilities associated with the school psychology coordinator position at ISU and would be glad to share it with others by contacting me at

At what point in your career did you take on your administrative role? What was involved in your decision making process?

Jenkins: I took on the program director role as an assistant professor after the previous director unexpectedly left in the summer, which of course is not an ideal situation. Given the abrupt departure and other personnel factors, I honestly did not have too much of a choice about whether or not to take on the administrative role. I have enjoyed having a deeper understanding of the program and I do sincerely enjoy working closely with current and prospective students. The outgoing and incoming department chairs were both very aware of the challenge of having a pre-tenure faculty member take over an accredited program, but were, and continue to be, very supportive and often check on me.

Fabiano: I started in my role as an Advanced Associate Professor when my Dean at the time asked me to serve in the position. I was a bit apprehensive as it was my first major administrative role, but I was far enough along in my own research that I could afford to dedicate some time to administration. I would not have taken it earlier in my time as an associate professor because at that time I really had to work on moving my own research agenda forward.

Gadke: I took on the role as Interim Head my first year at the Associate rank. While I had always considered the pursuit of administrative roles, I did not think the opportunity would present itself so early in my career. The possibility of taking on the interim role was brought to me several months before the decision was made, which gave me a great deal of time to seek out mentorship. I spoke to the current department head at the time about the role and associated responsibilities, as well as his impressions regarding my goodness of fit for the duties. Beyond that, I spoke to my mentors in the field outside of the my university, many who were in administrative positions and knew me well. Another important point I took under consideration was the health of the department (i.e., what was in inheriting and being asked to do). Fortunately, I was being asked to take on a healthy department and at the very least, keep it steady – a very different task than taking on an unhealthy department. At the end of the day, given my goals, the collective mentorship I received, the health of the department, and my Dean’s commitment to support me in the, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

Swerdlik: Even as a graduate student at Western Illinois University where program director Dr. Tom Fagan was my first school psychology mentor and at Michigan State University where I was mentored by then program director Dr. Harvey Clarizio, I was interested in program development and administration. As a graduate assistant for Dr. Clarizio one of my assignments was to assist him in the development of the school-based field work program for MSU specialist degree students modeled after my experiences at Western Illinois. Upon becoming a faculty member, I became a NASP program reviewer and took interest in the development of the early NASP training standards in which my graduate school mentor Tom Fagan played a major role. Dr. Grupe was also my academic mentor and she had always encouraged me to “take over for her” when she retired. Further, here at ISU all of the other program faculty were senior and close to retirement so when Dr. Grupe retired they were not interested in moving into the coordinator/PSC director’s role so it fell to me -an assignment which I gladly accepted and which has contributed to a very satisfying academic career of over 40 years.

How do you work to maintain your role as a scholar while fulfilling your administrative duties?

Jenkins: This balance can be quite tricky at times!! Many times the administrative duties (i.e., student emergencies, requests from deans/associate deans) take precedence over research because they have immediate deadlines or are an urgent need. Scholarly activities often do not have the same sense of urgency. There are a few things that have helped maintain this balance:

  1. First and foremost, I have had to accept that there will be some seasons/months where one of these roles will take a back seat. For example, in the months of January and February of this year, I have primarily worn my administrative hat. I played a central role in the admission process for two different programs, served on a search committee to hire two faculty lines (i.e., 6 on campus interviews!), written numerous letters of recommendation, and had four work-related trips. Scholarly activities have been extremely limited and primarily consisted of me apologizing to co-authors and asking for extensions for submitting revisions to a manuscript. Once the admissions and hiring season has wrapped up, there will be more time to prioritize research and writing. However, this past summer, research was a top priority and I submitted two grants and a number of manuscripts. By acknowledging these “seasons” when scholarship or administrative tasks take a back seat, it helps me with not feeling guilty for not prioritizing them equally.
  2. It is important to request appropriate support from your chair and/or dean. This could be financial support, course releases, graduate assistant support, extra travel funds, etc. I have an absolutely outstanding graduate assistant who solely supports the Ed.S. program. I give the GA tasks that are tedious and/or time consuming, but extremely important. These tasks include organizing data sets for our upcoming NASP report, sending out the annual alumni, employer, and supervisor surveys, reminding students of upcoming deadlines, and managing social media content.
  3. I have worked extremely hard to block off one day per week for research. Sometimes these research days are for running analyses, writing, IRB applications, or exploring grant opportunities. I fit in all non-research tasks on the other days, but keep this sacred research day completely blocked off on my calendar.

Fabiano: When I took the job, one of the things my dean said was that I should be a good role model in the position. I have tried to continue to do that, and I have also found that my own research has benefited from the new connections and professional contacts I have gained through my administrative work.

Gadke: My current role has its own ebb and flow of demands similar to my faculty position. That being said, I use many of the same strategies (i.e., working with graduate students, protected writing time, collaboration with colleagues, etc.) I used before in a non-administrative role to keep up with my scholarship. Also, I gave up responsibilities (e.g., courses, supervision demands) to trade out time, which helped with being able to keep up with my research. The biggest difference with my administrative role is that I am required to be on campus more often and there are more “invisible” daily demands that pop up throughout my week. At the end of the day, I have to work hard and remain diligent to ensure my days do not turn into simply crossing off daily checklists; but again, this is important in any role.

Swerdlik: For me, my research/writing activities have been stimulated by my administrative role as coordinator. Early in my career my research and scholarly writing activities centered exclusively around psychometric topics (measurement, reliability and validity of cognitive ability tests) but as I matured in my role as coordinator I wrote more on topics related to  professional issues in school psychology (service delivery initiatives such as Response to Intervention and training issues like internships) and supervision of preservice trainees including addressing problems of professional competence. My role as coordinator of the doctoral program lead to my active involvement in the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs (CDSPP) and long-standing membership in the Trainers of School Psychologists (TSP). My involvement in these two organizations lead to networking opportunities with many of the most active scholars in our field. This networking resulted in opportunities to collaborate with colleagues across the country on a number of research/writing projects. I do find time-management is a critical skill for maintaining ones’ role as a scholar while fulfilling administrative duties. For example, the majority of my work is collaborative and I plan well ahead to complete writing projects (although I am writing this blog on the day before it is due!). Also contributing to my ability to continue my research/writing activities while fulfilling my administrative role is that I have been fortunate to have administrative support throughout my years as coordinator. I have worked with very supportive department chairs including Drs. Larry Alferink, David Barone, and currently, Scott Jordan. By compiling the list of required tasks to be completed by the school psychology coordinator (referred to above) my department chairs have been well aware of the variety of administrative responsibilities associated with the coordinator role and have supported me by providing 25% released time each semester plus a $5000 summer stipend.  I have also worked with supportive program colleagues who have shared many of the tasks with me. As I approach retirement and the responsibilities, including for “mining, compiling and summarizing performance data for a variety of accrediting bodies have expanded significantly, current program faculty have been thinking that the position should be shared by two people which would allow more time for each to continue their scholarly work.

What advice do you have for faculty considering moving into an administrative role who hope to remain active scholars?


  1. Get support from your chairs and deans! I had frank conversations with my chair and associate dean about the concerns I had about being a program coordinator so early in my career. I specifically came to an R1 institution to be able to do more research and a year later I was asked to be a program coordinator. They know that research is important to me, so they have been extremely supportive so that I can continue to do research. Though their support did not include giving the coordinator position to someone else J, they have supported me in ways that have made the job easier.
  2. I would recommend waiting until you receive tenure and promotion and have a strong publication record before taking on an administrative role. Many scholars want to apply for grants and a strong publication record is part of that. It would be very challenging to build your publication record and be in an administrative role simultaneously.

Fabiano: The main advice I would say is that the role should be consistent with one’s own personal priorities and values. I have been able to stay with the Associate Dean role because it is consistent with my own individual priorities as a faculty member. This alignment has made the job fun rather than burdensome.

Gadke: Prior to taking on any administrative role I think there are a few things to consider. First, Is it something that you want to do or are interested in? While some of us may be put in a position where we might not feel as though we have much of a choice, if you do, you should strongly consider how it maps onto your own interests and long term goals. At the end of the day, if you have the choice and you absolutely do not want to do it – don’t. Second, what is the health of the system you are being asked to run? When asking me to serve as Interim, my dean (who is a Texan) said, “Dan, I am not asking you to get the ox out of the ditch, just keep it in the field.” I am pretty sure he was telling me he thought my department was in a good place and I just needed to keep the ship afloat. Taking on a system that is healthy, running well, etc., is much different than taking something over that is broken (or breaking) and needs a major overhaul. As a recently promoted faculty member, I would have been less likely to take this role if the latter were true of my department. Consider this carefully. Lastly, how will the system support you in your new role? Specifically, the administrative chain (heads, deans, provosts, etc.). Having a supportive administrative ladder is essential to the success of any administrator.

Swerdlik: My advice would to keep your chair informed of your responsibilities as coordinator. As I reflect back on my 30 plus years as coordinator, I could have done more to involve faculty in completing tasks for which I took sole responsibility. I am sure if they had been asked they would have assisted. My rationale for assuming more responsibility was feeling that I was the one receiving the released time and summer stipend but I could have done more sharing of responsibilities which would have lessened my load allowing more time for scholarly activities and also facilitating the transition for a new coordinator.

As I referenced above, networking and collaboration contributed to my efforts to remain active.  School psychology colleagues across the nation are a very supportive group and I have found many eager to collaborate on various projects. Many of you have no doubt already experienced this by participating in such events as the School Psychology Research Collaboration Conference (SPRCC). I have found the school psychology community of faculty who hold administrative positions and remain active scholars have the spirit of cooperation and collaboration rather than competition. This has certainly contributed to my feelings of gratefulness for my very satisfying academic career.

If faculty are interested in pursuing administration, what steps would you suggest they take?


  1. After tenure and promotion, if you still are interested in administrative responsibilities, you should consider the type of administration you would be most interested. Being a program director is a very different administrative role than being a department chair or dean.
  2. You could ask to take on some administrative responsibilities to help you learn the ropes.  I know of someone who was interested in eventually being a program director and their program had an upcoming accreditation report. This person agreed to lead writing the report and received a course release in order to do it. They were able to learn more about the program and the way in which the curriculum and data systems were utilized to satisfy accreditation requirements.
  3. Seek guidance from mentors or other faculty who have been an administrator. Discuss pros and cons and have them help you determine if this is the right time in your career to take on a new or expanded role.
  4. If interested in program-level administration, attending CDSPP or coordinator/program reviewer events at NASP can be very insightful!!
  5. Ultimately, if you are interested in pursuing administration, you should simply ask!! Maybe you could rotate the program coordinator role with someone or offer to be an assistant chair. If people know you have an interest, they will likely be able to involve you in projects to give you a taste of it!

Fabiano: I think the decision to take on administrative roles is a personal one, and one that should be weighed carefully by any individual. Decisions will also be impacted by stage of career, particular institution, how many other faculty are in the department/school, and personal priorities.  When in an administrative role, it is like many other aspects of work – you get out of it what you put into it and the best administrators make sure to listen to the other members of the department/school. For those interested in administration, beginning as committee members or in supportive roles may be helpful as a first step to ensure that they know for sure what they are getting into.

Gadke: If you are interested in administrative roles, consider which ones? Coordinator? Clinic director? Head/Chair? Dean? Seek out mentorship from people in the field who are in the roles regarding their impressions of the job. Explore opportunities to better understand the duties and demands of role. Let individuals who can support you (e.g., current coordinator or department head) know about your interest so they can provide you with targeted mentorship opportunities. That being said, I would avoid these roles to whatever extent possible until you are through the tenure and promotion process and have a good handle on your own line of scholarship.

Swerdlik: Based on my experiences I would recommend the following:

  1. Benefit from mentoring. I have been fortunate throughout my career to have supportive mentors related to administration. Reach out to your current program coordinator/director and let them know of your interest and learn their roles and responsibilities.
  2. Be sure the current coordinator has developed a list of coordinator tasks as referenced above.
  3. If possible plan ahead and discuss your transition to coordinator well in advance with both your department chair, current coordinator and program faculty. Here at ISU we have been very fortunate to have a formal transition plan. As I approach retirement and with the strong support of the chair of our department the three senior faculty who are interested in assuming the position have or will each have a year to serve as co-coordinator. The chair is well aware of the complexity of the responsibilities of this role compared to other coordinators of graduate programs in the department primarily due to demands imposed by NASP and APA program approval/accreditation. Because of this need for a smooth transition the chair is providing to each co-coordinator during their year of service a one course release and we share the summer stipend. We will now have 3 additional program faculty in a position to take over as coordinator and who can also share in the workload in their roles as program faculty.
  4. Attend TSP and CDSPP (if you are coordinating a doctoral program) meetings. I have found each to be most valuable in providing valuable ideas related to completing the responsibilities associated with being a program coordinator. Over the past several years, their conference programs have included an increased number of topics that reflect support of school psychology faculty assuming administrative roles. Further don’t hesitate to reach out (through phone or e-mail) to more veteran program coordinators for advice. I have certainly done this through the years and have found everyone very supportive and willing to share their ideas, forms, assessments etc. CDSPP, TSP, and NASP (as part of the Graduate Education Community) also frequently post these useful materials on their websites.
  5. More personally, I am also certainly glad to support new program coordinators/directors.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide any advice or materials. I am eager to “pay it forward” to others as a way to show my appreciation for a most satisfying academic career that has combined the teaching role of a faculty member with the administrative role of program coordinator while still being able to continue to contribute to the field through research and writing.

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