Higher education occupies a privileged place in our cultural imagination because it simultaneously inhabits the Utopian and Dystopian planes of existence. Higher education is unlike, say, the inflamed desire for the unrestricted acquisition of wealth (strictly Utopian, in our estimation) or the suffocating dismay of field hockey (self-evidently Dystopian) in that it combines the worst parts of both: higher education is both inflamed and dismaying. It is also like unrestricted field hockey, in which players are permitted to swing their sticks wildly and show up if they feel like it. The humble associate dean is like a field hockey referee. Or ball. Probably the ball.
Even as balls, associate deans wield a variety of sticks as they roam the wastelands of departmental politics and hide from the passing shadows of Vice Presidents. The Policy stick is a two-edged stick, which is probably more of a stake or a board, maybe–but it can skewer an ill-considered request for a class-development stipend just as well as it can anchor an impenetrable picket against that parent on the phone who “has some ideas.” The “That Must Have Fallen Off My Radar” stick is a reliable walking staff, supporting you as you pursue more important things and serving as a helpful probe of snake-holes and bee hives. The “Let Me Run That By The Dean” stick is really more like a log suspended by a long rope, whose immense mass obliterates all unlucky enough to ask it for something.
But an associate dean is not (completely) a stick-swinging and heavy-browed Homo erectus (who, by the way, were an immensely successful branch of humanity, colonizing large swaths of the world and surviving the extinctions of both other hominins and the Classics Department). An associate dean is also a modern person deserving of a more sophisticated weapon (or “tool,” if you prefer) to thrive in the elite, savage, alienating, sheltered, tenuous, livid, orbital hamster wheel of academia. Enter, as they say, the inter-dimensional portal.
Not that there aren’t several instances every week in which a person in Academic Affairs isn’t violently thrust into one mirror universe or another. We’ve all been to faculty retreats. But I’m talking about a controlled breach between our configuration of reality and others that can be directed in a deliberate manner at, for example, an assistant professor requesting an all-evening schedule so they can secretly work at another university.
Think of the possibilities! Take, for instance, student complaints about how a professor wouldn’t let them take the exam late even though they were at a funeral of somebody they knew in junior high and wouldn’t have ever talked to again even if they hadn’t died in a kayaking tragedy that had somehow become part of a service-learning trip. Common enough. Anyhoo, complaints like that could be launched into a more reasonable universe in which an associate dean could simply tell the kid to get lost instead of trying to explain the collective bargaining agreement to a person who wears pajamas to class.
An inter-dimensional device might enable you to see into a future version of your own stifling reality to determine whether the chair of the Communications Department is ever going to submit the assessment plan for the next academic year or if you are going to have to narc to the Dean. Perhaps it could also let you see if you were going to be put in charge of any Special Projects, in which case, you could start checking out housing prices in Luxembourg. They have legal euthanasia there. Did you know that?
The greatest advantage of access to such a dignified administrative apparatus would be the ability (after obtaining appropriate certification) to call forth a Dark God to wreak vengeance upon all who question your authority. Specifically, the authority not to approve a shoddy directed study proposal.
And wouldn’t it be convenient to leap through a handy breach in the space-time continuum in the event you screwed up the stipend for the summer program?
Seems like this should just kinda come with the job. Or a Taser, maybe.