Results of the 2009 CMS Survey of Department Chairs, Directors, and Other Administrators

November 1, 2009

During the 2008 CMS National Conference in Atlanta, the CMS Committee on Academic Leadership & Administration decided it needed to know more about their colleagues in administrative and leadership positions across the country to better serve their ongoing professional development needs as well as illuminate the unique challenges and benefits of music unit leadership for those contemplating such a career path. With assistance from the CMS Director of Career Services, and Outreach & Engagement and the CMS national office, the committee designed a survey to assess the state of academic leadership and administration in music programs. Data from 121 respondents was tabulated in early June 2009. The data suggest:

  1. A typical profile of current CMS music unit leaders
  2. Current work environment and quality of work life realities for music unit leaders, including:
    1. Personnel support
    2. Contract and compensation modalities (not including salary information)
    3. Allocation of work load dedicated to administrative responsibilities
    4. Frustrations, challenges, and joys of being a music unit administrator/leader
  3. How an administrator is "grown," including a look at motivation, preparation, selection, and professional development criteria related to a career in college music administration
  4. Professional development needs of the music unit leader/administrator and how these might be addressed by future professional development activities and services provided by the CMS Committee on Academic Leadership & Administration

The purpose of this article is to share a general summary and synthesis of the survey data.

The Typical CMS Music Unit Leader/Administrator

The majority of respondents bear the title of chair, coordinator, director, or dean, with over half referred to as chair. The music unit leader's title is most often associated with the term used to describe the music unit itself, with departments of music often led by chairs or coordinators, and colleges or schools led by deans or directors. The respondents oversee primarily small to medium-size music units, with approximately 80% presiding over music units with 200 or less music majors focusing primarily on undergraduate education (nearly two-thirds of the respondents have no graduate programs in music). Roughly half of all respondents serve in their positions for an indefinite length of time, while 80% of the remaining half serve renewable appointments of between 3 to 5 years, 3 being the most common.

Surprisingly, if not also troublingly, slightly more than 40% assumed their current administrative roles without tenure. These respondents were frustrated with the sense that their level of administrative responsibility exceeds their authority. Supervising, and occasionally being asked to evaluate tenured faculty as a music unit head without tenure places the administrator in a very vulnerable and compromised position.

Because the largest single component of respondents identified themselves as chairs, it follows that three-fourths report to a dean of some description, and the remainder to a provost or vice president of academic affairs. The most common method of communication between a music unit leader and their immediate supervisor is e-mail, followed by face-to-face meetings. (Data indicates weekly or "as needed" as the two most common types of meetings.) Telephone communication comes in a distant third. Finally, 88% of music unit leaders rate their relationship with their supervisor as positive to very positive, with most indicating very positive.

Personnel Support for Music Unit Leader/Administrator

Approximately 75% of survey respondents serve in non-rotating leadership positions, and roughly two-thirds are the sole administrator in their unit. For the one-third who do have other administrators under them, only one has a co-chair, and very few have assistant or associate deans/directors. Assistant administrators carry a wide variety of titles including assistant/associate chair, program coordinator, head of performance activities, director of graduate studies (if applicable), etc.

The lack of consistency in present-day terminology between administrative assistant and secretary makes the data in this area difficult to assess. If a respondent had an administrative assistant, this person was usually full time. Sixty respondents reported having some sort of secretarial support, with most reporting one secretary. Of the 121 respondents, 61 reported having student worker support, 25 claimed technical director staff (though only half of those were full time positions), 32 claimed facilities director/manager support (again, only half of those were full time positions), and 24 reported performing arts series directors/assistants. When a music unit is authorized administrative assistants in other areas, they are most frequently assigned to the director of bands, but are also designated as music education coordinators, seasonal ensemble director assistants, community program coordinators, etc. For those 38% of respondents who reported having graduate programs, 80% have assistance from either a director or coordinator of graduate studies.

Contract Length & Compensation

Forty percent of music unit leaders hold 12-month contracts, while approximately one-third hold a typical faculty-length contract of 9 months. The remaining 26% have contracts between 10.5 to 11 months, or receive a contract or stipend for up to 10 weeks of summer work. Of the 64% of music unit leaders who receive some sort of course load reduction to compensate for their increase in administrative responsibilities, half also receive a salary increase. An unlucky 10% receive no teaching load reduction or salary increase for serving as the music unit leader.

Typical Workload Allocations for a Music Unit Leader
Of all 121 respondents, only 6 reported exclusively administrative responsibilities, with no teaching component in their workload. The data also seem to indicate that institutions consistently underestimate the time administrators spend on administrative work. Though only 20% of administrators are directed or contracted by their institutions to spend 60-90% of their time (the majority) on administrative responsibilities, in reality, over three times that many report actually spending 60-90% of their time on administrative responsibilities. Perhaps this is why, second only to dealing with difficult personnel issues, administrators complain about excessive bureaucracy and non-value added paperwork and report writing.

Selection for Leadership

Roughly two-thirds of respondents were either assigned (50%) or elected by the faculty (50%) to their current leadership positions. One quarter of all current music unit administrators were selected through a national search process, and only 10 of 121 (8%) volunteered for the role.

Slightly more than half of the respondents began thinking about pursuing leadership positions in their first six years of college teaching, while also more than likely pursuing tenure. Less than one-third of all music unit leaders considered administrative roles between their 7th and 14th years, and only 17% considered such roles in year 15 or later. One might conclude it is therefore never too early to consider mentoring and encouraging young faculty towards careers in administration. In other words, strike while the iron is hot, which seems to be within the first six years. It also suggests that a person is less likely to consider administrative work, once a career is well established.

Formal Training/Preparation for Leadership

By far, the largest single cohort of current music unit leaders today (46%) had NO formal leadership training to prepare for their administrative roles. Nearly half pursued training at professional leadership/management/administration workshops/conferences /seminars, and the largest contingent of these attended workshops provided by CMS, NASM, or other professional music organizations. Fourteen of 121 respondents (11%) claim to have acquired leadership skills through a variety of professional or life experiences outside the realm of music, either through internships, or less formal on the job training in the business world or elsewhere.

In most administrative skill areas, respondents felt fairly well prepared for their leadership role in most areas, with slight apprehensions about their ability to conduct promotion and tenure evaluations and merit pay reviews.

With over 81% of music unit executive respondents having never been offered an administrative mentor, and nearly half (46%) assuming leadership roles without any formal leadership training, many enter the realm of leadership and administration without much guidance, preparation, or support. Thankfully, though most current administrators did not benefit from an administrative mentor, 42% report they are involved in mentoring and preparing others for academic leadership roles, suggesting that current music executives are more mindful of the importance of mentoring. In terms of institutional support for respondents in various areas of administrative responsibility, 43 felt they received little to no support in the area of budget and resource management, while only 36 felt they received adequate institutional support in this area. While the least institutional training was provided for conducting effective meetings, very few respondents cited they were uncomfortable doing this.

Growing a Music Administrator/Leader-Initial Motivation & Attraction to the Profession
Goal-oriented individuals with a desire to see the big picture and a passion for making a positive difference through effective leadership, organization, and planning were the most attracted to leadership positions. Fifty-two individuals cited this reason as their primary attraction to a leadership role. In contrast to these eager individuals, 19 of 121 respondents claim they were not at all attracted to, or interested in, any leadership role, but rather stumbled into the position or were appointed to their leadership role (reluctantly, in two instances). A desire to support students and faculty better was cited 16 times as an attraction to the administrative profession. It is encouraging to see the largely altruistic reasons respondents identified for choosing to become an administrator - only 6 of 121 mentioned the desire for a higher salary and/or reduced teaching load as a major motivation.

Most Rewarding Aspects of Music Unit Leadership

While the challenges of leadership are significant, especially managing complex personnel matters and limited financial resources amidst mounds of paperwork and bureaucracy, respondents cited successful faculty and student-centered efforts and program growth and achievement as the most rewarding aspects of music unit leadership. Advocating for and maintaining a happy, cooperative, and collegial faculty, and helping students improve toward graduation were cited by respondents as the most rewarding aspects of administrative leadership. Having a positive impact on music-making, learning, and morale, and witnessing and being a part of program and enrollment growth also contributed greatly to administrator satisfaction.

Chief Frustrations & Challenges of Being a Music Unit Leader

With the best of intentions but often little formal preparation for leadership roles, survey respondents cite significant frustrations as they reflect back on their move into administration. Chief among these challenges and frustrations is dealing with difficult personnel issues and conflicts, and overly "self-absorbed" or under-performing faculty. A close second for the respondents in terms of frustration and challenge is dealing with bureaucracy, including excessive and non value added or redundant paperwork and report writing. The third most frustrating aspect of leadership reported was dealing with inadequate funding and budget cuts. While music unit executives cite long hours as a necessary part of the job, very few complained about inadequate salary.

What the Survey Results Tell Us about Current Music Unit Leaders

The following are some closing observations about the state of our leadership/administrative profession in college music units based on the data collected in this survey:

  • Impressively, the bulk of our music administrators are leading small to medium-sized music departments (<200 majors) quite effectively with minimum to adequate personnel support, ever-shrinking budgets to accomplish their missions, and little or no formal leadership training or mentoring.
  • Current music unit leaders are altruistically motivated, especially early on in their careers, to pursue positions as servant-leaders in our departments, colleges, and schools of music.
  • They are faculty and student-centered but face many challenges, chief among them being personnel motivation and management, including conflict resolution and effective evaluation.
  • They are interested in new methods of securing increasingly scarce resources, as well as methods of managing those resources more effectively and strategically.
  • When they know about them (81% are still not aware of our services), they are taking advantage of existing professional development resources provided by the CMS Committee on Academic Leadership & Administration.
  • They want more on-line and web-based resources, as well as more summer conferences, and pre-conferences and sessions at national CMS conferences on leadership and administration.

The CMS Committee on Academic Leadership &anp; Administration strives to play a vital role in our profession, to continue being responsive to an ever-changing professional landscape, to be mindful of new economic and societal challenges facing our music leaders, and to advocate for and promote improved music leadership in college music programs. This survey and the actions we implement in response to it represent our commitment to improve continuously the important service we provide our profession. Data from this survey will assist us in ways to expand our growing web-based services, design conference sessions and workshops, and consider other ways to support faculty interested in a career in college music administration.


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