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There Is a Time . . .

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© 2007 Brian L. Hawkins

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 42, no. 1 (January/February 2007): 76

Brian L. Hawkins is President of EDUCAUSE. Comments on this article can be sent to the author at bhawkins@educause.edu and/or can be posted to the Web via the link at the bottom of this page.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap.Ecclesiastes 3:1–2

This Bible verse suggests that there are "times" for every purpose, but for many people, it can be challenging—if not impossible—to know just when those times are. In organizations, there are times to stay and times to go, and since I have reached a decision for myself that it is time to go, I thought I would share some of my ruminations on the subject.

My mentor once advised me that nobody should stay in the same job for more than seven years. He qualified that statement somewhat by adding that a person can have the same title and hold the same position for longer than that time period if the "job" changes. His point was that if you are doing precisely the same things, are caught up in the same routines, and are struggling with the same or similar challenges for a very long time, then your creativity will wane and your contributions will end. However, if the job changes and there are different phases of the position, if the job has taken on fundamentally new aspects and challenges, or if the demands of the position are expanded, then it is a new "job" and the "clock" on the seven years can restart. There are certainly many talented and effective individuals who have served in positions for two decades or more, but my experience has shown that these are folks who are constantly in the process of reinventing their positions and creating their own challenges instead of letting the position define or constrain them. On the other hand, there is the old adage about an employer who described one of her employees by saying: "He doesn't have twenty years of experience. He has one year of experience twenty times." In this latter scenario, the stagnancy of the employee's behavior would certainly have a negative impact on the organization, and probably on the motivation and satisfaction of the employee as well.

The challenge is to recognize that there is a fundamental reciprocity in an employment situation—an exchange that must be kept in balance. The employee needs to continue to make significant contributions, adapt to new situations, and remain vital. On the other hand, the organization has the obligation to allow these new challenges to be possible and to reward the employee's contributions. If either side becomes stale, or if the balance becomes uneven, the result is not good for the individual or the organization.

In an earlier phase of my career, as a young (probably overambitious) faculty member, I had a meeting with my first department chair about the staffing schedule for the following fall. He was having difficulties figuring out how to match the demand for courses with the skill sets of his faculty. In an attempt to help him with the challenge he was facing, I offered to teach a wide variety of different courses. He leaned back in his chair and said to me: "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but let me tell you that all of us have at most two courses in us. In your case, that is "Hawkins 1" and "Hawkins 2." After that, any course you teach is merely a combination of elements of those two courses." Although I was humbled a bit by this claim, over my career I learned that there was great truth in his analysis. Each of us has a finite and limited number of skills, abilities, and tricks that we are able to perform, and when those have been employed and used up, our work starts to become repetitious.

When employees have exhausted what they have to offer, it is time for them to move on to a new environment, where they can apply their contributions in a different and challenging venue. Or they can hang on and stay too long, to the detriment of both themselves and the organization. Unfortunately, we've all seen examples of the latter case, when it is time for someone to take another position or, if older, to retire. As a youngster, I was a huge fan of Mickey Mantle's, but it was difficult to watch him in the final years of his career, when he had stayed too long. He did not perform the way he had in his prime, and he ended up damaging his legacy, causing his fans to wish he had hung up his cleats a bit earlier. Nobody should end a career that way. It is better to leave on a high note, and that is what I have tried to do.

I came to EDUCAUSE with the intent of staying five to seven years. But the first phase of the position involved merging two predecessor organizations into a single entity; then came a phase of ramping up services, programs, and policy efforts; then a phase of developing resources and services to support a culture of evidence; and most recently, a phase of establishing a set of steps through which EDUCAUSE will be a partner in developing efforts to assist in dealing with the "grand challenges" facing higher education. Now my time is approaching ten years, and I find myself starting to repeat elements of "Hawkins 1" and "Hawkins 2." In my heart, I know it is time for someone else, someone with a different set of skills, to lead this fine organization into the future, with its new technological and policy challenges. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve the community in this position. I hope I haven't stayed too long.

Brian L. Hawkins

Brian L. Hawkins was president of EDUCAUSE from 1998-2007. Prior to joining EDUCAUSE, Hawkins was senior vice president for Academic Planning and Administrative Affairs at Brown University. In this capacity, he oversaw academic planning, instructional budget management, campus computing, enrollment management, institutional research, summer programs, admission, financial aid, and student registration. Hawkins went to Brown in 1986 as vice president for Computing and Information Services. In 1989, he filled in as senior vice president for Finance and Administration, and then was appointed special assistant to the president for Academic Planning while he spearheaded Brown’s strategic planning processes. In 1997, he served as part of a three-person team standing in for the president of Brown University.

Before going to Brown, Hawkins was associate vice president for Academic Affairs at Drexel University. At Drexel, he was responsible for general academic planning and the first academic program in the nation to require access to a microcomputer, as well as integrating the use of technology throughout the curriculum.

Hawkins is a management professor by training and the author of one book and many articles on organizational behavior. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Michigan State University and his doctorate from Purdue University. He taught at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and served there as department chairman and assistant dean of the College of Business. His organizational work focused on organizational structure, conflict management, communication, and performance appraisal. He earned tenure as faculty member at both UTSA and Drexel.

Hawkins has combined his academic and business experience to serve as a consultant to more than 350 organizations. In 1983, the governor of Pennsylvania asked him to initiate a corporate, industrial, public, and educational partnership in Southeastern Pennsylvania to create start-up companies and develop new jobs. Nearly two decades later, this program is still thriving.

Throughout his career, Hawkins has served on a variety of boards and committees. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Forum for the Future of Higher Education and the Washington Higher Education Secretariat. Hawkins served as a member of the board of trustees of the University of Richmond and the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) General Assembly and as chair and member of the boards of Educom and CAUSE. He also served on the boards of the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) and the International Consortium for Educational Computing. Additionally, Hawkins has been a member of higher education advisory boards for Apple, IBM, NeXT, Sun, and Microsoft and has served on more than 60 advisory panels for various colleges and universities.

He has written extensively, including four books, numerous articles, book chapters, and monographs on information resources, academic planning, and the use of technology in higher education. Hawkins has received two honorary doctorates of science. In 1991, he received the CAUSE ELITE Award, a lifetime achievement award for Exemplary Leadership and Information Technology Excellence. He has served actively on accreditation teams as a chair and member, as well as the standards committee for North East Association of Schools and Colleges. Hawkins has been an invited speaker at professional meetings including the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE), Educom, CAUSE, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), the American Association of Publishers (AAP), the Association for College Research Libraries (ACRL), the National Association of College Stores (NACS), the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).


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1 Comment

Best of Luck!

Mr. Hawkins,

I would first like to commend you on an outstanding article (farewell letter.) "There Is a Time" touches upon the critical idea of growing "stale" in a position and the dangers that go along with it. New challenges, opportunities, and demands are necessary to ensure that creativity and motivation do not fade away.

I would also like to thank you for all you have done at Educause. Over your ten years with Educause you have done tremendous things for the organization, making it an invaluable tool for the institution that is higher ed. From your early efforts to establish Educause in the higher education arena to your recent work with Blackboard and their "patent rights", you have been a champion for the causes of higher ed and for that I thank you.

At the end of your artcle, you state: "I hope I haven't stayed too long." I definitley do not feel you have stayed too long and selfishly wish you would stay longer (although I do understand why you need to move on.) I wish you the best of luck, wherever life takes you.

Mike Cavanagh
Davenport University
Grand Rapids, MI

Posted by: mfcavanagh on February 1, 2007


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