Book by Robert Jensen, Ray Giles, and Pat Kirklin
Review by Shanna Autry
Academic Advisor, College of Social Sciences
The Florida State University

At first glance, the Insider’s Guide to Community College Administration (2000) seems an innocuous examination of the idiosyncrasies needed to become an effective leader on the community college level.  However, upon further reading, one quickly realizes this Insider’s Guide is not a pep talk to the would-be community college administrator.  Rather, it is a tough, no-holds-barred examination of the politics, corruption, and bitter underbelly of working one’s way up the leadership ladder of America’s community colleges.  At times, the text appears more concerned with telling the reader how to “watch one’s back” versus the effective way to manage a community college.  

Jensen, Giles, and Kirklin offer their advice via sarcastic dialogue and collected anecdotes from experienced colleagues.  The authors address everything a future community college administrator would need to know, ranging from helpful terminology, career choices, surviving peer bullies, and knowing when to leave the leadership position.  They often offer ways in which the system can be manipulated and propose more suggestions about what not to do once in leadership.  For example, the authors offer the following advice if an aspiring community college administrator feels uncomfortable dealing with complaints from fellow colleagues: “Go back to the classroom and make an important contribution to higher education” (p. 2).  It would seem as though the main message of the book at times is to not venture into community college leadership at all.

Once accustomed to the caustic demeanor, the reader will find the more helpful aspects of the book involve effective communication, ethical behavior, connecting with the community, and focusing on the ultimate career highlight – graduation day.  Perhaps the best advice is the notion that the administrator should assume the role of teacher and mentor, roles often assumed by an academic advisor.  All of these elements are applicable to all aspects of careers in higher education.  However, these promising and positive aspects are few and far between in the text.  

This book is most valuable to those who are considering a career in community college administration.  The frank and truthful discussion provides insight into what one may expect before, during, and after holding a leadership position at a community college. The real power, the authors claim, lies in the faculty unions and senate leaders, and not the administrators.  In addition, the text offers thought provoking questions that one may pose whilst considering a career change.  A viable expose, this book tells the reader that a career in higher education, specifically on the community college level, is filled with suffering and sacrifice.

Advisors will find this book most helpful if they plan to pursue a career in administration, regardless of institution type.  For those advisors who do not wish to change careers, the section on “Honing your People Skills” may perhaps prove most beneficial by reminding one of the basic principles of higher education administration:  “It’s all about people – how you treat them, how you react to them, and how you work with them” (p.21). This useful advice may be utilized by academic advisors when working with both students and administrators.

Insider’s Guide to Community College Administration (1st edition). (2000). Book by Robert Jensen, Ray Giles, and Pat Kirklin. Review by Shanna Autry. Washington, DC: Community College Press, 79 pp.  $38.00.  ISBN # 0-87117-328-X
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