Facing Challenges: Identifying the Role of the
Community College Dean. ERIC Digest.
by Walker, Kristen L
The variety of responsibilities facing deans at community colleges can
be difficult to manage. Accordingly, deans must have the required knowledge,
skills, and abilities in order to carry out their tasks. Continuous changes
and unpredictability create a complex environment for these managers of
academic affairs. What is the dean's role in the community college environment
and how can they fulfill their obligations? This Digest focuses on four
main areas: the dean's role in community college, the daily decisions and
conflicts facing managers of academic affairs, management concerns, and
DEAN - A DEFINABLE ROLE?
The multifaceted role of the "dean" in an institution of higher education
leads to ambiguity and poses obstacles in defining the dean's purpose.
Although there has been a lack of "scholarly attention" paid to the role
of the dean in the community college, Robillard (2000) provides insight
into the responsibilities facing those managing academic affairs. Summarizing
the duties of the community college dean from Vaughan's 1990 study, Robillard
describes how the nature of these duties varies due to the wide scope of
activities, resource constraints, and the differing responsibilities within
each institution. In order to deal with such ambiguity, managers of academic
affairs should have experience in dealing with administrative and supervisory
activities when they come into the role of the dean.
How does the dean deal with the changing community college environment?
Erwin (2000) describes two basic models of change: bureaucratic and participatory.
Although the bureaucratic model is often viewed as slow and detrimental
to change, there are merits to any change model. Both models emphasize
that the community college student should come first, thus emphasizing
learning as an essential aspect of the dean's leadership role. Challenges
to these goals are the processes and the participants in the process. Often,
the dean's response to any challenge is restricted by distinct guidelines
and processes outlined by the institution. Cross-departmental and divisional
challenges also influence any changes the dean envisions. With student
learning as the objective, instructional technology influences these processes,
both positively and negatively. These change models describe the dean as
playing a unique leadership role within the institution; they must handle
complexities, attempt to initiate change, and remain focused on the student.
The faculty and the president of the community college are primary participants
in the processes that deans must follow. Andrews (2000) describes the conflicting
needs of both the faculty and the president that confront the academic
deans. It is essential for the dean to develop a working relationship with
the faculty and the president of the institution in order to reduce conflict
and meet the variety of challenges. In order to maintain good working relationships,
communication is essential and deans must build a trusting environment
with the president and faculty (Kuss, 2000). By doing so, deans can be
successful managers of change and innovation.
DECISIONS AND CONFLICT
George Findlen (2000) describes the dean's job, which includes making
difficult decisions, as a "lonely activity." Reactions to the dean's decisions
often come quickly and from a variety of constituents (i.e. faculty, staff,
and students). While providing examples of particularly difficult decisions,
Findlen outlines five aspects of a problem: the problem itself, the issues,
the players, the alternative courses of action, and the motives and goals.
In all, the difficult decisions that deans must make are often complicated
any of these problems.
As Rose Findlen (2000) states, "Conflict is the job" (p. 41). The manner
in which deans view conflict can actually affect the way they handle difficult
situations. In most cases, although students and faculty can be major sources
of conflict for the dean, this conflict should be viewed as healthy in
order to deal with it effectively. Findlen recommends three basic approaches
to dealing with conflict: traditional, behavioral, and principled. The
traditional approach is used to eliminate conflict, the behavioral approach
is used to accept and deal with the conflict, and the principled approach
is implemented to initiate the conflict to ensue communication.
Community colleges are faced with the task of providing quality education
and programs for students. In most cases this needs to be done with considerable
constraints on resources. The dean is responsible for many aspects of the
budget, such as budget development, management, brokering resources, reviewing
the budget, and perhaps even fundraising. With all of these necessary responsibilities,
how are deans able to effectively carry out the management of academic
resources? McBride (2000) describes a general lack of knowledge and competence
in financial matters by deans at community colleges. By providing a glossary
of accounting terms, the author highlights some of the key areas that deans
should know and in which they should become proficient.
In addition to financial resources, the dean is responsible for managing
the data and the resulting information about the institution and its constituents.
This information can be useful in assisting the dean in making difficult
decisions, thus improving the decision-making process. Although most community
colleges have a great deal of data, the ability to transform that data
into useful information requires competent staff and appropriate know-how
(Johnstone and Kristovich, 2000). Storage and retrieval are key elements
in the effective management of the institutional data and will assist the
dean with the often difficult task of managing academic affairs.
Leadership is a necessary and critical skill for those managing academic
affairs. The dean as the leader actually, "create[s] the stage for future
operations while managing day-to-day activities" (Bragg, 2000, p. 75).
In one sense the community college is in a constant state of transition
and renewal, and must strive to be both consistent and flexible within
the particular environment. Changes in faculty, staff, students, and the
organization itself are common to the community college environment. Bragg
lists six core knowledge areas for deans:
(1) mission, philosophy, and history
(2) learner-centered orientation
(3) instructional leadership
(4) information and educational technologies
(5) accountability and assessment
(6) administrative preparation.
A dean must deal with a highly diverse group of students, faculty, and
staff at the community college. This environment necessitates the use of
professional development to help the manager of academic affairs to attend
to these various groups and needs. George Findlen outlines a practical
source list for the dean of a community college by providing references
and resources for key responsibilities deans may face. These responsibilities
include: conducting faculty evaluation, overseeing the discipline and termination
of students and faculty, and enforcing student privacy. In addition to
these responsibilities, Findlen highlights a few sensitive and pressing
issues confronting deans, such as dealing with sexual harassment, enforcing
American with Disabilities Act, and having a general knowledge in the legal
Trying to manage diverse populations with a variety of needs can be
daunting and pose problems for academic deans. Yet, clarifying the role
of the managers of academic affairs and defining their responsibilities
are crucial to understanding the nature of the job. Because deans must
make difficult decisions, dealing appropriately with conflict that results
from those decisions is a determinant of how effectively the dean manages
the academic affairs at an institution. Hence, information and communication
are key elements for deans in carrying out the day-to-day activities at
the community college. Effective leadership and a broad base of knowledge
are tools necessary to help the manager of academic affairs lead the institution
into the future.
This digest is drawn from: "Dimensions of Managing Academic Affairs
in the Community College." New Directions for Community Colleges, Number
109, Douglas Robillard, Jr., Ed., Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA, Spring
Andrews, H. A. The dean and the faculty (pp. 19-26).
Bragg, D. D. Preparing community college deans to lead change (pp. 75-86).
Erwin, J. S. The dean as chief academic officer (pp. 9-18).
Findlen, G. L. Aspects of difficult decisions (p. 33-34).
Findlen, G. L. A dean's survival tool kit (p. 87-94).
Findlen, R. Conflict: The skeleton in academe's closet (pp. 41-50).
Johnston, G. H. & Kristovich, S. A. R. Community college alchemists:
Turning data into information (pp. 63-74).
Kuss, H. J. The dean and the president (pp. 27-32).
McBride, S. A. Academic economics: The academic dean and financial management
Robillard, D., Jr. Toward a definition of deaning (pp. 3-8).