The Changing Nature of the Academic Deanship.
by Wolverton, Mimi - Gmelch, Walter H. - Montez, Joni - Nies, Charles
The leadership linchpin that holds an organization together lies midway
between those perceived as leaders and those upon whose work the reputation
of the organization rests. In universities today, academic deans fill this
role (Austin, Ahearn, & English, 1997b; Dibden, 1968; Gould, 1964).
This monograph provides a compilation of scholarly literature written about
academic deans. The premise upon which it builds suggests that changes
external to the academy have affected the nature of the academic deanship
and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future (Bensimon &
Neumann, 1993). With this in mind, the authors seek to answer four questions
about academic deans: Who are they and what do they do? What challenges
do they face? What strategies might they use to meet these challenges?
What can universities do to help deans become more effective?
WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY DO?
While the deanship's lineage can be traced back to medieval universities,
its emergence in U.S. universities is a relatively recent phenomenon (Dibden,
1968); Gould, 1964; Griffiths & McCarthy, 1980; Tucker & Bryan,
1988). It was not until 1913 that the position gained universal acceptance
(Bowker, 1982; Deferrari, 1956; Gould, 1964). The profile of deans over
time has changed slightly but still remains predominantly white and male.
Deans continue to be about the same age, in their mid-fifties. They are
married and have been in their positions five to six years, on average.
Strong scholarly credentials distinguish most deans. Early on, presidents
deans directly from faculty ranks. Today, the majority are selected
by a committee of faculty and administrators. More than 60% have been department
chairs, with the clearest career trajectories manifesting themselves in
colleges of liberal arts at research universities. Their duties have moved,
over time, from being almost exclusively student focused to include a multifaceted
array of roles, such as budgeting and fundraising, personnel and work environment
management, program oversight, and external public relations. As a result,
deans experience increasing amounts of ambiguity and conflict, which raise
their levels of work- related stress.
WHAT CHALLENGES DO THEY FACE?
Deans come to the position, for the most part, under prepared to deal
with strained fiscal resources, externally imposed accountability pressures,
demand for relevant curricula and programs, technology advancement and
educational delivery, faculty ill-equipped to meet student and system demands,
diversity, and professional and personal imbalance. They receive the charge
to lead change in the face of shifting demographics of students, changing
political and economic attitudes, demands placed on them by the corporate
sector, and rapid advancements in technology.
Currently, greater numbers of students who are more diverse than ever
before attend college. These students expect faculty to engage them in
learning activities that incorporate technology and relate to the workplace.
And, they expect to have mentors in the faculty and administration who
look like them and will be committed to supporting their educational efforts.
At the same time, competing social problems, such as crime, racial inequality,
and health and welfare, make it difficult for institutions of higher education
to secure a significant portion of available public funds. And, increasingly,
the corporate sector has signaled its disillusionment with the quality
of preparation members of the workforce receive at colleges. Simultaneously,
businesses engage in research partnerships where patenting and dissemination
restrictions could limit academic freedom. Finally, technological advancements
that change daily create a constant need for higher education to keep current.
These advancements help drive curricular reform in terms of both content
WHAT STRATEGIES MIGHT THEY USE TO MEET THESE CHALLENGES?
Universities expect deans to lead their colleges. To do so, deans must
ensure that their colleges realize university missions in terms of instruction
and research. The authors offer an overall strategy-one that moves deans
as managers of day-to-day operations to deans as leaders in a dynamic environment.
In addition, they offer six specific strategies that relate to persistent
challenges: create a diverse culture, know the legal environment, become
technologically connected, strategically manage and secure financial resources,
seek and maintain professional and personal balance, and nurture the integrity
of your college. Diversity strategies focus on the assessment of college
history, policies and procedures, the college's psychological climate,
and the behaviors of people within it. Strategies that relate to legal
issues deal with laws that pertain to discriminatory student admissions
and faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion practices; academic freedom;
and students' expectations for program quality. A final section suggests
how deans might go about instilling a culture of ethical practice within
their colleges. Technology strategies seek solutions to issues of student
learning and education delivery, personnel productivity, and the use of
fiscal resources. Funding strategies address two areas-fiscal management
and resource procurement. Balance strategies help deans strike a balance
between their professional and personal lives, scholarship and leadership,
and long-term agendas and short-term tasks. These strategies help deans
take control of their agendas through time, boundary, and stress management.
College integrity has to do with how the general public perceives its colleges
and universities. It hinges on the success universities have in building
alliances with people and organizations in a fashion that fulfills recognizable
public needs. Deans can take several approaches to this endeavor-redefining
faculty work, re-framing academic departments, refocusing department chairs,
reconnecting colleges with communities, and revisiting the concept of change
WHAT CAN UNIVERSITIES DO TO HELP DEANS BECOME MORE EFFECTIVE?
Universities provide the broader context within which deans succeed
or fail (Bensimon, Neumann, & Birnbaum, 1989; Thiessen & Howey,
1998). As such, universities have a role to play in ensuring that their
deans lead well. The final section provides ideas that can help universities
further the leadership abilities of their deans. Its components include
selection, socialization, development, and evaluation. A final topic, rethinking
the position, piques the imagination.
Austin, M. J., Ahearn, F. L., & English, R. A. (Eds.). (1997). The
professional dean: Meeting the leadership challenges. ( Vol. XXV). San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Bensimon, E. M., & Neumann, A. (1993). Redesigning collegiate leadership:
Teams and teamwork in higher education. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University
Bensimon, E. M., Neumann, A., & Birnbaum, R. (1989). Making sense
of administrative leadership: The "L" word in higher education (AAHE-ERIC
Higher Education Report 1). Washington, DC: The George Washington University.
Bowker, L. H. (1982). The academic dean: A descriptive study. Teaching
Sociology, 9(3), 257-271.
Deferrari, R.J. (Ed.) (1956). The problems of administration in the
American college. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.
Dibden, A. J. (Ed.). (1968). The academic deanship in American colleges
and universities. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Gould, J. W. (1964). The academic deanship. New York: Columbia University
Teachers College Press.
Griffiths, D. E., & McCarty, D. J. (Eds.). (1980). The dilemma of
the deanship. Danville, IL: The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc.
Thiessen, D., & Howey, K. R. (Eds.). (1998). Agents, provocateurs:
Reform-minded leaders for schools of education. Washington, D.C.: American
Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Tucker, A., & Bryan, R. A. (1988). The academic dean: Dove, dragon
and diplomat. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co.
Aguirre Jr., A. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace:
Recruitment, retention, and academic culture (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education
Report 27(6) ). San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.
Andersen, D.A. (1999). Deans of the Future. Paper presented at the Conference
of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, Washington,
Bates, A. W. T. (2000). Managing technological change: Strategies for
college and university leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Conger, J.A. & Benjamin, B. (1999). Building leaders: How successful
companies develop the next generation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Cox Jr., T. (1994). Cultural diversity in organizations: Theory, research
and practice. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.