A dean1 must leave the day-to-day operation of the academic units to those who are selected to carry out that task. Instead, the dean needs to focus on issues that cross unit boundaries, assist those units in reaching their full potential, promote and develop the unit, and facilitate problems external to the unit. We cannot do these tasks in isolation. An effective management team and the support of the faculty are critical to the organization and thus the dean’s success. To succeed, I believe a dean must engage in the following actions.
Create an inclusive, supportive, collaborative, and an entrepreneurial climate
An academic unit should be a creative and scholarly community of students and faculty. This community can only thrive in a climate of support, cooperation, exploration, and experimentation. Faculty and students should engage in the learning process to promote intellectual development in an environment tolerant of divergent and fringe ideas.
In a scholarly community, faculty and students engage in the learning process to promote intellectual development in a supportive and nurturing environment. An academic community is not simply the research, publication, or production of ideas; it requires the freedom and ability to engage in intellectual discourse, which fosters the development and extension of new ideas.
A creative community is one in which faculty and students feel safe. Faculty and students are encouraged, supported, and protected in such a way as to promote exploration, experience, and creativity. A creative community is much more than its product. It must celebrate the process as well as the emergent outcomes.
A dean plays a crucial role in developing a healthy climate by demonstrating and encouraging openness, honesty, transparency, accountability, freedom to express divergent viewpoints, and availability.
Serve as a catalyst
Departments do not realize many good ideas because they do not get the energy, time, and support to develop. A catalyst serves as a motivator and provides energy to the system. A catalyst can also assist in identifying and defining issues for the unit. I believe that the dean must serve this critical function. The dean can provide the appropriate resources, surface ideas, challenges, and opportunities and facilitate framing concrete and realistic directions for the organization and its units.
Serve as an advocate
The dean advocates for internal and external constituencies on behalf of the academic unit. As the team refines its mission and vision, resources and consensus are needed to make it work.
Internally, the dean works with various constituencies to advance academic unit and faculty agenda and address the conflicts that naturally arise from change. The dean is an advocate to the administration, working to clear the way for academic units and faculty to succeed.
Externally, the dean is vital in facilitating the unit’s role as a responsible and active campus and community citizen and leader. The team can (and should) address community service, campus issues, and local, regional, and national social issues. A unit cannot remove itself from the community or risk marginalization.
Finally, in the era of reduced institutional budgets, the dean must play a critical role in coordinating fund-raising activities with the faculty, the management team, and appropriate university offices to define and carry out the most effective approaches for success.
Serve as a facilitator
The most crucial role for a dean is to serve as a facilitator. Unit success depends on the support and participation of the management team and the faculty. This role is often challenging in a climate of competing goals, resource shortages, history of relationships, and the mysteries created by disciplinary differences. A dean needs to facilitate the ongoing conversations in the unit to work toward a consensus in ways that advance the organization as a whole and the academic units involved.
A transparent approach to decision-making
I would describe my decision-making style as grounded, principled, data-based/informed, transparent, and process-oriented.
- Grounded because the decision-maker must understand the context and place of the issue within the university’s mission, vision, and direction and the academic units to frame it properly.
- Principled because one must always think in terms of justification for a decision. A decision ought to be framed within a decision rule that can be applied consistently if necessary.
- Data-based/informed because data can frequently provide the decision-maker a sense of the magnitude of the problem or how to give the greatest good. Informed because it is inappropriate to limit decisions to what is best for the majority. One cannot support the fringe or the experimental when limited to data.
- Transparent because decisions should be open except were not possible by law. One cannot create a supportive and collaborative environment if decisions are secret.
- Process-oriented is a way to ensure consistency and avoid unnecessary problems that arise as a result of process violations.
A Dean is frequently involved in the development work of the college and university. The ability to raise funds is critical to the future of any college. Depending upon the institution’s structure, the role of the Dean may vary from maintaining positive relationships with current and potential donors to a significant investment in time and resources to raise funds for the programs in the college. The Dean must work closely with the institutional advancement team in either case. Either role requires that the college have a positive image with internal and external audiences and provide significant outreach to the multiple communities the institution services. These efforts offer value for investment in the future of the college.
1I will use the label dean in this document recognizing that the particular title will vary according to the institutional structure. This document generally refers to a secondary management level above the front-line supervisor (department chair). The labeling unit also reflects the organizational structure, such as a college, program, faculty, etc.