Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Reading Titles

My new co-blogger at IHE has a nice piece on job titles that raise more questions than they answer. It's basically a call for titles that describe at least something about the duties of the job.

In some ways, though, I think the trouble with titles is that even such basics as "dean" and "provost" are frequently opaque, even before getting to "special assistant to..." and suchlike. So as a public service, below I've listed a few common academic titles, and the ways I've seen them defined in the community college world. I haven't done administration in a research university setting, so I grant without argument that your mileage may vary.

Department Chair: I've only ever seen this apply to academic departments, which are clusters of faculty in the same discipline. In some settings, chairs are elected by the department; in others, they're appointed by deans. In some cases, chairs evaluate faculty; in others, they belong to the same bargaining unit as faculty and therefore don't evaluate them. Department chairs carry faculty rank, and can keep tenure if they had it in their faculty roles. Although department chairs are first-responder administrators, they're generally considered faculty first and administrators second.

Division Dean: Not to be confused with the "dean of the college," a division dean is a middle manager between the department chairs and the senior management. Depending on the locale, the dean may or may not teach a class, but s/he is considered an administrator first. Deans are typically chosen by the senior management, and usually have to have terminal degrees (usually doctorates) in their academic discipline. (This may not hold for divisions on the non-credit side, like "continuing ed.") In the contexts I've seen, division deans manage budgets and deal with personnel issues as they arise. They are usually the go-to people for articulation agreements, accreditation reports, outcomes assessment, and faculty evaluation. It's a difficult role, since it involves a great deal of responsibility with relatively little authority, especially when money is tight. Most division deans come from the ranks of department chairs and/or associate deans.

Chief Academic Officer: This is the highest-ranking administrative person at the college with a direct line of responsibility into the academic side. Depending on the size of the college and local tradition, this person's title may be "dean of the college," "dean of the faculty," "academic vice president," "vice president for academic affairs," or "provost." This person reports to the President, and is responsible for the deans and the faculty. (Other "chief officers" typically include one for student affairs, one for business and finance, one for continuing ed, one for the foundation, and one for IT.) CAO's often don't carry faculty rank or tenure, though they usually came from faculty ranks. I read a few years ago that the average length of service for CAO's in America is three years, which is amazingly brief. Although it's losing the monopoly on the franchise, this is still the most common last job for first-time Presidents.

Provost: Although precise definitions vary, a provost is usually understood to be second-in-command at the college, and to have a wide scope of responsibility. In some cases, the various VP's report to the Provost, who is the academic version of a Chief Operating Officer. In the Western states, I'm told, the 'strong provost' model is particularly common. The virtue of that model, if you want to call it a virtue, is that it frees up the President to fundraise full-time. In my neck of the woods, provosts usually encompass both academic and student affairs, and often continuing ed. I've seen vp's report to a provost, but I've never seen the other way round.

Dean of the College: At small colleges, this is usually the CAO. At large universities, this is like a division dean, but one who actually has authority and resources.

Associate Dean: This is usually a full-time administrator who reports to a dean, and who takes care of certain areas of responsibility so the dean doesn't have to. (Budgeting and outcomes assessment are common portfolios.) I had a wonderful associate dean at Proprietary U; his skills were strongest in the areas where mine were weakest and vice versa, so between the two of us, we had it covered. My cc doesn't have associate deans, so the deans have to fly solo.

Assistant Dean: Danger! Danger! Don't be fooled by the seemingly familiar assistant-associate-full hierarchy. In the contexts in which I've seen them, assistant deans aren't really in line for anything; they're usually dead-end positions. They're often (though not always) relatively young and just passing through, and they're given discrete tasks without much supervisory responsibility. These people often either leave higher ed or become 'directors.'

Directors: Directors are sort of like deans, but the people they manage aren't faculty. A cc might have a dean of liberal arts, but a director of counseling. Directors are closer to the 'managers' you see in the typical corporate setting. Although the jobs are fairly well defined and usually full-time, they often don't lead anywhere within the organization.

Coordinators: Coordinators are more like department chairs than like directors. They're usually full-time employees who wear multiple hats. They're usually faculty, though I've seen them in more purely administrative functions as well. You might have a history professor who doubles as coordinator of the Honors program, or a counselor who coordinates the women's center. In the cases I've seen, most coordinators have a primary responsibility as something else.

"Senior": This is what the pomo types used to call a "floating signifier." It can mean just about anything. I've seen 'senior vice president' used to mean 'provost,' and I've seen it used to mean 'vice president with a salary bump.' 'Senior' can refer to either rank or length of service; when the two diverge, the usages can get socially awkward. A 'senior associate dean' seems like an oxymoron, but it's out there.

Specific functions can vary. I've seen deans do course scheduling, and I've also seen chairs do it. Sometimes student complaints go to the chair, and sometimes to the dean. I've heard of systems in which chairs allocate merit raises, which I'll admit strikes me as a colossal conflict of interest, but there it is. Sometimes deans allocate faculty lines, but sometimes CAO's do. I've even heard of a few places in which the deans are unionized, oddly enough, though it's not entirely clear to me how that squares with their managerial responsibilities.

As long as we're talking titles, I'll bow to the inevitable and ask the obvious. What's the weirdest or most opaque title you've seen on campus? Alternately, have you seen one of these terms defined very differently?

I was a director and didn't manage anyone except, later, an associate director, and student aides; I reported to an "associate dean." At the same university, the director title also included faculty who were essentially department and division chairs. I often got memos for "deans and directors." The titles represented wildly different functions that were not at all comparable.

At the same university, I was once a "visiting professor" when I stepped in for someone on sabbatical for a year. Although there were assistant, associate and full professors, the visting faculty just had one title, and I never understood that. I should have been a "visiting assistant professor," I think.

At a flagship university, I was a "visiting assistant in," a title for non-teaching faculty. I was working on various grant projects, mostly doing research in a think tank, which always referred to me as a "staff attorney," although that was not my academic title.

Nobody understood the "visiting assistant in" title (a more senior colleague was a "visiting associate in," a title he's now held for decades). The photo ID people insisted on putting "visiting assistant professor" on my ID because they'd never heard of the other title.

At a state university I had the title "faculty associate" when I was an an adjunct. One freewheeling private college I adjuncted at would give the titles "adjunct instructor" and "adjunct lecturer" seemingly at whim; one term I'd be one, one the other, without any change in pay or anything else.

I was also once an "acting assistant dean."

I like banks, where everyone is a vice-president.
At the universities I've worked at (all large state unis), director is also a title used for chair-like faculty administrators in interdisciplinary programs (like American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, Latin American Studies) as well as for things on the student service side (Director of the International Center, e.g.). Those jobs are always faculty-first, admin-second jobs.

It's also possible for some directorships to be essentially part-time gigs. I'm chairing a search committee now for a director of the Teaching Center on my campus, which will be a 1-course release per semester administrative gig (with most of the actual administration of the center to be performed by the staff member who's the associate director).

The CAOs of every campus I have worked on have held faculty rank and tenure (although they didn't or don't function as faculty members. But when our provost resigned last year, he took a 1 yr administrative leave and the apparent plan is for him to return to faculty life as a tenured member in his discipline. The president of my university is tenured in my own department--that fact was the occasion for changing the rule that my campus would not appoint anyone with tenure, in fact. Previous practice had been to appoint new senior hires at the rank they held in their previous institutions, but make them come up for tenure again after no less than 1 year on campus. My dept chair said, when they wanted to appoint the new president with tenure, which required the vote of the dept, that the dept couldn't make the vote until a year had passed. Presto! New policies.
I think you confuse things a bit by having Provost and CAO as separate entries. I have only seen them used as synonyms, as you noted under your CAO entry, both at CCs and at universities.

The "strong Provost" model you allude to sounds like a different form of organization, where some VPs report to the CAO along with Deans, rather than a different job description. I can see the value in that (the person in charge of advising new students at our CC reports to a non-academic VP).

At our college, Directors are non-academic deans as you define them.
Great post. Institutions of higher education are among some of the worst organizations for creating confusing job titles. While I think you did a great job of describing the most common application of job titles, I've seen the assistant/associate distinction varied institution to institution and even college to college within the same overall university.

At the institution I work at, there was a protacted and quite amusing battle over whether to call people "Academic Advisors" or "Academic Advisers". The battle between the various advising departments got so involved, that ultimately a compromise had to be made stipulating that when the job position was preceded by the word "academic", an "o" was to be used (i.e., Academic Advisor), but when the word academic was not used, an "e" was to be used (i.e.,
When I was a grad student (the first time 'round), grad students who taught their own courses (as opposed to TA'ing for a faculty member) were called Part-Time Acting Instructors, or PTAIs.

Yes, even outside the theater department.
I almost forgot my favorite university job title - Research Assistant. In the case of my university education this was the title for a poorly paid graduate student who was, effectively, the indentured servant of the Dean.
At Oregon State, the Provost is effectively the Chief Academic Officer (we have no one by that title, actually) and runs the university, especially as it pertains to the day-to-day stuff. The President makes some big, strategic decisions, but is definitely a fundraiser and relationship-builder. The cabinet is an odd mix of Vice Presidents and Vice Provosts, depending on how closely the unit the person is heading corresponds to something in the corporate world.
When I came to my current position, I met the "Interim Associate Vice Chancellor" at an orientation. We decided that was about one adjective too many.

Since then, he has become the Associate Vice Chancellor, and has earned my respect many times over.
In a number of 4-year institutions, one often finds schools (e.g., schools of fine arts) housed within colleges (e.g., college of arts and sciences). The people in charge of the academic programs in those "schools" are often given the title of "director." Their responsibilities are more like those of "deans," although they report to "deans." than they are like the responsibilities of "department chairs."
We have ranks of "faculty associate" here which are considered (but in many important ways aren't) parallel to the ranks of tenure-track faculty, and they are named accordingly. Thus the second level up is "associate faculty associate," a title that always makes me think of Firesign theater.
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