Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Liberal Arts Deans
These aren’t the kinds of issues that can be resolved by combining nearby departments or by separating gen ed from liberal arts. They’re deeper than that. People who can breathe at those depths are few and far between. But we’d be in a heap of trouble without them.
Even if I would be good at it, I have never been able to answer the question of why I would want to do that to myself. I've worked very closely with our CAO over the past couple of years and her life seems so much more stressful on a daily basis than even my worst days as a faculty member.
As Dean Dad points out, as a dean you don’t get all that much more money. In addition, you have to work harder and you will have longer hours than you ever did when you were teaching full-time. As a dean, you don’t have tenure and you could lose your job with no notice, at the whim of the president or the provost. You sometimes have to spend so much time in ceremonial duties on the rubber-chicken circuit that your spouse and kids forget what you look like. Whenever your faculty members come to see you, it is never to tell you how great you are but is almost always to whine and complain about something or the other, and often there is very little you can do about it. Your budget is continually being cut and you have to get used to doing more with less, year after year. You have to carry out without complaint or dissent the policies dictated by higher ups, sometimes policies that you find silly or repugnant, and you can’t even use the Nuremberg defense when your faculty members complain. You have to impose each new silly rule or regulation that comes from the government or from the accrediting agencies, and your faculty members rightly resent the extra time and effort that will be imposed on them by the need for compliance.
As a dean, you certainly can’t please everyone all the time, and you never try to do so. However, very often you have to issue decisions or make calls that get some people very angry with you. Some of them may even start to hate you, and they will start saying nasty things about all over the campus. As Machiavelli said, it is better to be feared than loved, but not hated. If the number of people that hate you exceeds some magic threshold, I suppose that it would be time to pack it all in and quit your deanship and move along to greener pastures.
The only way that a savvy faculty member should ever accept a deanship is to negotiate an agreement with the higher ups that the new dean be able to retain a tenured position in their department, one that they could return to if being a dean becomes too stressful or if they find that they get too many people angry with them. Also, if they are accepting a deanship at a new school, they should arrange to be appointed to a tenured position in the appropriate discipline at their new school.
In addition, I think that it would be a good idea if the dean could arrange to continue to teach in their discipline. It could actually be only one course per term, but teaching this course would remind the dean what life is like down there in the trenches, and would let them continue to maintain some degree of contact with reality.
Many places rotate faculty as deans and other administrators. Gives faculty a broader view of managing the institution (and addressing their colleagues' concerns). Trade-offs are lack of continuity/ramping up of the new person.