Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Ask the Administrator: How to Dissuade a Determined Dean
I chair a mixed social sciences department in a four-year campus of a large university system. Our campus is devoted primarily to business programs and my colleagues and I largely agree that providing a good arts and sciences education to business students is a worthwhile thing to do. Our dean (who has been here four years and will, we expect, soon be on his way onward and upward) has been pushing us for several years now to create a second major in one of the disciplines. No one in the department, especially those in the discipline, think this is a good idea. There’s little if any demand on our campus, and even our sister campuses with a major in the field have few enrollments; developing a major would also call for adding lines in fairly specialist areas that we don’t otherwise need.
This question is about dealing with a dean who can't seem to believe a department would not want to create a new major. After I explained the reasons for our lack of interest and showed him the data, he convened a meeting of the department, apparently thinking that I was misrepresenting my colleagues’ views. We were unanimous in our opposition. Now, though, we’ve just gone through an external review and learned from the review team that he charged them with trying to uncover hidden support for the new major. Again, they found none. I have every reason to suspect it’s not going to end here. How do we deal effectively with a dean who wants us to create a major where none is called for? We can divine no reason beyond his own vision, which simply isn't persuasive enough for us to do something we deem quite counterproductive. We’re trying to fathom his mindset so that we can turn him aside, but none of us quite understands his thinking. Who can provide us some insight into how we might end this stalemate?
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Once he leaves, the committee can disband and permanently shelve (or better, shred) whatever materials they have developed.
Faculty gets burned out with those quixotic pursuits.
The departments involved should create a plan outlining all the cons associated with the project and, each time the project comes up, rattle out these cons systematically.
That should teach this dean that he cannot proceed without the collaboration of his faculty.
The week was very dramatic at my institution, as we were requested to mine considerable amounts of data retroactively to "see" if that would lead to some useful conclusions. A heated meeting took place because people wanted to discuss the validity of the data collection methods or the correlation of the data to the project.
Mrs. Stalin demanded reports to be discussed tomorrow. Well, we decided amongst ourselves to just not do it and, since the time for the meeting was not set, we ducked every form of communication, so I am ignorant of any meeting tomorrow.
Felt like an episode of Yes, minister.
How about "We think the college would benefit more if we spent an additional $###,000 on ... than on a major that would not grow college enrollment or increase freshman retention". Like others said, do you have a plan for something that would help those business students by pushing the mission you already have in place?
If not, you could really burn the Dean by pointing to another subject area altogether and say that if you have $###,000 of free money, it should be used to strengthen freshman skills that you have noted impact on success in your classes. Tell the Provost that the money should go to a different Dean!
My suggestion to the prof asking the question is to hope that the Dean doesn't have the good sense to have separate meetings with the Asst, Assoc, and Full Professors of said department and then appoint a new Chair if it turns out the faculty actually are not "unanimous". If that comment is the other half of the story, you'd better not try to call his bluff!