Beki Grinter

Snowbird: Working with your Dean

In academia, academic management on June 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Oh, I forgot to post this after Snowbird, and it was such a good session.

The final session at Snowbird that I attended was one on working with your Dean. It was hosted by nine Deans from various schools (i blogged about this once, but there was more that I thought would be useful to add). It was open to non-chairs, and I went along because I was curious. Academic management as the reader of this blog knows is a topic I find very interesting (in no small part due to tenure, the different financial structure of the University, and what the processes by which it occurs reveal about the nature of the organizational structure and culture in place).

The session begun with the Deans answering some questions.

  1. What’s the best way to request funds for faculty hires? You need to have a plan, data that supports the plan showing how this hire would support the mission of the department and school. Make it a partnership with your Dean.
  2. What makes a good chair? Someone who is an open communicator with staff and faculty, someone who is informed, able to build consensus, create and maintain an inclusive environment, able to manager interpersonal conflicts, can plan strategically, and makes decisions/plans that are consistent with the mission of the School. Someone who is provocative (?), who listens and empowers the faculty, who focuses on student needs, who can solve problems, who is honest and reliable, who is open and honest, who supports the Dean and School in public (who is supportive generally in public, and saves occasions to critique for more private settings), who has a sense of humour, and wants to have fun in the job.
  3. On leadership style. Approaches the Dean, is a calm leader, and recognizes that the job requires leadership in faculty, students, education, and the university. Should develop your own vision for the organization, be a good communicator, and care about the people under you.
  4. What to do when you need help? There are different forms of help. One is to get a sounding. Another is to ask your boss to play a different role (good cop versus bad cop) for example. Some phrased it as piracy, policy, publicity: You want help when any of these occur. Piracy is when resources you need are not yours to allocate, i.e. you need to approach your Dean for help. Policy is when the precedent set by taking a decision would have implications beyond the scope of a Chair. Publicity is about managing the impression of the unit w.r.t. to the University (and probably also the media).

Here’s the other things I thought were interesting to note.

Working with the Dean is a partnership, the Dean is an enabler for the Chair. But at the same time, the Dean needs the partnership to help manage up to the Provost/President. Sometimes this involves helping the Dean understand the value of the discipline the Chair represents for the University. Done through accomplishments and productivity. Another thing was to be collegial across the departments that the Dean represents. Cross-cutting programs or shared degrees that benefit more than one department represented by the Dean were offered as a good example of this. I liked the idea that it was important to balance advocacy with collegiality.

Does the chair ever go to the Provost, yes, but the Deans seemed to think that it was a good idea that the Dean be advised, possibly suggest, that that occurs. In other words, don’t surprise the Dean that the Provost has been contacted. That makes quite a bit of sense to me, seems like any normal management chain. I’m glad that there’s something about academia that seems similar to the world of business. And another one in that regard is that each Chair-Dean relationship is different, each working style is different. Oh, and of course, creating a world of us versus them is not helpful.

There was some discussion about the Chair’s interaction with Associate Deans, and the roles of Associate Deans more generally. I didn’t really capture all of this. Sort of ironic.

Women are more likely to leave if they receive an alternate offer than men are. Apparently there’s scholarly evidence for this. This came up during a discussion of how various institutions handle retention issues. Are they pro-active, trying to close imbalanced salary gaps, or do they wait for the suitcases to be rattled (which seemed to be the less popular model). At some institutions, there are retention clocks so that people can’t keep coming back for raises each year, for example.

There was lots of discussion of dual career. The impression I had was that the era of the faculty member with the stay-at-home partner was largely over. Deans were saying that everyone was a dual career partnership. That’s not to say that everyone is a dual career research partnership, but that to recruit effectively its essential for Universities to help find the partner valuable employment.

I loved these sentences. Thank you for sharing this with me, multiple people are involved here so I will need to discuss it with each stakeholder before arriving at a decision. You have to do what you have to do. Thank you for sharing this with me, exactly what action are you seeking from me. I am sorry that you are upset by this.

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