A dean[1] 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 facilitating addressing external matters.  A competent management team and support of the faculty are critical to the organization and thus the dean’s success.  To be a success, I believe a dean must engage in the following actions.

Create an inclusive, supportive, collaborative, and an entrepreneurial climate.

I believe that an academic unit should be a creative and scholarly community of students and faculty.  A community that can only thrive in a climate of support, cooperation, exploration, and experimentation.  Faculty and student should engage in the learning process in ways that promote intellectual development in an environment that must be tolerant of divergent and fringe ideas. 

In a scholarly community, faculty and students engage in the learning process in ways that promote intellectual development in a supportive and nurturing environment. A scholarly 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 encourage 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 key 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

Good ideas fail when they do not get the time and support they need 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 resources were appropriate, surface ideas, challenges, and opportunities, and facilitate framing of concrete and realistic directions for the organization and units in it.   

Serve as an advocate

The dean is an advocate to internal and external constituencies on behalf of the academic unit.  As the unit 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.  Based upon the unit missions and divisions, the dean is also an advocate to the administration and seeks support for the unit as well as serves as an advocate for the administration.  This advocacy is essential in clearing the way for academic units and faculty to succeed.

Externally, the dean is key to facilitating the unit’s role of being a responsible and active campus and community citizen and leader.  The unit can (and should) be in a position to address issues related to community service, campus issues, and local, regional, and national social issues.  A unit cannot remove itself from the community, or it risks 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.

Probably the most crucial role for a dean is to serve as a facilitator.  Unit success is dependent upon the support and participation of the management team and the faculty.  This role is often difficult 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 clear approach to decision-making

I would describe my decision-making style as one that is 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 mission, vision, and direction of the university and the academic units to frame it properly.
  • Principled decision-making because one must always think regarding the justification for a decision.  A decision ought to be framed within the context of a decision rule that can be applied consistently if necessary.
  • Data-based/informed because data can frequently provide for the decision-maker a sense of the magnitude of the problem or how to provide 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 decision-making because decisions should be open except where not possible by law.  One cannot create a supportive and collaborative environment if decisions are kept in secret.
  • Process-oriented decision-making is a way to ensure consistency and to avoid unnecessary problems that arise as a result of process violation.

[1]I will use the label dean in this document recognizing that the particular title will vary according to the institutional structure. In general, this document is referring to a secondary level of management above the front line supervisor (department chair).  The labeling unit is also used to reflect the organizational structure, which might be a college, program, faculty, etc.