Whether you’re an experienced academic administrator or are brand new to the field, The Resource Handbook for Academic Deans can offer you concrete ideas and strategies, said Laura L. Behling. She’s the editor of the third edition, and she’s dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs at Knox College.
In the process of editing the chapters, she read them all about eight times, and she learned something new every time.
The four-to-six-page chapters are “written by people who do this work on a daily basis,” Behling said.
When Behling started developing the edition, she sent a list of topics to the American Conference of Academic Deans’ members. They volunteered to write chapters, and some of them suggested additional topics.
Every chapter starts with a scenario. “I wanted to point out that there are common stories,” Behling said. “Being a CAO can be a lonely job, but we’re all hearing the same stories.”
In a box at the end of every chapter, the writers provide several quick pieces of advice or ask questions readers could consider for their campuses.
The chapters are divided into five major areas: becoming a dean, roles and responsibilities of being a dean, what a dean does, fostering teamwork across the institution, and developing faculty excellence and achieving student success.
The book is a great reflection of ACAD, Behling said. Academic administrators who are doing the work share helpful, jargon-free information, she said.
Review the excerpts below to get a sense of what the book is like.
From “A President’s Perspective on Serving as a Dean,” by Philip A. Glotzbach
Leadership is the art of helping people accomplish together what they cannot do individually. Easily said, not always easy to do. Your president is the overall leader of your institution. He or she expects you to be the leader of your faculty. So you now need to think more seriously about leadership than ever before: to become a student of leadership, actively develop your own leadership abilities, and work intentionally to cultivate leadership within the faculty (especially among department chairs but also among both new and established faculty members). You will need to know what the faculty is thinking. You must care what the faculty is saying. You will be the administrative point-person in dealing with problems that arise within the faculty so your president does not have to play that role. At the same time, you must be the primary cheerleader for your faculty, its principal advocate within the administration, and a leading proponent of the intellectual life of your school.
Following are some more specific suggestions to consider as you begin making the dean’s job your own. Even though this list includes fifteen entries, it does not begin to exhaust the inventory of your responsibilities ….
1. Focus on doing what is best for your college or university, and your career will take care of itself. Be guided, above all else, by the mission of your college or university. Always place your institution first, other people second, and yourself third. If you focus, instead, on advancing your career, you will make decisions that will adversely affect your institution (and ultimately your professional prospects as well). Be assured that people will discover your real agenda, and they will judge you accordingly.
The job is not about you; so check your ego at the door. Do not expect people to appreciate your, no doubt, admirable virtues; instead, focus on appreciating theirs. And if their virtues are not readily apparent, look harder until you find them.
Maintain your humility. More deans fail from hubris than from lack of intelligence or administrative ability. Share the credit; take the blame. The great football coach Bear Bryant used to say, “If it’s good, we did it. If it’s really good, you did it. If it’s bad, I did it.” Write lots of thank-you notes. People will appreciate them, and it’s a great way to reinforce good behavior.
Sometimes people will let you know when they appreciate something you’ve done. Keep a file of thank-you notes you receive — they will help to remind you that some people do, in fact, appreciate what you are doing. Just don’t take everything you read there at face value. Take satisfaction ultimately from the results of your efforts, not from the recognition of others.
From “Strategic Planning in Academic Affairs,” by Katie Conboy
The academic leader of any college or university — or indeed any school within a college or university — has a certain level of autonomy in determining a vision for the academic program. However, in increasingly complex planning environments, a dean who is not the chief academic officer must work closely with a provost/vice president, and a provost/vice president must ensure that her or his academic vision aligns with a broader institutional vision, usually developed by the president. To this end, at many colleges the chief academic officer leads the institutional planning process, dovetailing the president’s vision with the creative impulses of academic units and other college departments. And the chief academic officer is often a kind of translator: she must listen to the ideas of others and then work with a collegewide committee to create a plan in which others recognize both a leader and a democratic process.
This “translation” continues into the implementation process, when difficult decisions must be made and communicated: what will be done, in what order, and why. The plan is likely to be embraced if the entire campus community knows there have been opportunities to participate; if a robust cross section of employees have gained understanding about the environment in which the college is operating; if there is consensus about the vision, mission, and values of the institution; and if individuals and groups recognize the process by which the strategies and tactics in the plan were prioritized.
Vision, mission, and values
A planning process often begins with a review of an institution’s mission and values. The president may articulate a broad vision for a future that retains or reshapes the mission and values. Of course, a college’s mission does not usually change with five-year planning increments, but a review allows the opportunity for a confirmation of the mission and values and allows for the possibility of expanding or altering the mission in either minor or significant ways.
Such a process might begin with the planning leader asking what seem like obvious questions: “Why do we exist?” “Who is served by our mission?” and “What distinguishes us within our peer group?” The last question is the one that most institutions fail to answer …
Usually, conversations about vision, mission, and values do not lead to a radical change in what a college does, but they may identify new ways of accomplishing the mission or recognize new programs that are consistent with the college’s historic mission. Indeed, in many cases, a review of the history and of founding documents uncovers the original raison d’être for the institution and helps contemporary employees sharpen their understanding of an essential distinctiveness.
From “Faculty Hiring,” by Stephanie Fabritius
Making the right hire is not merely a happy accident. It requires care and intentionality, clarity in communicating the goals and mission of the institution, and concern to ensure that the candidate’s experience in the hiring process mirrors what she can expect during the long term. Careful work during the hiring process will lead to an outstanding faculty with staying power. Given the demographics of higher education, most of us in chief academic officer positions will hire a significant number of faculty over the next five to ten years. For example, after seven years in my current position, I have hired 42 percent of the tenured and tenure-track faculty beginning the 2013–14 academic year. At most institutions, academic departments take primary responsibility during a search process; however, it is the dean’s responsibility to set expectations for how those processes will unfold …
We pick a time where activity on campus is very comparable to our normal long-term schedule. Our search secretary, working with the search chair, arranges the logistics of each visit. We send out information in advance to each candidate about our campus and community as well as a detailed interview agenda. Candidates typically arrive the night before the interview and are housed in one of our campus guest cottages. A member of the search committee will pick up candidates arriving by plane. This extra time is invaluable because it gives us time to get to know the candidate better and gives the candidate a chance to ask questions before the hectic interview schedule begins. In summary, we try to present the campus as it typically is; we provide information about the campus and surrounding community; and we try to use routine tasks (airport transport) to get a fuller picture of the candidate …
In order to get a fuller picture of the candidate, I start my meeting with her by asking how she found her academic passion. Even the way in which she goes about the explanation can be revealing. I ask her to talk with me about her dissertation topic, providing enough context so that a nonspecialist can understand. This has been useful in determining how well a candidate will be able to untangle complex ideas for our students. And then I spend time telling the candidate about three very important general expectations of faculty at our institution: engagement in the life of the college, embracing the teacher-scholar model, and maintaining a collegial environment.
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