Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Becoming a Dean a Promotion?

This is not a commentary  on the Florida dean search except to announce my availability as a search firm for the very low price of $20,000 with a money back guarantee.

My comments are, however, inspired by comments of one of my colleagues that increasingly women and minority men are becoming deans and this is seen as a good thing. This made me wonder if becoming a dean, regardless of who you are, is really a sign of success, respect, or progress.

I do not want to paint with too broad a brush but almost every dean I have known has had no management training and little or no aspiration to become an administrator. In fact, the very word "administrator" might be scoffed at. I know of no law teaching applicant who has said he or she was interested getting into law teaching as a stepping stone to law school administration.

A very typical path is that after a few years of teaching the person finds the "life of the mind" is not his or her cup of tea. In fact, in a substantial number of instances the soon to be administrator is under performing or, even if not, has realized they made a career choice mistake. I know I felt that way in about year 15 and wanted out to do virtually anything other than being a law school administrator. No matter how you cut it, a move over to administration for more than a year or so is a career change and it is a step taken as frequently (perhaps more frequently) by those failing in the other job that it is by those succeeding. I stop short of saying it is a place to put them since they are not doing much else but sometimes this is part of the evolution.

Plus, the simple appointment to an administrative post is not  what deserves congratulations. There is no success in that. The test is what happened. Sometimes a failed dean search is  far worse that a successful search followed by a failed deanship. There are successful deanships that last five years and failures that last much longer  (although for the dean who just wants to "last" it is a personal success).

In some cases the change to administration can be a huge success. The person was made for that job. But the actual appointment can mean many things including "We can't find anyone better," or "Don't  know what else do for you." In fact, when people I have known have been asked to be administrators my initial reaction is to offer condolences, not to view it as progress. After all, don't you think most faculty select deans based on their personal self interest.


Anonymous said...

It's not just this way in law. In most academic fields, the administrators (and most are just that; rare are deans who are managers and leaders) are the professors who either did not enjoy teaching and research, or were not good at teaching and research, or, as is most often the case, both didn't like it and were not good at it.

James Milles said...

One other factor: deans are paid a whole helluva lot more than other faculty.

Eric Rasmusen said...

How do we get the philosophers to be kings? I guess first we have to decide if we want to use the philosophic talent for reigning or for philosophy.
The current situation in academia is that we actively dislike Vision, so we keep people with strong opinions out of leadership and don't give the leaders much power anyway, and complain a lot if they try even to use jawboning. I was shocked that Larry Summers was chosen as President of Harvard for that reason, but the Trustees changed their mind after a few years of controversy (I don't think it was his seminar comments that really got him booted.)

And that may be good. I don't know. Universities manage OK without vision. If a law school wants to get better it needs a dictator with Vision (e.g. the George Mason success story), but staying the same isn't too bad either.