Dean prospectus omissions

After 6 years in various administrative roles, I’ve become a Usual Suspect for a certain slice of dean searches, mostly smaller private and regional public colleges/universities. At one point rumors were apparently circulating that I was interviewing, and I’m glad that a colleague told me so I could point out that, no, I’m pretty happy in my current position, and if you knew me well enough, you’d know why I wasn’t likely to be looking around. But I receive a few contacts every year, and from the standpoint of someone who is not looking, it is pretty easy to see what the various executive-search prospectus narratives typically miss with the colleges of education I tend to receive search information on:

  • Trends in enrollment, budgets, and hiring
  • Fundraising profile of the institution, especially emphasis among areas (athletics, financial aid, health sciences, other sciences, everything else)

On the whole, the last fifteen years have not been very kind to these colleges, and I understand why this information would not be front and center. Yet, at the same time, a prospectus typically tries to signal the type of person the college or university is looking for. And for some people, specific challenges are attractive… and a provost at these institutions should want someone who looks for that challenge. Yes, everyone wants to be higher-ranked in [name your ranking magazine], have more grant funding, have a broader impact, and so forth. We all know this language, and you don’t call forth the Potential Miracle Dean by pointing out your needs in a way that cries, “Please, apply. We’re desperate.” But is there a middle path?

Some time ago I received an email from a search firm and skimmed the prospectus before replying. My thoughts, roughly:

This college has about the same number of faculty as my current unit, and half the number of students. They have the capacity to teach a lot more, but they probably don’t know how. There are [small # of] departments, so that’s an opportunity to mentor department chairs. They’re CAEP-accredited. I wonder if it’s possible to get out from under that quickly and focus on more of what matters.

No mention of endowed chairs or anything on fundraising for the university, and fundraising experience is low on the preferred-qualifications list. So that’s not a priority for potential deans, but there are also long-term budget problems given what I know about the region. That probably means they have a history of low-balling junior faculty on offers for long stretches, and so there’s likely to be high loss of good faculty and compression/inversion with morale problems. There is a clear mention in qualifications of a history of mentoring faculty, which usually isn’t a dean’s role, so there is serious dissatisfaction with treatment of junior faculty in the recent past. So: faculty relationships are a key need here, and on an urgent/emergency basis. That often entails intrafaculty disputes, too.

If I were in a different position in my life, I might well jump at this, because I know I could help this college; it will never be #3 on Usually Headlined List, but it can be a lot more functional, and faculty happier regardless of the low-salary turnover. I think I saw that primarily because I don’t want another position. But is there a way to attract someone with that capacity and desire in the prospectus? I suspect so; but it would be a very different document. In that type of prospectus/job description, the university would need to state bluntly that it was looking for a dean who knew how to advance the college in several institutionally-meaningful goals (whatever they are–I’m sure enrollment, financial sustainability, and a few other things), make the college more effective and renowned in its regional role, and develop future leadership of the college as well as great faculty.

In other words, in a prospectus you don’t have to identify the fires raging in the back to make clear whom you need.

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