This article was originally published in the Association of American Colleges Bulletin (May 1947, pp. 393-399). It is reprinted with the permission of the American Association of Colleges and Universities.
The new deans of the American Conference of Academic Deans requested information concerning the functions of a dean. In accordance with this request, questionnaires on the subject were sent to all the members (404 at that time). One hundred and sixty-one deans sent confidential, detailed replies which indicated thoughtful attention. The sampling was gratifying because it included Liberal Arts Colleges of all types—small colleges with one academic dean and large colleges and universities with more than one dean; coeducational, men’s and women’s colleges; and state, city, private, and church-related colleges. Furthermore, they were scattered in all sections of the country from coast to coast.
The replies and the discussion on the same subject in the conference at Boston show differences in emphasis and details, but not extreme divergences for the fundamental duties of the academic deans reporting. Since the questionnaires required explanations and expressions of opinions rather than “yes” or “no” replies, most of the information could not be tabulated arithmetically; only summary conclusions were suitable. The conclusions should be helpful not only to new deans who want to know current practices but they should be satisfying and even consoling to experienced deans in that the patterns most of them are following are the usual ones as far as fundamental functions are concerned.
It is of interest to notice first the background of the deans who answered the particular questions pertaining to it. Fifteen deans have served less than a year; sixty-one, one to five years; thirty-six, five to ten; twenty-one, ten to fifteen; and twenty-six, fifteen to thirty years. As for the age bracket, one hundred and thirty-three are now in the forties, fifties, or sixties, with only twenty-five in the thirties. With reference to preparation, one hundred and fifteen entered their deanship with the Ph.D. or other doctorate. About five-sixths of these deans had had teaching experience prior to the taking of their offices, and more than one-third had had some form of administrative experience. They had been selected by the presidents with the approval of the boards of trustees; comparatively few colleges reported consultation of the presidents with their faculties.
In answering the various questions concerning the relationships of the dean with the president, the deans indicated that they keep the presidents fully informed concerning major academic matters and developments, particularly faculty efficiency, recommendations for faculty appointments and promotions, important committee decisions, unusual situations, but not as a rule concerning any day-to-day routine decisions. Most deans have frequent, informal conferences with their presidents and they also submit annual reports, copies of minutes and other data.
According to the answers to the questionnaires, there are, in theory, for the deans few zones of authority which are absolutely independent of the president’s office, but in practice considerable independence within the framework of established policies is indicated. Frequently mentioned are the following: the academic counseling of students, eligibility and dismissal of students on academic grounds, enforcement of academic regulations, admission and curricular standards, and faculty assignments.
The dean, in cooperation with the chairman of divisions or the heads of departments, usually does the preliminary work with reference to the selection of new faculty members and makes recommendations to the president for final approval. In the case of the promotion or the dismissal of faculty members he likewise consults with the division chairmen or departmental heads and makes recommendations to the president. A few examples of faculty committees on tenure and promotion are given in the replies. More information is needed on this subject.
In the small colleges, the deans have only advisory authority in budget matters or salary changes, whereas, in the universities or in large colleges with more than one academic dean, the deans are usually responsible for determining the budgets of their particular colleges, with the president and the board of trustees having final authority. In both small and large institutions the departmental heads ordinarily discuss their needs in instruction or equipment with the dean and he in turn reports his recommended suggestions or budget to the president. In the small college the president finds it possible to supplement the recommendations of the dean with information obtained directly from the departmental chairmen.
The dean has ordinarily social but no official relationship with the board of trustees and he makes his reports to the board through the president of the college. In a very few colleges, the dean is invited to sessions of the trustees or he meets with committees of the board.
The academic dean directs the educational program of the college and is particularly responsible for planning with and encouraging faculty members, supervising the development of the curricula, enforcing the requirements, and approving the faculty load assignments and student programs of study. In determining educational policies, the deans usually share this responsibility with the president, the faculty policy or curriculum committee, and with the faculty in general. The development of educational policies is a cooperative program in most colleges with the dean taking the amount of leadership commensurate with his abilities, range of interest, and personality.
With reference to the direction of the faculty, the dean is expected to be informed as to what the faculty members are doing, but traditionally faculty members have considerable freedom and much of the supervision in college is left to the heads of departments. The latter discusses with the dean the teaching success of the other members of the department, but occasionally the dean has personal conferences with new members about their work and procedures. Faculty members frequently report problems to the dean and discuss with him the content of new courses and the progress of students. Of course he learns much about the objectives of faculty members by working with them on committees. Only a very few deans gave student ratings as a means of evaluating faculty members. Faculty reports supply some information concerning the work of the department, faculty interest in research, and professional organizations, and the dean in turn communicates information to them in mimeographed reports and in faculty meetings.
The dean tries to encourage the faculty in methods of growth and improvement by keeping the loads as light as possible for research purposes; arranging programs to give free time for study; encouraging membership in learned societies and professional organizations and attendance at the meetings; recommending better salaries and promotion on the basis of effective teaching, advanced study and research; recommending sabbatical leaves of absence; and planning for the discussion of trends in education in faculty and committee meetings.
Most of the detailed work of developing and changing the curricula and the adding of new courses is accomplished under the auspices of a special committee of which the dean is frequently the chairman and the leader in making suggestions. The dean working with the heads of departments usually makes the faculty load assignments in terms of the established policy of the college. The registrar ordinarily has the function of making the schedule for classes, sometimes with the assistance of a faculty committee. The dean is available for consultation and for the general approval of the schedule.
The dean frequently has the responsibility for checking and editing the catalog or at least the part relating to the curricula, the courses and the academic regulations. Departmental or division chairmen submit material, the registrar helps with the statistical part, and the bursar with the financial statements. In some colleges, the final responsibility for checking the copy is assigned to a faculty committee of which the dean is often the chairman; in others it is undertaken by the registrar, the director of public relations, the president or a faculty member experienced in this type of work. In universities, the dean checks the material for his particular college and the general university editor has the final editing responsibility.
In faculty meetings, the dean presides in the absence of the president, for most of the colleges reporting, and in some cases whether he is there or not. In the universities, the deans preside over the meetings of their particular colleges. The dean ordinarily plans or makes suggestions for the agenda.
The dean in colleges other than large universities plays an important part in admission duties, particularly with reference to determining and maintaining standards. Sometimes he has the main responsibility for the admission program but usually he is the chairman or an influential member of the admissions committee, which establishes the policies. The director of admissions or the registrar administers the program on the basis of standards set by the committee and the dean serves in an advisory capacity especially in border-line cases or applications involving transfer credits. When too many students meet minimum standards, the admissions committee frequently helps eliminate candidates.
The dean is responsible for supervising registration with reference to determining general policies, and approving student programs. The registrar ordinarily makes the schedule and has charge of the mechanics of registration. Major advisers have considerable responsibility in counseling students concerning programs of study, particularly in regard to departmental requirements. Students frequently consult the dean concerning the interpretation of the curriculum as set forth in the catalogue, the advisability of changing fields of concentration, and the meeting of degree requirements. The dean does not ordinarily make important changes in the program without consulting major advisors.
The dean usually certifies to the president and the board of trustees the names of students who meet graduation requirements. Sometimes he has the responsibility for checking the records, but more frequently the registrar’s office does this and brings doubtful cases and irregularities to the attention of the dean. The departmental advisors are expected to check for the fulfillment of major requirements. The names are presented to the general faculty or to a faculty committee if the dean has not been authorized in advance to approve all students meeting the catalog requirements for graduation.
In most of the colleges the dean serves as general coordinator of the guidance program which concerns the general welfare of the student, but the academic dean and his assistants stress academic counseling and the special counselors and the deans of students (or deans of women, deans of men) engage in non-academic, social, or personal counseling. The faculty advisers play an important part in academic counseling and the dean frequently serves as chairman of the advisers.
Both the academic dean and the major advisers are available for conferences with students on professional and vocational questions, life interests and objectives, and preparation for graduate schools. Few academic deans handle housing problems. In regard to discipline, student government and the deans of women or men, deal with minor infractions of the rules, and the deans are involved in only extreme cases. The academic dean is concerned with probation and dismissals for academic reasons but in some colleges academic probation is automatic or is determined by committee action with the dean in charge of enforcement.
Other miscellaneous responsibilities sometimes assigned to deans include the administering of the summer school, the enforcement of the attendance system, serving as chairman or member of numerous committees, assuming presidential duties in the absence of the presidents, awarding scholarships, managing the placement service, supervision of health, extracurricular responsibilities, and co-operating with the president in the public relations program.
In the dean’s time budget, the order of functions based on the consumption of time is as follows: (1) conferences with students; (2) conferences with faculty members; (3) serving on committees; and (4) teaching. Some of the deans reporting do not engage in teaching at all.
The reactions to the question “What are the principal satisfactions and dissatisfactions in your work as dean?” are most interesting and reflect to the credit of the deans. The majority of deans object to the lack of time available for fulfilling so many duties into the routine work connected with records, reports and petty details. They dislike of course the personality clashes of faculty members, the jealousies, vested interests, unwillingness of faculty members to see the over-all situation and the needed integrations and relationships of the departmental specializations.
It is not surprising that quite a good many deans desire more time for teaching, study, research and constructive work. They are undoubtedly making sacrifices in this respect, but their keen interest in scholarship surely makes them stronger and more influential deans. The writer believes that deans should find time to engage in some teaching in order to give themselves continued understanding of the faculty point-of-view and avoid losing their intellectual perspective in the midst of routine responsibilities. Teaching should also inspire them to influence others to seek and stress the true values of a liberal arts education.
For satisfaction, a good many deans stress the service factor in counseling students and in working with faculty members. Many like evolving policies to improve the curriculum, the quality of the staff and the student body, and the maintaining of high standards. Some express appreciation for the opportunity of viewing the educational program as a whole and of playing a part in its integration, helping college machinery run smoothly, and making life on the campus more pleasant.
The academic dean does not always have well-defined authority, since his functions overlap on the work of the president, the registrar, faculty advisors, faculty committees and the social deans, but the potentialities for influence and leadership are extensive because of these connections. The deans want to be influential but they do not care to be dictatorial. Instead of imposing their decisions without consultation in advance, they prefer to be democratic and work with faculty members singly and in committees. Many of them take just pride in serving as interpreters, mediators and harmonizers on the campus in the various relationships of the administration, faculty and students.