Whither the dean?
Historically, most administrators in academic affairs, whether they be department chairs, program directors, deans, or provosts, have come out of the ranks of tenured faculty. However with faculty increasingly being contingent and off the tenure track (70 percent), there has not been much consideration of where administrators within academic affairs will come from.
Clearly very different opportunities and constraints exist at different institutional types, but the problem will occur across all institutions of higher education to a greater or lesser degree. Fewer tenure-track faculty at research-focused institutions could mean that those who do have tenure will be expected to continue to focus more on grant and research production over leadership.
Teaching-focused institutions, including liberal arts college and community colleges, may be more reluctant to transition faculty from classroom duty to campus leadership. Regardless of institutional mission, it seems as though little action is taken toward leadership succession planning. There are often reports of difficulty filling positions. It’s not unusual to hear of department chairs or deans being chosen because someone was the only individual willing (and able in terms of being tenured, not necessarily commitment or capability) to take the role rather than best suited for it.
An emphasis on related experience, if tenured, has become more relaxed. It is not unusual to hear of an internal dean moving into a provost role, or a chair moving into a dean role after just a year or two, not because the person is an undeniable choice, but because so few other individuals have the experience needed and an external candidate could not be identified.
The drop in candidates (if we do not look beyond the tenure-track ranks) for academic leadership has implications for the diversity of leadership on campuses as well. Women and faculty of color are overrepresented among the contingent faculty members. Therefore, their ability to move into administrative and leadership positions on campus and academic affairs is categorically diminished without a consideration of an expanded entry points into leadership. If we drew from their ranks, we could more easily diversify leadership on campus as well. If we do not, the administration is likely to remain homogeneous.
Some campuses have tried to fill their leadership gaps by moving away from hiring academics to hiring professional administrators from other fields such as nonprofit management or even corporate sectors. The rationale often used for hiring outside of the academy is based on the belief that those from the nonprofit or corporate sections have more extensive leadership experiences than academically focused faculty. Yet, an overarching mission of higher education is the pursuit of academically focused work.
We suggest there is value in administrators in academic affairs having experiential knowledge of teaching, learning, and an understanding of faculty roles in making decisions about policy and practice.