Skill Set

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article asked eight deans from around the country what they wished they had known about the job before taking it.  Not surprisingly, these high-level administrators stressed the importance of leadership training, budget management, communication skills, and the like. 

Immediately after the article appeared, rumors began to circulate in the higher education community that the Chronicle had not published three contributions due to their provocative nature.  After a bit of digging (and a $1500 expenditure from our Source Nurturance Fund), University Life succeeded in unearthing the suppressed commentaries.  Read on.  

Darson Wench, Dean of Old Testament Studies, Eczema Bible College, Murfreesboro, Tennessee:  “How does one deal with pure, undiluted EVIL?  I wish I had been better prepared to do battle with the influence of Satan in the everyday behavior of my colleagues.  I naively believed that the Devil’s toxin would not pervade a bible college, but I was wrong.  Lucifer has infected the bone marrow of this institution and poisoned all of those I interact with.  Whenever I meet with the President, Provost, or department chairs, the smell of sulfur is overwhelming and I am powerless to resist the demands of their crimson-eyed laser-stares.  If only I had read The Exorcist before coming here instead of that useless Dean’s Handbook my brother-in-law gave me.”

Maribeth Fraxson-Piff, Dean of Arts & Sciences, Bagatelle Veterinary College, Barton, Vermont:  “Making people believe that you care about them, even when you don’t, is really crucial for a dean.  Knowing how to fake sympathy and empathy is vital for survival.  For example, I’m constantly dealing with freshly minted, purple-haired English PhDs who whine about teaching five courses a semester and laboring in a service department that doesn’t provide financial support for professional development.  For the love of God, let’s break out the violins and start performing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’ from Les Miserables!  You know you’re lucky to have a full-time job in this forsaken tundra of a state, right?  But can I say that to them?  Nooooo, of course not.  I must meet their gaze with an expression of heartfelt compassion and assure them that I will lobby the Provost to reduce their teaching load to 4.5 courses a term and score them an Arby’s gift card for the next annual meeting of the Modern Language Association.  

“If only once, just once, I could simply sit there and proclaim, ‘I.  DON’T.  CARE.’

“But hey, nobody forced me to take this job.”

Spencer Craisin, Dean of the Business School, University of Missouri at Green Ridge:  “When I became Dean, I had no idea what types of treats to put in the candy dish on my desk.  Jolly Ranchers?  Starbursts?  Kale chips?  Honey-roasted peanuts?  Gummi Bears?  Tic Tacs?  Pork rinds?  Hummus pebbles?   It would have been nice if somebody had offered me advice about this.  I don’t want to offend anyone.  You know, I didn’t major in Cultural Sensitivity at Wharton; I was a Finance guy.

“And how about giving new Deans a pocket dictionary that includes the latest in academic jargon?  I sat through an entire meeting with the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion yesterday, where he talked at length about the impact of intersectionality on trans discourse.  I thought he was referring to new traffic patterns in the campus parking lot.  Well, that was embarrassing.”

There you have it.  As Kermit famously sang, it’s not easy being green……or dean.