Stress Factors End Community College Deans: The Stresses of Their Role Identified

Article excerpt

Community college deans responded to a national survey about their perception of stress, using a 41-item stress inventory. Using principal components factor analysis, nine stress factors were identified. Detailed information about the items in each stress factor, including general characteristics, is included. Demographic characteristics of community college deans were identified.

Introduction

Community colleges are unique educational creations that have forever changed the landscape of higher education in the United States. Community college deans are at the heart of these organizations. Dill (1980) writes that deans and deanships are relatively new in American higher education and that their evolution can be traced in terms of decades rather than centuries. Dill (1980) describes deanships in the following manner:

   Most are built without designs, improvised instead from memories
   of previous successes and failures and elaborated to the extent
   that local initiative and creativity will allow.... Some ... have
   been known to capsize in calm water and sink, flags flying, shortly
   after leaving the dock. (p. 261)

These midlevel academic leaders are positioned to carry out the day-to-day business of the colleges, and they also are the talent pool for the future leadership of the community colleges (Shults, 2001).

Sandwiched between administration and instruction, these midlevel academic leaders have been called jugglers who are required to manage successfully the frequently competing priorities, interests, agendas, and other matters of concern to the various administrators and faculty members of their colleges (Seagren, Wheeler, Creswell, Miller, & VanHornGrassmeyer, 1994). Bragg (2000) writes that "the most vital functions of the community college--transfer, career preparation, community education, and support services" (p. 75)--revolve around the positions of deans.

The normal responsibilities of their complex and challenging positions generate stress for academic deans in community colleges. In addition, the deans are being asked to respond to new demands that generate even more stress. These new, stressful demands involve broader accountability, restricted or diminished resources, increased expectations for services, and greater challenges in the interactions of the deans with faculty and administration (Seagren et al., 1994; Tucker & Bryan, 1991; Wharton, 1997). To improve management of stress for academic deans, it is important for both the deans and the college community to know what functions the deans perform and to understand their position in the middle ground between administration and faculty (Fagin, 1997; Gillett-Karam, 1999b).

Two issues in particular complicate efforts to understand the stresses of academic deans in community colleges. One issue is the absence of a universally applied definition for the term academic dean, making it difficult to identify, research, and discuss the position. The second issue is the reality that community colleges and matters of stress for academic deans are under researched. A review of the literature indicates that there is little research dealing with the role and function of academic deans in community colleges (Robillard, 2000; Vaughan, 1990).

History of Stress Research

Researching stress has been a topic of interest for social scientists for many years. The study of occupational stress has become a significant branch of stress research. In the field of education, occupational stress research has included studies with various groups of faculty and administrators in secondary and postsecondary education.

McGrath (1970) presents the four-dimensional stress paradigm. Selye (1974) describes the cyclical pattern of stress using the general adaptation syndrome (G.A.S.). Selye presents the concept that the stress cycle begins in the individual with an alarm reaction to some perceived stress agent and then moves to a resistance stage and, finally, to a stage of exhaustion. …