Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Influence of Interim Deans: More Than Keeping the Ship Afloat and Warming the Captain's Seat

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

The Influence of Interim Deans: More Than Keeping the Ship Afloat and Warming the Captain's Seat

Article excerpt

Transitions are inevitable in academia, but changes in leadership personnel seem to have increased over the past several years. Participants at the 2016 AACP Interim Meeting learned that CEO dean positions are open in more than 20 of 135 colleges and schools of pharmacy. While this number seems significant, it speaks to the loss of established leadership from long-serving, dynamic deans as they retire or move into other positions within their universities. In addition, the expansion of satellite campuses and new schools of pharmacy has fueled a shift of academic leaders from established schools to newer programs. Furthermore, some deanships are open because the initial appointment was not a good fit. Regardless of the reason for the departure, when a school's dean chooses to leave, the institution is faced with the critical decision of who should be appointed as the interim dean.

Although a few institutions are able fill the dean position without an interim dean, most schools elect to appoint one. When an interim dean is named for a school, there are key considerations for the institution and the individual selected. As individuals who have served in a variety of interim dean positions, we wanted to share our perspectives on the role of interim dean and how the position can best be utilized until a permanent dean is appointed. While this Viewpoint focuses on the position of interim dean, many of the comments can be applied to other interim roles and can broaden the perspectives on preparation strategies and career planning of pharmacy deans. (1)

While all schools of pharmacy will find themselves searching for a dean at some point, the number of open positions indicates that more institutions are dealing with the challenge of a dean search, which begins with determining who should serve as the interim dean. That urgent decision is based on what qualities are needed for the interim dean, what needs to be accomplished during the interim appointment, and whether it is in the best interest of the institution for the proposed interim dean to vacate his or her current position.

Many may consider the appointment of an interim dean as a logical, progressive decision, perhaps with an assistant or associate dean stepping into the role. However, this may compromise operations. For example, an associate dean of academic affairs in the midst of leading a curricular revision, or an assistant dean for research leading an NIH grant renewal, may not be the best choice even though such individuals are likely to have tremendous leadership experience and skill. Department chairs, who tend to have strong personnel management skills, as well as budget oversight responsibility, may seem like logical choices. However, the interim dean appointment often vacates an existing role for the period of the interim appointment, creating the need for other interim appointments, which can lead to further disruption in administrative functions.

The length of the interim appointment is often uncertain because of the time needed to recruit, interview, and hire the dean, as well as the time for the new dean to transition commitments at his or her current institution. This uncertainty may worsen in the event that the number of open positions grows. Despite meaningful leadership development programs such as the AACP Academic Leadership Fellows Program (ALFP), a relatively small pool that represents the most highly qualified individuals will be courted by multiple institutions at any one time.

In the authors' experience, an institution should generally plan for at least a one-year interim dean appointment. Thus, the institution will need to consider the challenges the school will face within the ensuing 12 to 18 months prior to appointing an interim dean. It may be tempting for the institution to delay initiatives, strategic plans, etc., until a new dean arrives; however, that is not always optimal for the program. Thus, the institution must balance moving goals forward while avoiding commitments that create additional challenges for a new dean. …

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