Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Academic Deans and Directors: Assessing Their Effectiveness from Individual and Institutional Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Academic Deans and Directors: Assessing Their Effectiveness from Individual and Institutional Perspectives

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, higher education institutions have been increasingly held accountable for measurable outcomes. Increases in competition for scarce resources and a decrease in the public's trust in higher education practices have resulted in demands for campuses to demonstrate their productivity, effectiveness, and efficiency. Institutions have responded with a variety of data about student enrollment trends, student retention and graduation rates, job and career placement, and faculty workload studies. The evaluation of administrators, another possible consideration, may well provide needed and appropriate information about institutional effectiveness, but it may also constitute a high stakes evaluation process for individuals (Heck, Johnsrud, & Rosser, 2000). The evaluation process may be tied to decisions about promotion, salary augmentation, contract renewal, or dismissal. In an evolving policymaking context that requires greater accountability in higher education, the particular need to ensure fair, accurate, and dependable evaluation for individuals and the institution is evident. The purpose of our study, therefore, is to present a systematic approach for evaluating the leadership effectiveness of deans and directors from individual and institutional perspectives.

Academic deans and directors serve a critical institutional role. As academic leaders, they have the authority to chart where a college and its programs are headed (Mercer, 1997). By selecting which goals they choose to pursue (and which to forego) deans and directors have the potential to exert a tremendous influence on the direction of the unit (Twombly, 1992). They have the ability to control information, accumulate and allocate resources, and assess the performance and productivity of their faculty and staff. Deans serve as academic facilitators between presidential initiatives, faculty governance, and student needs (Astin & Scherrei, 1980). By virtue of their midlevel placement within the higher education organizational structure (Morris, 1981; Roaden, 1970), they are in the center of controversy, conflict, and debate; they play the role of coalition builder, negotiator, and facilitator.

Researchers have concluded that the deanship is a leadership role with overtones that are more political and social than hierarchical or technical (Dill, 1980; Gmelch et al., 1999). Deans must successfully work with a range of interests, individuals, and groups. Morris (1981) argues that deans' success is primarily measured by how well constituencies are stroked, cajoled, cultivated, and kept in line. Deans essentially serve two masters--the senior administration and the faculty--and are expected to bridge and join both perspectives. Although this balancing act is not unique in organizational life, there are features of the academic middle manager that are typically not found elsewhere. Within this organizational context, deans have been variously described as "doves of peace" intervening among warring factions, "dragons" holding internal and external threats at bay, and "diplomats" guiding and encouraging people who live and work in the college (Tucker & Bryan, 1991, p. ix).

Even though individual deans have achieved remarkable power and status, there are many signs pointing toward an ebbing of powers. Accountability has emerged as a dominant and influential social value that has changed the dean's work. The former vision of the dean as a scholarly leader has been replaced by an executive image of the dean as politically astute and economically savvy (Gmelch et al., 1999). For example, deans are increasingly being charged to lead their colleges' efforts to obtain external funding (Blair, 2000). The pressure to get more involved in development has shifted the traditional role of the dean as chiefly an academic-policy setter and the liaison between professors and the administration (Mercer, 1997) to entrepreneur and politician. …

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