Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Deaning 101

Posted by Arjendu on August 10, 2010

I started as Associate Dean of the College  at Carleton on July 1st, and have been going through Deaning 101, experienced as: (1) Jumping onto a moving freight train, (2) drinking from a fire-hose, (3) insert favorite metaphor here about learning a fast-moving and relatively complex job.

I have been pondering about how much I can manage to blog from the Dean’s office, mostly because so many of the things I deal with are now confidential (or at least not easy to share without stepping on someone’s toes or feelings). But I am going to try anyway. Maybe my non-Physics contributions will stutter to a halt shortly, but for the moment, here goes.

Some observations about about this job (probably obvious):  The complexity of human interactions experienced is significant. I have been called upon so far to (a) mediate in disputes between two departments, (b) mediate in disputes between members of the same department, (c) talk to a parent who was not happy about something his child experienced at Carleton, (d) soothe the feelings of a staff member who had just been treated not-very-nicely by a parent of a student, (e) tell a faculty member that what they were trying to do with a certain course wasn’t going to fly, (f) respond to incoming students who were upset because they didn’t get their first choice for classes …

It’s not all negative and stressful. I’ve also gotten to approve requests for travel grants, and to assign faculty to experimental curricular projects that were close to their heart and that I was able to find room for within the instructional ‘budget’, etc etc. I have at least a couple of projects that will help us reshape the college, and potentially help tremendously with the budget short-falls we are all mindful of, as well. The technical challenges of these latter projects are interesting and the solutions potentially very satisfying. I’ll blog about some of them as I figure out the limits of transparency in such issues.

While a faculty member I felt like I was always aware of being responsible towards others, but as a Dean that has to be one of the defining characteristics. There are questions being fired at me (about registration procedures, for example) about issues that could potentially derail the flow of the college’s business (teaching) if I don’t respond quickly with a good resolution.

As such, I would say that while the actual workload is not significantly more than being a faculty member (in terms of sheer email volume or hours of effort demanded of me to get my projects done, etc), it is definitely a far weightier job. And that’s in the summer. Check back to see how I feel about this later in the year.

And in passing, here are phrases I have heard from others or have come up with myself to summarize life in the deanery:

(1) The increment isn’t worth the excrement.

(2) I have to always be the grown-up in the room.

(3) This job is often about making decisions based on incomplete information, and where I need to balance technical constraints and human truths.

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One Response to “Deaning 101”

  1. […] this while made continuing with the day-to-day-management stuff that I described in Deaning 101 a trifle more challenging. Given that classes are about to start, it’s natural that that work […]

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