How to Be a Dean
reviewed by Lisa S. Romero & Jenni Murphy - June 06, 2019
Ever wonder what would it take to become a dean? What would being a dean entail? Is becoming a dean worth it? Whether you aspire to be a dean or are a faculty member looking for insight into what deans actually do, look no further than How to Be a Dean by George Justice. Justices short book (only about 170 pages) on modern deanships is a one of the most user-friendly books you will find on the ins and outs of seeking a dean position, being an effective dean, and, importantly, moving on after service. It provides an easy-to-read practitioner perspective on all levels of the deanship. In many ways, reading this book is a little like seeking advice from a trusted advisor who can provide an insiders perspective.
In his preface, George Justice provides a bit of history on his academic career, including the dean positions he held at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Arizona State University. It is likely not surprising to many who hold academic positions that, during both of his deanships, the universities where he worked were wracked with strife and turmoil. In many ways, this experience provides his narrative with increased credibility, given that strife and turmoil dont seem to be an altogether rare occurrence in the academy. His preface also provides insight about his belief that deans provide vital leadership and can often act as change agents on a troubled campus.
Justice offers What Does a Dean Do? in Chapter One. In fact, the subtitle for this chapter could be, How to get the job, but first, do you really want it? He describes the variety of positions typically holding the title dean, then offers a variety of good reasons for pursuing such a position as well as, importantly, bad reasons for doing so. He continues by turning to the search process, providing tips for both interviewing and negotiating for a position. All are nuts-and-bolts pieces of advice that should be taken to heart by anyone considering applying for a position as a dean.
In his second chapter, The Dean in the College, Justice turns his attention to what to do after gaining the deanship. He has helpful advice about hiring assistants, managing your time and calendar, and dealing with administrative staff. After substantial attention to both faculty and students, he offers suggestions for hiring staff and managing the staff who meet you as you enter. He also has advice on students, curriculum, career services, majors and minors, advising, and other student-related topics.
Managing Up, Managing Down is Justices third chapter, offering insight about and advice on establishing a successful and satisfying career as a dean. Not surprisingly, he spends some time on budgets and the flow of money into and out of programs, and how vital it is to understand budgets and funding sources. Following this, Justice turns to students and how to retain, diversify, and set high expectations. In a separate section, he writes about how to do the same for faculty. Justice ends his chapter with a much shorter section on managing up, or establishing positive and productive relationships with university provosts and presidents. Interestingly, Justice acknowledges that this often involves deception and manipulation (p. 137). However, along with that acknowledgement comes some valuable ideas about how progress can be made given natural competition for resources and occasional crisis management.
Justices Chapter Four is called Being of Value. In certain ways, it offers a more intrinsic, internalized take on Chapter Three. In it, his attention is much more focused on larger issues of leadership, collaboration, and assessment. Justice also tells the story of his transition from being a by-the-rules kind of administrator to becoming more of a case-by-case problem solver while still maintaining an appreciation for why rules exist. One important lesson with which he ends the chapter is that deans can and should be the watch guards of their institutions academic health.
The end of Justices book is a three-page Knowing When to Stop epilogue. In certain ways, it is not a happy ending, acknowledging that more often than not, a deanship may end because of larger university change or upheaval. Change at the top may lead to a change in the provost, who may want to establish their own leadership chain. However, Justice also adds that since you have leadership experience, you may in fact be hot property for a new search team at another university.
From our perspectives as a current university dean and professor, we found Justices book to be both a realistic descriptor of the university structure and a practical guide for thinking through the many phases of a deanship. He clearly explains the difficult and critical nature of navigating the dual roles of middle manager and academic leader, and specifically highlights that the chief reason to become a dean is because you are impelled to add value to an institution, almost as a calling (p. 143).
In this short book, George Justice offers some hands-on, DIY advice about deans and deanships. If you are thinking about taking on the role, this is a book to read. If you dont want to be a dean but want to better understand your own dean or maybe just how the academic college works, this is also a good read. In a few short evenings of reading, you can gain a huge amount of insight about the structures and inner workings of academic leadership. While it is decidedly not a scholarly research manuscript with meticulous citations to support its assertions, Justices text does offer frequent and helpful suggestions for further investigation and offers a short appendix for further reading.