Monday, April 7, 2014

Bad Dean, part 1 of a potentially infinite series by Old Fart Prof

Bad Dean never talked to a department Chair without a lecture on the ugly parts of “your budget.”  Enrollments were too low; expenses were too high.  Faculty salaries and travel needed tighter control, and office costs were unreasonable. Specific examples Bad Dean gave were always wrong, either as
to the facts or to the math involved or both. When a Chair replied with specific responses, they were ignored or referred to the Associate Dean for Administration, a classic MBA bean-counter with no teaching or research experience.  Those of us who knew Bad Dean when he was a mere tenured professor knew he was a numerical illiterate.  (Bad Dean’s field was Medieval Slavic Languages.)

In my four-year stint as Chair, I had many such conversations with Bad Dean.  I inherited a six figure deficit, which I was told would prohibit any hiring and was enough to trigger layoffs. Several fights with the Associate Dean over accounting issues later, layoffs were off the table.  By year three, our deficit was eliminated, and we had begun hiring again.  My last year as Chair ended with a surplus that reached six figures.  It took no small effort. Bad Dean’s reaction was not to congratulate me: “Next year, your budget is going to be very tight,” he scolded.

When Bad Dean then asked me to consider standing for Chair again, I declined, having ascertained beforehand that Bad Dean had no intentions of retiring any time soon.  My successor lasted 18 months.

- Old Fart Prof


  1. This is a situation for Strelnikov

  2. I know exactly how you feel. When shit like this would happen to me, one thing that kept me going was knowing that the young 'uns needed me. Something else that kept me going was knowing that I was delivering leadership much better that what I often got. (Knowing that I am delivering a standard of instruction much higher than what I often got continues to keep me going in teaching.) I always did my best to be decent: and if budgets didn't allow me to be decent, always at least to be fair.

  3. We had a BD so innumerate that he refused to believe that if we had a shortage of seats in a required course *every semester*, the situation was not going to "balance out" over the course of the academic year.

    He's gone now. I think he's a president somewhere.

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  5. [meaning-changing mistake in original; apologies]
    Reading a budget better than a Bad Dean is increasingly going to become a survival skill for professors, I fear (among other things, we -- especially those of us in the humanities -- will need to be able to argue that there isn't a state of "financial exigency" so severe that it justifies "reorganizing" whole departments/divisions, with the associated ability to dis-employ tenured faculty). Of course, they're still going to read them as they read them -- treating the costs of instruction as a liability, and rising administrative costs as not-even-regrettable necessities -- but at least we should be prepared to make counterarguments in the same language. Maybe it's time for me to take those statistics, economics, etc. courses I didn't take in college? That, I can stomach. Intro. business, which would really explain how these critters think, I'm not sure I can.

  6. Accounting 101 is the one you need. It was the single most useful undergrad course I ever took. Master cash vs accrual and amortization and you're way ahead of most Deans.

    Old Fart Prof