Friday, April 25, 2014

BAD DEAN (Third installment of a potentially infinite series)

Today’s Bad Dean became a dean through careful participation in campus politics. He read the power structure of university governance like the Cold War CIA analyzed photos of Kremlin officials watching the May Day parade. He golfed regularly with vice presidents, vice provosts, and senior special assistants. He was appointed to several important committees that created Strategic Plans to reorganize units that needed no reorganization. Bad Dean had plenty of time for this since he had no research program and a meager teaching load; his Medieval Germanic Hamsterology courses usually cancelled for lack of enrollment.

When one of these Strategic Plans was used to provide a rationale to consolidate a half-dozen quasi-independent departments and service operations, Bad Dean was seen by Administration as the perfect person to bring them under centralized control and manage the new entity. Never mind that the only thing Bad Dean had ever managed was a suburban youth tennis league. He had never been a Department Chair because his colleagues, who knew him well, would never entrust him with such important responsibilities. Thus a new Dean was created.

Bad Dean turned out to be a real central control freak and a reliable “yes man” for Administration. Within two years, he had amalgamated four more loose units into his domain, which insiders called the “School of Everything Else.” His mismanagement of the many functions of these units was too prolific and destructive to chronicle here. It is enough to relate that Bad Dean kept his focus on things Administration cared about: Mission Statements, Strategic Plans, inter-campus Task Forces, and, of course, participation in several appropriate national organizations that met quarterly in resort locations.

Bad Dean of “Everything Else” wound up with four offices. The first was his original large book-lined faculty office, which he never used. A larger, ceremonial Dean’s Office on a higher floor of the same building was used once yearly for a week to meet with staff for their evaluation rituals. The third office was carefully located in the main Administration building, useful for cooling his heels between meetings with higher-ups. Bad Dean’s real office was in yet another building, where his considerable administrative staff was housed.

Shortly after I got tenure in the 1980’s I was invited to speak on Hamster Industry Corporate Policy to the Downtown Rotary Club. I was pleased; Big Time R1’s business, government and corporate elite eat bad lunches and sing “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” together at Downtown Rotary. As per custom, I was allowed to invite two guests. I invited my Department Chair and my (Bad) Dean.

Surprisingly for someone who rose through campus politics, Bad Dean was extremely uncomfortable at public events. He had great difficulty interacting with people he didn’t know or couldn’t place within the academic hierarchy. But he couldn’t say no to Downtown Rotary. After all, most of higher Administration were there as members. It was clear Bad Dean was uncomfortable with the group singing and hated his public introduction as a guest. Watching him try to make small talk with the banker and the judge he was seated with was painful. When it was all over (my talk was a home run), he joined the group coming up to me at the head table to gruffly growl: “You’ve made me late for a meeting.”

From then until he retired, Bad Dean was my perfect weathervane. When he would say, “We need to go north,” I would run south as fast as possible. Bad Dean was always right, if you simply adjusted by 180 degrees.

- Old Fart Prof


  1. Sounds like he mastered the art of being a big fish in a small pond (or, rather, fishtank) and little else.

    If I were a department chair (especially a department chair who had, or knew someone with, a master key/lockpicking skills), I would have been very tempted to house a dozen or so adjuncts in his unused offices, and see how long it took him to notice.

  2. Old Fart Prof, I'm sure many others join me in greatly appreciating your tales of bad deans and otherwise. Please do continue to regale us. I'd wanted to express my reaction to previous installments of Bad Dean, but it was difficult to get into words the simultaneous mouth-agape bafflement, stammered whats and wows, facepalming, etc.

    I can say that upon reading your stories, I feel comparatively blessed that at my institution, the current leadership spend at least a bit of their work year in the classroom and/or the field, and therefore remain somewhat directly in touch with what the faculty and students (current and graduated) are experiencing. They also appreciate the role of faculty governance or at least act as if they do, inasmuch as if the faculty say we should turn left, they'll tell us to turn left (and thereby get to claim some credit).

    Well... all but our new president. He hasn't been in office long enough to tip his hand much, but based on what the trustees chose to highlight of his career trajectory when they announced his hiring, I am quite apprehensive. I want to tell you more, but that would probably identify him, and little good would come of that.