Archive for February, 2010

“No thank you – a public vetting for internal candidates is not for me.”  These are the words I spoke to the Dean announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for the associate dean’s position.

I can think of four specific cases where internal candidates publically competed internally for academic leadership positions.

1) Department of Marketing – an intense competition between two candidates.  The loosing candidate has since left the university.

2) Academic Provost Position – an internal candidate loses to an external candidate.  The external winner marginalizes his competitor once assuming office.

3) Dean of College – two internal candidates.  In my opinion, one of the candidates is coaxed into running with no realistic hope of winning.  Today the ‘looser’ is a marginalized chaired professor.

4) Associate Dean position – three candidates.  I know the winner.  Today, when I run into one of the loosing candidates they systematically ‘run down’ the winner.

No thanks.  Maybe another time.


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PhoneOver the past 20+ years in academia I have chaired and served on over 12 academic search committees.  These search committees have included positions for deans, department heads, professors, assistant professors and non-tenure track faculty.

During that time, how many applicants were too aggressive? How many annoyed the department head or search committee chair because they called on the telephone and asked to talk about the job?  How many search committees discarded academic applicants because they were too eager?

ZERO.  That’s right – I have yet to encounter a single academic applicant who was too aggressive in the job search process.

What is the lesson here?  If you are searching for an academic position, it is not difficult to get a closer, second look.  Simply give the search committee chair or the department head a phone call and discuss the job. Let them know why you are interested.

This past semester our school had a tenure track job opening.  We had over 160 applicants for the position.  How many applicants picked up the phone (or asked for a phone interview via email) and proactively asked to talk with the department head about the position?  Two.  Two applicants out of 160.  Guess what – both applicants got a close look.  One of these applicants was ultimately our hire.  The entire department is positive about this hire because we feel certain about his desire to be at our university.

I am convinced that I got my first job by picking up the phone.  I had been on a school visit that did not go particularly well.  I really liked the school but I wasn’t in top form during the interview process.  I was told two weeks later that they had made an offer to another candidate.  After a few days of being miserable, I picked up the phone and called the department head and we talked.  A few days later the other candidate turned down the job and I was offered the position.  The department head knew that I wanted to be there.  It was a good hire for the school.  It was a good hire for me.

Moral of the story: If you see a job in academia that you really like, pick up the phone and call the search committee chair and/or department head.  Each phone conversation is a learning experience which will hone your interviewing skills.  Be sincere.  Be yourself.  Who knows – maybe you will land the big job.

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emperor clothesI had a recent conversation with a faculty member who is encouraging me to apply for the associate dean position.  His thought is that I would be a good candidate because I would be able to speak ‘truth to power’.   He went so far to tell me that I would be willing to tell the emperor (i.e. Dean)  when he forgot to put his clothes on in the morning.

How does one speak ‘truth to power’ in an academic environment?  Here are my thoughts:

1) ‘Truth to power’ moments are best handled in a one-on-one, closed door environment.  In my 20+ years of working in an academic environment, I have yet to encounter a leader who wants to be ‘challenged’ in a group environment.  The typical response to a “group challenge” is to isolate and marginalize the offending party.

2) It must be made 100% clear to the leader, that you will support and follow their decision – once it has been made.  Once the decision has been made, you’ve either got to get on board or get off the ship.

3) When problems are presented to the academic leader, it is important to take a data oriented, process oriented approach.  What data suggests a problem?  Is the current process for dealing with such an issue broken?  How can the process be improved?   What will the data show when the problem has been fixed?

These are just a few thoughts – yours?

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Job DescriptionWhat does an associate dean do?  Here is a current job description:

  1. Academic Leadership – provide leadership for and coordination of all academic programs offered by the college, including strategic planning, resource allocation, implementation, evaluation and continuous improvement.
  2. Academic Operations – provide leadership for and coordination of the operational function of the academic mission of the college.
  3. Faculty Development- collaborate with the dean, department heads and the director for human resources and administration to develop and support the enhancement of the faculty human capital.
  4. Assurance of Learning- provide leadership for and coordination of all assurance of learning activities within the college.
  5. Accreditation and External Stakeholders
  6. Represent the college – represent the college at events and activities when the dean is unavailable.

What do you think?  It sure is good to see that responsibilities for graduation and facility maintenance are not included.

If you are a candidate for the Associate Dean position, please see my tips on preparing for the phone, video conference or Skype interview.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Three Legged Stool

Three Legged Stool

About ten years ago, I was engaged in a curriculum discussion with a professor of marketing about the true core of the business curriculum.  This learned professor stated that, in his opinion, there were three foundations to business:

  1. sales and marketing,
  2. finance and accounting, and
  3. business operations.

Over the years I have found this “foundation” to be solid and instructive when considering the core business curriculum.

As I contemplate the “foundation” of the dean’s office, I am left with a very similar three legged stool.  Here is the proposed stool and the rational for this foundation:

  1. Communication.  The dean’s office must communicate effectively with its constituents – department heads, upper level university administrators, faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends.  On one level this is ‘marketing’ – defining and maintaining the brand of the college.  On another level this is plain old ‘respect’.  Constituents deserve the respect of being kept in the loop.  Communication by email is not sufficient.  Listening is a very important skill.
  2. Data. The dean’s office should take a data driven approach to its decision making.  Data in the form of budgets, alumni giving, enrollments, FTE’s, assessment results, survey results, etc. should be collected, analyzed and distributed.   Data should be a foundation for decision making.  This parallels the accounting function within the business environment.
  3. Process. The dean’s office should be process driven.  Most faculty handbooks clearly define processes for promotion & tenure, annual evaluations, faculty hiring, curriculum assessment, curriculum change, etc. .  These processes should be clearly documented and the outcomes clear.

Where is “management”?  Where is “leadership and vision” in this equation?  In my opinion, the effective leader will stay true to the mission and strategic direction of the institution and develop the ‘plan of action’ based on this mission.  Leadership requires adopting the the circumstances and charting a clear course that is shared by all.

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My anchor is academia. It is the stage upon which I am exposed. Exposed to a multitude of skeptics, critics and analysts. An anchor set in a sandy bottom with a rising tide.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard last month when the Dean asked me “Have you ever thought about being a Dean?”. I was flattered. The question led to a short discussion about academic administration, how my father had served as a university administrator for decades, and how I had been asked the same questions by a prior Dean.

At the time, I didn’t know that our long-serving associate dean would be stepping down at the end of the semester. I didn’t know that people inside and outside the academic department that I serve would encourage me to consider serving as an associate dean.

Let me begin by giving you some background. I currently serve as a department head in a public university known for outstanding undergraduate teaching.  I have been in this role for the past five years.

What are the strategic goals for our school?
1. to be among the top undergraduate business schools in the nation – striving for excellence and continuous improvement in learning.
2. the faculty are committed to providing an exceptional educational experience for our students, and
3. the college will be a preferred source of student talent for employers in the region.

In my opinion, these are great goals. We can do better. I look forward to seeing if I have the skill set to make these goals a reality in the academic setting. My anchor.

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