Meet Joe Dean

A major new survey profiles the characteristics that identify today’s deans.
Meet Joe Dean

If you're thinking about becoming a dean, you might first look in the mirror to see if you fit the profile. Today’s typical dean is a patient 54-year-old male who has never been a dean before. He comes from almost any business school background and has already been a dean for about five years. And he’s not looking at a deanship for the money—his main goal is to make a difference at his school.

There’s much more to deaning, of course, than these bare facts. A host of other complicated characteristics, motivations, and rewards has been uncovered in a new survey, “Business School Deans: Their Careers, Roles and Responsibilities.” The survey was conducted by Lee Dahringer, dean of The Sellinger School of Business and Management, Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland, and Frederick Langrehr, professor of marketing at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana. The survey was sponsored by AACSB International Knowledge Services, and findings were presented at the first International AACSB International Deans Conference. A total of 419 deans from around the world participated in the electronic survey.

The survey attempted to create an accurate picture of who deans are, why they decided to become deans, what kinds of pressures they face, and what they consider most important about their positions. A few highlights:

  • Most deans say their single most important reason for becoming a dean was to contribute to their institutions. Many also saw becoming a dean as the next logical step in their career progressions. Fewer gave much weight to the considerations of prestige and income.
  • Deaning is about management. Survey respondents listed their most important tasks as managing faculty and staff, and handling strategic planning. But they weren’t able to rate as unimportant anything on their long list of chores.
  • Their most pressing issues revolve around finding money and satisfying their professors. The top four issues: setting the budget, determining the best way to attract and retain faculty, raising funds, and developing faculty.
  • They have many stakeholders to satisfy. While they feel sandwiched by the sometimes conflicting concerns of faculty and the administration, they can’t overlook the demands of accrediting organizations, students, the business community, and their advisory boards.

  • What Dahringer and Langrehr call “parenting skills” are a dean’s most valuable tools. Forty-four percent of them say that patience and persistence are required to be a good dean, and 26 percent rank communication skills as their most valuable ability. No other skills or sets of experiences received any significant ranking.
  • They don’t plan to do this forever. The 92 percent of survey respondents who hold the title of dean have been in their current positions for an average of five years; the eight percent who are interim deans have held that position for only four months. For 68 percent, this is their first deanship. Thirty-two percent have been deans before and stayed in those positions just over four years. They expect to be deans for another five years, either at their current institutions or elsewhere. However, it’s possible they may soon be making a change in position since they have held their current deanship for five years and their immediate predecessors tended to be deans at their schools for just over six years.
  • A deanship isn’t always the last stop in the job market. Only a quarter of respondents plan to retire once they’ve finished deaning. Close to half want to return to faculty. The rest plan to take other jobs, most of them related to administration or management.

While some of the pieces of this portrait seem cast in stone—it’s unlikely, for instance, that deans will need to cultivate less patience over the next few years—some of the elements seem like they easily could be recombined. For example, there’s no reason to think that the number of female deans can’t eventually rise from 12 percent to a much higher figure. A 1999–2000 salary survey by AACSB reveals that 33.9 percent of new doctorates are women, and women account for 31.3 percent of the assistant professors and 22.8 percent of the associate professors in business school. Clearly, some of those women might begin looking toward deanships. Like their male counterparts, women deans are familiar with funding concerns and staffing issues—and many of them have already learned how to be patient and persistent.

Respondents offered a wide range of advice to potential new deans, counseling patience above all things. They also noted that a dean who brings about change is likely to make some stakeholders unhappy and suggested, “Make sure you have a thick skin.” Nonetheless, these respondents urged new deans to “act decisively” and “lead with great spirit and enthusiasm.” Finally, one respondent offered this guidance: “Be optimistic and positive. Develop a strategic plan that fits the culture and reality. Create a team. Get lucky.