Aspiring to Be Dean

A seminar provides useful background information for anyone aspiring to lead a business school.
Aspiring to Be Dean

BEING A DEAN is not an easy job. “It’s being part leader and part cheerleader and having the wisdom to know when to be what,” says Joyendu “Joy” Bhadury, who leads the College of Business and Economics at Radford University in Virginia. While deans have absolute responsibility for leading their schools, he adds, they often don’t have absolute authority, so sometimes “they must lead from the front, other times from behind—but always lead.”

The best advice he ever got from a longtime dean? “There are three kinds of problems—those that you can solve, those that you cannot, and those that you have to outlive. The trick is to know which is what and react accordingly.”

For associate deans and department chairs who aspire to be deans, it’s useful to have those kinds of insights about what the job will entail. Those insights might be even more critical for nontraditional candidates, such as managers or CEOs, who want to make the switch to academia. But higher education is not known for preparing individuals for administrative positions, and many aspiring deans don’t know what it takes to complete the journey from candidate to dean. To address that gap, in 2003, AACSB International launched the Lessons for Aspiring Deans seminar. It helps prospective deans assess whether the job would be right for them and gives them the tools to prepare for the search process.

By the end of the seminar, attendees better understand the dean’s position and how the dean must interact with all of a school’s stakeholders. They’re also prepared to answer key questions:

What skills and credentials must new deans possess? Most institutions are looking for similar experiences and credentials among their deans, but there are distinctions. Some schools have religious affiliations and might expect the same from their leaders. Other schools might want candidates who have experience working in a union environment. It’s important for candidates to peruse each advertisement for new deans carefully to make sure a school is a good fit for them, both professionally and personally, before they apply.

But it’s also important for candidates to understand that there are ways to close gaps between their skills and the job’s requirements. For instance, aspiring deans might have done no fundraising in academic environments—but if they have raised funds for community projects, they should discuss that experience with search committees.

How can candidates get noticed during the interview process? Aspiring deans must learn to write winning cover letters, compose their curriculum vitae, and select references carefully. Candidates also must be prepared to make an impression throughout the interview process—from the often impersonal early rounds that take place in airports or over electronic platforms to campus visits where they meet stakeholders.

How should a candidate negotiate an offer? At this phase, candidates can negotiate not only salary, but rank, tenure, club memberships, and perks such as a car allowance. But many don’t realize that this also is the time they should negotiate for the business school. Does the school need additional faculty or staff? Is the technology in the building up-to-date? Will fundraising dollars be used to enhance the business school’s budget, or will the university reduce the business school’s budget by the amount of money the new dean raises? Candidates can address these issues during the negotiation phase and often win concessions that benefit the school.

How can nontraditional candidates transition from business to academia? How will their knowledge, experience, and management style translate to the university environment? Do they need to modify their people management techniques? How strong are their fundraising skills? Can they establish research credibility through published papers?

Once a candidate accepts an offer, what’s the next step? There are often weeks or months between the day candidates accept their offers and the day they arrive on campus. During that time, they must prepare themselves for their most critical tasks. What kind of institution will they be serving and what kind of institution do they want it to become? Will their first responsibility be to plan for AACSB accreditation, or will they need to dive right into strategic planning? Seminar attendees work through all the questions above, as they meet with facilitators who discuss their individual situations, review their CVs, and suggest ways to upgrade their materials.

The job of dean is not for everyone. But when candidates thoroughly understand the requirements of the role and determine it is a position they would like to pursue, they will fare much better— both in the search process, and when they take up their new responsibilities.

Lynne Richardson is the inaugural dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Previously she led the business schools at Ball State University and Mississippi State University. Michiel Bosman is a physician-entrepreneur and aspiring dean. After recently selling a majority stake of his outpatient mental health organization to a group of investors, he is preparing to transition into academia.