Thursday, August 21, 2008

Culture Shock: Deans and Heads and Chairs, Oh My!

When I was a student, my only real faculty contact came from my professors. Sure, there were all these other people out there with titles like "dean" and "department chair" and "provost" but I never had any dealings with them, nor did I have any idea what they did. I had no concept of departmental politics or inter-departmental territorial disputes; I couldn't see beyond the exam next week.

Now, as a faculty, I see all this stuff (even though I sometimes wish I didn't... sort of like if you enjoy eating sausage and then see how it gets made). But it occurs to me that it's still off the radar of most students (and, indeed, most industry professionals who have some dealings with educators).

I'm not sure what, if anything, to do about it. Part of me feels like students should probably at least know who the dean of their department is and why that matters. Maybe the non-teaching faculty should do more to have contact with students in informal settings (not that they would necessarily have the time, with their overloaded schedules)? Or maybe the teachers who have a lot of student contact should speak a little bit about departmental issues in their classes so that the whole thing is a little more transparent?


Yusuf said...

Why? The "Deans" don't really benefit from meeting the students. The students don't really benefit from meeting them.

I say enjoy the sausage, try not to think about the process.

Ian Schreiber said...

I have a hard time believing that. It's like saying that governors don't benefit from meeting with their constituents, even though the policies and laws being made directly affect everyone.

I'll give an example. One local university (that I don't teach at) just spend untold millions of dollars on a new computer lab for its students. Meanwhile, students can check out a laptop from the local library. Administration is wondering why the laptops are consistently all checked out but no one's using the lab. (The answer is that a lot of students would rather work from home, but apparently no one asked before building the facility...)

Lewis Pulsipher said...

The higher up someone gets in administration, the less they have a feel for what's really happening in "the trenches", the more they forget about what it was like when they were teaching. It's a problem all managers have, to keep in touch with what is really going on. Talking with the students can go a considerable way to keeping touch. Unfortunately, many deans/VPs don't do this.