When people think of a Dean, they usually think of a disciplinary administrator in a high school setting, someone that is rarely seen unless there is an issue that needs to be solved. Some may even think of the Dean at a university and compare their duties to that of a high school principal. The duties of a Dean in higher education, however, are much, much different.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning surveyed over 100 incoming freshmen and prompted them all to think of one question that they would ask a Dean if given the chance. All of the students were more than happy to. There was just one issue: none of them knew what a Dean was. UCI houses some of the most intelligent young adults across the nation, yet in a survey of over 100 incoming freshmen, no one could explain the job title of Dean. So, in an attempt to make the information more accessible, we decided to interview a Dean and find out exactly what being a Dean entails.

Dean and Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Michael Dennin joined us to answer a few questions about being a Dean:

What is a Dean?

The job of a Dean is slightly different at every university, but in general, it tends to be a person that is high up on the administrative level. A Dean is a person in charge of an academic entity, generally a School or College. At UCI, this means one of the many different Schools that we have. At other institutions, it might mean a broader School, such as a School of Arts and Sciences. A few of the duties that Deans have include answering the following questions: How many people should be a part of the faculty? What types of research should we focus on? How do we best serve undergraduates and graduates? Is there enough professional diversity within the faculty? What is the right size for lectures and discussions?

The role of fundraising tends to fall to Deans as people who understand their respective schools exceptionally well. Within the job title of Dean, the duties also vary depending on the type of Dean. For example, the Dean of Graduate Education has authority over the conferring of degrees, while the Dean of Undergraduate Education does not.

What is the difference between a Dean and a Vice Provost?

A Vice Provost’s main role is to be an advisor to the provost. Vice Provosts serve as a bridge between the Deans and the Executive Vice Chancellor/Provost, and the Deans serve as a bridge between the students and the Vice Provosts.

The Chancellor is in charge of everything regarding the university, which includes substantial time as the external, public face of the university.  The Executive Vice Chancellor/Provost is responsible for the day to day running of the university. Together, the Deans and the Vice Provosts help the Executive Vice Chancellor keep up with daily tasks.

How do you become a Dean?

The Dean of a School within UCI (e.g. Paul Merage School of Business,  Henry Samueli School of Engineering) is a faculty member. The Deans who are in charge of a broader academic entity (e.g. the Dean of Undergraduate Education) are also faculty. In either case, there are circumstances where someone from outside of the university will be chosen to become a Dean, but this will still be someone who was a faculty member for the other university.

How would you explain the duties of a Dean to an incoming freshman or high school student?

If the student was familiar with private high schools, then the Chancellor would be the president of the school, the Provost would be the principal, and the Deans would be the assistant principals.

Why is it important for undergraduates and graduates to interact with and/or know the duties of a Dean?

In college, students too often do not understand how the organization actually works. Understanding the leadership structure of any organization you are a part of helps to make you a better citizen of that organization and contribute in effective and positive ways. In addition, undergraduates and graduates should also start to think about their career plans. Majors and careers don’t always match up, and very soon after you enter the workforce, employers will stop asking what your major was in college, so students can assimilate into any field that they choose to. Knowing what a Dean and Vice Provost does will give them another career path to possibly aspire to.

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