Who Gets to Kill a Dean's Position?

As professors at many campuses complain that they are shut out of decision-making, Alcorn State asks faculty to help decide which administrators' jobs to eliminate, and which need a new person in the post.

July 25, 2012

Faculty members across the country like to gripe about how they are rarely consulted when it comes to decisions on budget cuts. And they often suggest that it is faculty who bear the brunt of these cuts, and not administrators.

At Mississippi’s Alcorn State University, though, a new president is using suggestions from faculty to decide which dean’s position to eliminate, and which deans in academic departments should reapply and compete for their jobs with outside candidates.

Two weeks ago, the university announced that it was eliminating the position of the dean of graduate studies after consultations with the faculty and staff senates. Faculty members discussed such a change in a spring meeting with M. Christopher Brown II, the university’s president.

And over the summer, the university advertised nationally for deanships at six academic departments: agriculture and applied sciences, arts and sciences, business, education and psychology, nursing, and libraries and information resources. Two of these positions, at the business school and the school of arts and sciences, have interim deans right now. The existing deans will have to compete for their jobs with a pool of applicants. This decision too, university officials said, came about after faculty members brought it up.

Brown, who has been president for less than two years, is credited by many at the university for the new transparency that has led to open and frank discussions with faculty members.

Dickson Idusuyi, the Faculty Senate president and an associate professor of social science at the university, said that discussions have centered around how to make Alcorn more efficient and whether some departments need restructuring. Idusuyi said the university has had a culture where deans stay on in their jobs year after year. “They stay in these positions too long to be effective,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they are not doing their work or they are inefficient. Being a dean is not a lifetime appointment. Just like there is reassessment in the business world, there should be a reassessment of these positions.”

Brown said that one problem with the existing situation was that the deans were not being re-evaluated regularly. “We have no record of evaluation or metrics. We will vigorously reexamine the issues when it comes to reappointment and selection,” he said, adding that his actions were a direct response to what he heard from faculty. “There has been little faculty role in their (the deans') review and continuance. And that is what we are trying to correct,” he said.

He said he made the decision to eliminate the dean's position at the school of graduate studies because Alcorn State didn’t have the large numbers of graduate students that would justify such a position.

“The elimination will have little effect. We will do the same thing. It is just that the cost saving of eliminating that dean’s job outweighed keeping someone there,” said Donzell Lee, who previously held the post and is now the vice provost for academic affairs. Lee will be doing some of the same work he did before, in addition to new duties.



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