Dean’s Disease

I have to start this blog with my two most favorite words and phrases from the article Dean’s Disease.  The first: injelitance—a form of organizational paralysis compounded equally of incompetence and jealousy. Injelitance is certainly not just seen in the world of academia. I see it ever day in the business world as well.   The second: A dean is to his faculty as a hydrant is to its dogs. I guess this disgruntled former dean felt like nothing more than a walking urinal.

In my time in middle management, I have felt more like a full toilet. I guess this dean was lucky enough to just experience the first alternative rather than the second if you know what I mean. While reading through this article, I really resonated with the idea of metamorphic effects of power. I have seen it many times in the business world, I guess I just never realized that it was so pervasive in the world of academia.

I can certainly see that after a small amount of time, the dean’s ability to communicate with others lessens due to a sense of superiority. And, this superiority goes unchecked because in many cases there are very little checks and balances in the public collegiate system as it relates to deans. This encourages “yes men/women” behavior. Again, this type of behavior is seen time and time again in the business world. Deans, like CEOs, become insulated from the realities of day to day operations. The “yes men/women” created in these situations create a gang of doppelgangers and encourages high levels of group think. I agree with the author with respect to why dean’s disease happens and what promulgates the behaviors behind the disease.

Deans in this situation: 1) Breed Doppelgangers—they can influence faculty because of their control over resources—in this sense they exercise both coercive and reward power. Interestingly, to me this type of stuff is exactly what happens when you elevate a lineman/woman up to a supervisory role without proper training. I would not have expected this from someone who should be at such a high level of their career. 2) Fall Victim to Strategic Praise—this causes deans to believe the “lie” that they are indeed special. One can tell if they are falling victim to strategic praise if there are no dissenting opinions around them ever. 3) Have an insatiable Taste for Power, a Taste They Might Not Have Known they have—a need to preserve power becomes tantamount. In this situation, double standards run rampant. You had better be on the right standard…

I also agree with the author’s suggestion with respect to what we can we do about it: 1) Enact Proactive Prevention—like the old saying goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to weed out those with the dean’s disease early in the interviewing process by checking out their past record and academic credibility. Also avoid those who display the “us versus them” attitudes. 2) Develop Safeguards—developing values and encouraging independent thought. 3) Employ counteractions—senior management needs to deal with symptoms of dean’s disease head on.

I am thankful that the dean of the UNR business school does not appear to have contracted the dreaded dean’s disease.


One response to this post.

  1. Thanks for this blog. When you look at public institutions, the tenure process and promotion process is more collegial then dean driven as is in non public institutions. So for me, in my recent promotion to associate professor and last term appointment before tenure, some who sat on my peer review committee had some negative things to say about me.

    What was humorous here is the fact that the dean relies on me to work through the political process at the college as I am Presiding Officer of Faculty Assembly or faculty’s representative in all matters. Don’t confuse this with “union rep” as this is a separate management – labor position.

    Here, my job is to work with faculty to ensure fairness in evaluations and a clean process to introduce new programs/curricula at the college to generate revenue. As you may know NY has taken some serious economic hits and this is reflected in state aid to state universities. My work has saved many positions from the ax.

    What was interesting was that I had more publications than anyone (eight in three years), more community service, better evaluations and such but my peers knocked me down. In my most recent evaluation, the business chair stated, “Charles, you work too much. Others can’t keep up.” The provost upon review of my promotion/appointment packet with me to go before the president laughed and said, “it’s amazing that your recommendation for promotion and tenure get stronger as we go up the management chain.” That’s because my work was on a broad basis, besides my work in the business department as the program manager for the BBA (Bachelor of Business Admin) in Management.

    So, what am I saying…if you have a strong work ethic, you’ll raise to the top because the dean will come to rely on your judgment. Professors who need to “grow a pair” often complain of favoritism because they just don’t work enough. I’ve seen poor professors who want time off to finish their PhD. I finished my PhD while working 12 hours or more a day for an admiral in Moscow.

    Of course, this is my alpha male, 20 year Army vet voice talking.


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