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Faculty express concerns over interim deans

Five interim deans serve throughout the university.

Since last year, restructuring within Temple resulted in Robert Stroker’s dean appointment of the Center for the Arts, while interim Provost Hai-Lung Dai left the position of dean of the College of Science and Technology.

Now with a new president, Temple has five interim dean positions and is currently conducting searches to fill four of them.

“It’s hard on an acting dean who tends to have less power and influence than a permanent colleague and of course we’re very concerned about issues of tenure and promotion and other personnel,” Joan Shapiro, president of the Faculty Senate, said.

Five interim deans serve in the School of Media and Communication, the College of Education, CST, the College of Health Professions and Social Work and University Libraries.

“Really, of course, we prefer to have permanent deans. So there is a factor of a little bit of instability,” Shapiro, an educational leadership professor, said. “But remember, we’ve had an interim president as well as an interim provost, so this has been a very, slightly unstable time. And consequently what it means is that schools with the interim deans have been somewhat vulnerable to restructuring.”

“We’ve had some very good interim deans for this period…in my case I do have an interim dean right now. James Earl Davis is our interim dean and he’s been just wonderful. So it depends,” she added.

Davis has been interim dean of the College of Education for two and a half years.

“A typical contract for a dean is five years. Ideally, an institution would want a long-term dean, but it varies,” Davis said. “We have some interim deans at Temple who have served in a typical capacity as a permanent dean, particularly those who see deanships as [an]ascent to higher-level positions so the point is not to stay in those positions indefinitely but to get that experience and move to higher levels of administration in the university.”

Shapiro does not see students feeling the effects of an interim. Difficulties more so occur when the position is up for replacement, she said.

“Once the search process comes on, it’s a question again of will the interim dean run for the deanship or not? And that changes everything…there are questions that come up,” Shapiro said.

One of the Faculty Senate’s committees, the Committee on Administrative and Trustee Appointments, finds faculty members for dean searches. Shapiro was also involved with the search for the provost, a process not involving the interim provost.

“In the Faculty Senate our connection with the provost is very strong. In fact the provost comes in on a regular basis to our representative senate,” Shapiro said. “Although [Dai] is an interim provost, we work very closely because it’s academic issues that the provost focuses on and that of course is what the faculty is incredibly interested in.”

Dai has had to adjust to the position while working with both former Acting President Richard Englert and current President Neil Theobald.

“I would say the interim position is interesting…you have to have the people in those positions keep things moving. On the other hand, our appointment duration is finite, and so I think my position is that if they are clearly saying things that needed to be done, we need to not waste any time,” Dai said. “Even before President Theobald arrived as a president-elect, my office worked closely with him, defining the agenda and executing the most important and timely mission that both Englert and Theobald consider.”

Because of the short time frame of the position, Dai said he was unable to be more involved with the review of the general education program.

“It is the type of thing that I see it being important, high priority but it’s not timed with what I can do during this time,” Dai said.

Steven Newman, editor of the Faculty Herald and an English professor, cites a reluctance to hire under interims.

“There is typically much less of it, and this makes it difficult for departments to run the classes that they wish to, whether old classes taught by now-departed colleagues or new ones that a new colleague might bring with her or invent,” Newman said in an email.

During his time as interim dean, Davis has overseen “a major reorganization” of the College of Education, as well as the hiring of 10 faculty members.

“Where there was some change in leadership at the top that created some need to maintain the interim deans until there was permanent leadership,” Davis said.

He suggested interims give the university some flexibility to maintain leadership.

“In my experience, permanent deans often come from outside an institution. This certainly has its advantages; outside hires often bring a positive dynamism, a broader worldview and a gift for fundraising, among other sterling qualities,” Newman said. “But that’s not always the case, and even when it is the case, there are almost always sources of friction when someone comes in from outside to lead a school or college.”

Davis and Shapiro maintain the difference a good leader makes to have a successful department.

“It really depends on who the acting dean is…I think it really depends upon if you’ve got somebody who’s a leader, whether it’s interim or whether it’s long term, things will carry on if you’ve got a good leader,” Shapiro said.

“It’s not stability, per se, it’s what leadership, vision and direction that’s being provided by the dean that’s most important, and that could come in shorter time periods,” Davis said.

Currently the Faculty Senate aims to establish a five-year basis for dean reviews, using feedback from faculty, staff and students.

Amelia Brust can be reached at abrust@temple.edu.

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