Learning the ropes
New deans, chairs introduced to rigors of oversight

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

03 October 2001 | Learning to be an effective chair or dean isn’t an easy task. From obtaining a grant to investigating faculty compensation, handling a possible conflict of interest or recruiting a new faculty member, the job is bound to send any newcomer into unexplored territory.

New deans and chairs, along with those who have been in the job a while, were introduced to administrative procedures at this year’s Deans and Chairs Retreat. The two-and-a-half day conference, hosted annually by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, was expanded this year to include a day of presentations and workshops tailored to the needs of new deans and chairs.

“Three important goals of the retreat are to ensure that our deans and department chairs are well informed, highly motivated, and ably supported in the conduct of their work,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Paul Gray. “I believe the expanded format and content of this year’s retreat helped us achieve these goals.”

Filling the shoes of a department chair or dean can be lonely, admitted Karen De Valois, who is beginning her fourth year as chair of the psychology department. Part of the retreat was designed to encourage new administrators to meet their 80-plus counterparts on campus and ask questions.

Invaluable experience
Nearly all of Berkeley’s deans, department chairs and divisional heads attended the retreat, held in the picturesque town of Bodega Bay.

“As a newcomer to the campus, this retreat was invaluable,” said David Pearson, new dean of the Graduate School of Education. “I learned a lot about the official procedures and guidelines you follow when you’re engaged in crafting new programs and policies, and I was also introduced to the cultural practices that operate on the Berkeley campus, how people talk to and interact with each other.”

The first day for new chairs and deans was devoted to topics such as academic personnel and case preparation, employment search training and the ins and outs of being an effective chair or dean, said Charles Upshaw, chief of staff in the executive vice chancellor and provost’s office. Continuing chairs and deans joined the group on the second day for discussions of additional topics, such as faculty compensation, graduate student recruitment, fundraising, media relations, government affairs and tenure appraisals.

Learning the ropes
Being an effective chair or dean requires a vast knowledge of procedures and university policies, said Jan de Vries, vice provost for Academic Affairs and Faculty Welfare, who organized the agenda and workshops.

Search training was particularly valuable, de Vries noted. “We went over the role of outreach and ways of effectively soliciting candidates to ensure that there is a rich, qualified applicant pool for faculty positions.”

Two tough issues Berkeley faces in recruiting faculty are the high cost of housing in the Bay Area and difficulty matching the salaries of competing universities.

“We discussed some of the fairly common situations, such as when a candidate for a junior faculty position tells us he or she has received a better offer from one of our competing institutions, and what options might be available in our rank-and-step system to address those realities,” de Vries said.

“Special housing programs, some of which are new to freshly hired Berkeley faculty, were the topic of another discussion…that information is so critical to the outcome of a prospective faculty candidate’s decision,” de Vries said.

These faculty recruitment issues are also a factor in faculty retention, another key issue for deans and chairs as they prepare the cases for faculty promotion, assembling materials and writing letters of recommendation.

“Until I became a new chair, I had a myopic view of faculty compensation,” said Arup Chakraborty, new chair of the chemical engineering department. “The retreat was very beneficial in giving me a new perspective on how ranking faculty members move up.”

Indeed, a rewarding part of the position is “being able to make someone’s life better,” De Valois said.

But there are hidden stresses in the job, too, including turning down faculty ideas or requests for support, she said, often a tricky situation to manage.

“Sometimes we have to say no,” said De Valois. “Somebody may have the greatest piece of equipment ever, and think the department should buy it, but we might not be able to afford it. That’s not always the easiest situation to deal with.

“Sometimes it can be lonely at the top, and it’s important that chairs and deans find someone in whom they can confide who will respect confidentiality,” she said.


Home | Search | Archive | About | Contact | More News

Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.

Comments? E-mail