For the top leader, a broad search is undertaken, often outside the institution as well. This is hardly a perfect process, and often leaders who neither have vision nor leadership skills, are selected. But when one looks at the process of selecting the next rung of leadership, it is much worse — mainly internal and much narrower.
Not Just an Administrator
It is a common assumption that there is only one leadership position in an institution, and that deans and heads are administrative posts. Administration is also considered to be an easy job that anyone with a good resume can do. Often these posts are a reward for good teaching and research work. It is also assumed that someone with experience in the system is best suited for the job, and therefore, candidates are to be found on the home turf. Loyalty to the leader is a paramount parameter in such selections. As a result, if you are lucky you get some good deans, and with others, you just pray that they won’t do too much damage in the three years that they would be occupying the office.
Apparently we need different selection criteria for deans. So, how should we go about it?
Spell Out the Role
First of all, there must be proper articulation of the role of a dean. While one may generally be aware of what the responsibilities of say, a Dean of Students Affairs are, a document specifying the role would greatly help the search process. Further, the search committee should, in discussion with the stake-holders, come out with a document explaining the specific focus that the institute expects from that office in the next couple of years. For example, if the goal of the institute is to privatise hostel messes, and you bring in a dean who is philosophically opposed to outsourcing, it is not going to help your goals. A list of immediate issues that one would have to handle would not only help potential candidates but also the search committee.
List the Desirable Virtues
Second, there is a need to think about the desirable profile. Not that a person outside this profile cannot be a good dean. But having a desirable profile makes it easier to think of names to nominate and shortlist. For example, a dean of research and development, whose office is expected to provide support to all project investigators, should be one who has handled several projects himself/herself. A dean of students affairs should be one who has handled student interaction either as a warden or in some other capacity. A dean of alumni affairs will have to be one who does not mind travelling and meeting a lot of people. And so on. The profile may include desirable past experience, age profile, interests, etc. Unfortunately, in most institutions, no profile is made available during the search process.
We are Looking for a Leader
Third, there has to be a realisation that a deanship is a leadership position. It is not about pushing files, but creating a vision for that office — supportive of the institution. The person should be full of ideas and creativity. S/he should be inspiring and have good communication skills. One of the reasons for not finding leadership qualities in the director/VCs of our institution is that people with these qualities are not assigned the second rung of leadership roles and when we search for director/VC, there aren’t enough people with experience as a dean with these leadership qualities.