Blog Post

Watching a Dean Search as a Doctoral Student

My school, the School of Information & Library Science (SILS), began a search for a new dean some time back. Within the past few weeks, the search was narrowed to three candidates who have now completed their interviews. Two of the candidates were internal and so the gossip and emotion surrounding the search has been very interesting.

Students of various levels (undergraduate, master's, and doctoral) were given multiple opportunitites to meet and talk with the candidates. For instance, lunches were set up between interested doctoral students and each candidate; and each candidate gave an "open forum" talk to anyone who was interested in attending. This means that even an English professor or a staff person in the Medical School at UNC could attend and hear what the candidate had to say.

I attended all three open forums but did not attend the lunches with the two internal candidates. I had wanted to attend the lunch with the external candidate but it was scheduled for a time I could not make. The last time our school searched for a dean, I was in the master's program. At that time, I also attended all open forums for those three candidates. The differences between the two searches (the one while I was in the master's program for the former dean and the one now for the future dean) are quite striking to me. I believe I can attribute these differences to two main things: (1) we have 2 internal candidates this time (only one last time) and (2) I'm at a very different point in my career/life and have a completely different perspective on things like dean searches now that I am hoping to be a faculty member one day.

Many people have expressed to me so many different opinions about who will get the position. And in some cases, opinions have changed over time, especially after the open forums. I've heard opinions from UNC staff, other SILS students (both master's and doctoral), and alumni of the school. Of course, I have been dying to know what other faculty think but have not asked anyone's opinion because I didn't want to put anyone, most especially faculty, in an awkward position. Rather, I have just listened whenever someone felt inclined to share their opinion; and I have shared my evolving opinion with a select few friends as well. I find myself being more guarded about my opinion; and I guess it is because I have internalized some of the warnings so many other doctoral students have made. "Don't rock the boat!" "Don't burn any bridges; you never know if Person X will later be in a position to review your work, consider you for a faculty or committee position, or generally make your life hell in some way!" Sounds like something out of a horror movie - politics, politics! All I can do is laugh. I consider myself to be a very honest and direct person. I'm WYSIWYG in every way or so I thought. This new guarded demeanor of mine is surprising to me and I wonder if it is the right me?

I have also been considering what it must be like to be one of the internal candidates. I wonder how each of them feels. Of course folks are talking about the candidates and making comparisons. How could they not? Personally, I am incredibly grateful I am not in either of the internal candidates' shoes. I think being in Manning Hall on UNC's campus would be extremely difficult right now no matter how kind people are. It probably just feels weird for both of them.

At one time, I served on a search committee somewhat near the level of this one. It was hard work. We're all human; we do the best we can. And I firmly believe there is no one perfect candidate for any job. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; and what a search is is finding a person with whom you can make it (the thing we all do together - research, teach, etc.) work. To me that means that not only does the position change over; but also I have to change with it. I have to learn to work with the person's strengths and weaknesses as they have to learn to work with mine. Can we do that? Will we be able to find common ground?

Soon this will be over. The commitee will make its decision and the dawn of a new era will occur!
<Dramatic music here>

Last time I watched the search for the dean (when I was in the master's program), I really thought there was a right/wrong decision. This time, I can't say that there is a "right" or "wrong" one. It's not binary to me anymore. Now it seems to me that the important questions are "where do we go from here" with whomever is selected and "how can I help make it work?"

Good luck to all who are applying for jobs right now. I wish you an easy, gentle heart, filled with hope and courage. Go forth and make a life!




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