Staff Editorial: The search for a new dean

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences announced Friday that it will begin a search for a new dean following the resignation of Dean Peg Barratt, opening up an opportunity to examine what the priorities of the dean of the University’s largest and oldest school should be.

As Barratt prepares to exit her deanship in June 2013 and shifts to a faculty position in the psychology department after a sabbatical, the University will embark on a search for her replacement, a process that will be led by a team of nine tenured faculty members from the college in the fall.

The new dean will assume the position in summer of 2013, but this leaves the University in an uncertain period of transition.

Barratt’s resignation news follows an April staff evaluation in which more than two-thirds of faculty expressed displeasure with her leadership abilities. The survey might not have directly contributed to Barratt’s resignation, it undoubtedly points to the need for the Columbian College to have a more communicative dean, a fact the University must take seriously when it begins its search for a new leader in the fall.

The new dean should be able to identify a vision for the college and effectively articulate those ideas and plans to faculty. This means actively seeking out faculty input before implementing major or overarching policy decisions. This effort to initiate a dialogue among faculty will make for a more transparent environment within the school and hopefully quell faculty concern from the staff survey that said Barratt failed to create an “atmosphere of trust.”

While engagement might not seem like the key pillar of a deanship, the dissatisfaction seen in the survey shows how critical it is for the next Columbian College dean to frequently seek input from faculty. The school will undergo significant evolution over the coming years, with the strategic plan’s release in the fall and the humanities curriculum moving toward an increasingly interdisciplinary model. Rather than carrying out reforms then alerting faculty to the changes, professors should be closely involved throughout the process.

A dissatisfied or disillusioned faculty would not just be detrimental to the school’s progress – it could impact teaching, which hurts students. It is crucial to keep faculty frustrations with Barratt’s lack of communication skills in mind when considering a new hire.

University President Steven Knapp moved forward with a fundraising plan in 2009 that drastically changed a dean’s role, adding an extensive focus– 40 percent of their time – on fundraising, in addition to academics. The new dean must be able to successfully balance fundraising pressures while still working to promote academic programs and build a rapport among faculty.

Since fundraising is such a large part of the dean’s job description, it makes it even more imperative that part of the school’s top leader’s time is devoted to creating a strong dialogue with faculty.

Even though nine tenured faculty members will lead the search, the voices of a wide range of Columbian College professors must be considered.

A Columbian College dean must possess a wide range of knowledge and experience within the humanities. While science and research are increasingly becoming hallmarks of a GW education – as evidenced by the construction of a new Science and Engineering Hall – it is important that the dean also serve as a staunch advocate for the liberal arts.

The new dean must also tackle students’ Columbian College advising woes. Although advisers are supposed to be helpful, students often complain they do not have a sufficient knowledge of the school’s vast academic offerings. It is critical for the new dean to expand and improve the advising system by ensuring advisers are well-versed in a multitude of academic areas.

During this time of change, the faculty and administration must outline the dean’s role to ensure a transparent transition that does not leave students in the University’s largest and oldest school dissatisfied with academics or faculty feeling as though their voice are not heard.

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