Monday, February 21, 2011

Dean Donald Disagrees.

I'm a bit offended by a recent post on your page by "Sander."

What Sander fails to realize is that we have a wide variety of applicants to choose from, and one way in which we do that is to let those who are really suited to our institution shine. We let them talk. We let them tell us why they want to join us. We let them show us how much they want the job by revealing how seriously they took their job search.

I have asked candidates the same questions Sander found so insulting. I ask for candidates to tell me about themselves because it reveals a great deal.

I ask candidates why they want to join us at Xxxxxxx College because that's going to separate the wheat from the chaff.

What Sander didn't do apparently, is show enough interest in his own job search to actually have thought of these things. I have candidates every year who do a great job of answering those questions. Some ask me probing and intelligent questions about my institution, its students, and its policies.

Those who can't master those meetings with the Dean are likely still on the market.

- Dean Donald


  1. Dean Disingenuous is more like it. I don't think I've ever had a meeting with a dean where it was in any way decisive--on one occasion the department didn't even send me to the dean because, in the words of the chair "the administration wouldn't dare interfere in hiring decisions." Unless the candidate does or says something really stupid, they are merely theatre. After all, unless the dean happens to be in the candidate's discipline, how exactly is he or she an appropriate arbiter of the candidate's suitability.

    So it sounds to me like this rant is father to the thought, so to speak, and Dean Doofus is shaking his tiny fist in puerile rage at his own impotence.

    Or maybe the crappier your institution, the more direct control the deans exercise. Because only at a shithole would a dean have that kind of micro-managerial control.

  2. Archie's makin' meh swooon.

    I just scored me an asst prof deal, and no where in the process did a dean do that to me...(cause squirming that is, not swooning.)

  3. I get your point, Donald, but I think it's worth noting that Sander didn't have *a* meeting with *a* Dean; he had 4 separate meetings with 4 separate administrative types. As Black Dog pointed out in the comments on Sander's post, it's getting hard to tell the administrative types apart, even at our own institutions (on the other hand, it isn't too hard to tell them from the faculty, at least with a list of salaries in hand; even once you take the 9- vs. 12-month distinction into account, administrators make more).

    So, I think this goes two ways: candidates should indeed prepare themselves for the usual questions that will be asked by a Dean (or equivalent) who sees a lot of candidates (and a department that cares about getting the candidate it wants should probably provide a bit of background information to candidates who come for on-campus interviews -- maybe a sentence or two on the interview schedule or on the walk over describing what *this* Dean does). But it wouldn't hurt for the Dean to say, at the outset of the meeting, whether (s)he deals primarily with students (in which conversation about pedagogy, questions about changing demographics, remarks from the candidate about his/her expertise with dealing with demographic groups common on campus, etc. might be appropriate), or research/grants (in which conversation about that subject would be appropriate), or whatever.

    You may have a big pool to choose from these days, but, especially in this job market, by the time a department has whittled the pool down to 3 candidates, you're talking to somebody who's pretty good, and likely to go far, if not in academia, then in some area related to his/her field. Whether or not you hire that particular person, you should want him/her to come away with a good impression of your institution.

  4. I think the interesting question for Donald is: Has it ever happened that the faculty on the hiring committee wanted someone, but that person wasn't offered because her or she failed the Dean's meeting?

    Also, your question sort of comes off as desiring the candidate to blow the appropriate amount of smoke up your ass. If the candidate's meeting with your does matter for something, why not ask something more focused, more interesting?

  5. In addition to the propagation of deanage at Big State U., we've also got the problem of the bunker mentality. One part of the uni doesn't know what the other part is doing. The Rainmaking Committee believes that the Smoke Signal Committee is a bunch of incompetent assholes and therefore RC doesn't read anything that SSC produces. The Fermenting Buffalo Innards Committee goes charging into various programs without any knowledge of or interest in Rainmaking or Smoke Signals. (In fact, Fermenting Buffalo Innards would prefer NOT to deal with Rainmaking or Smoke Signals, because then they would have to, perhaps, share money...with them.)

    As a job candidate at our institution, you have to pray to The Great Spirits of Academic Shitstorms that you meet someone who can give you the 411 on what all that whiz-bang jazz on the school website means, because odds are good that no one dean knows all of that stuff...and the stuff he or she doesn't know? They kind of hate that stuff and will be mad if you bring it up.

    I suspect that Humpshack U. is not alone in this predicament.

    It is possible that Dean Donald comes from a cheerful land of integrated institutional policies and visions. And it's possible that Sander encountered the land of Fermenting Buffalo and Academic Shitstorms. But my own experience of institutional backstabbing and infighting leads me to sympathize a great deal with Sander.

  6. I know of two cases where a dean made it clear to a department that a particular candidate's name should not be sent up the chain.


    In both cases the person in question did or said something so incredibly offensive/stupid in the dean's office, that the ensuing phone call to the department chair was understandable. And we are talking personally insulting the dean here, not some instance of not having read the appropriate part of the website.


    In neither case was it at all clear that the person in question was going to be the department's choice anyway, so it can't be said that the dean's wrath was decisive in either case. More to the point, it simply confirmed the department's emerging sense of the two people in question.

  7. "We want them to tell us how much they want to join us."

    And then we want them to dance! Dance for our pleasure! Show us how much you want this job!

    Seriously. I understand you want to find a good match to the school, but there's better ways of doing that than asking about what state you're from or whether you know about the upcoming expansion. (The latter is probably not known by anyone outside the college, even though it consumes every minute of your waking day.)

    The question almost always comes down to: how much do you want to teach, and how much do you want to do research? What you really want to know is if the candidate can do it at Your School, but the candidate doesn't know your school. They've read the web pages. They've looked you up in US News. They found a copy of the student paper online. And they've been keeping their eyes open during a harrowing experience. But they have no idea what it's like to teach at your school until they've done it.. so stop asking.

  8. Dr Nat hits it on the head, dance and dance, a candidate *must* say all the things they think the Comm and Dean's want to hear. Ask our biology colleagues what natural selection will produce after a few generations of this kind of job selection process. You think your colleagues are idiots? You set-up the process that selected them.

  9. Another +1 for Dr. Nate. The Dean holds all of the cards in this situation, and the job seeker only a few, and she doesn't even know if they're trump cards because nobody's told her the suit; all she knows is that all of her chips are on the table.

    It's not so much a question of being uninterested in your own job search or unfamiliar with the grammar of these meetings, it's a question of having arrived on campus yesterday (or, in unusually bad situations, earlier that morning), having talked to maybe ten people, and being called upon to have a full-formed impression and "probing and intelligent" in-depth questions about university specifics.

    It's a little like having the candidate shown into your office by Darryl, your trusty assistant who you've seen every day for fifteen years, then immediately asking the candidate "so, what do you think of Darryl?"

  10. ps: Just in case you didn't know, I AM Dr. Colossus, Dr. Nathaniel, honest_prof and Todd from Toledo.

    On the internet, no one can see your boobs. Unless you are into that kind of thing.

  11. It is being coming increasingly worrisome that we have set-up hiring procedures (the talk, the meeting with faculty, the meeting with admins) where we select candidates with the best political skills, rather than interesting, thoughtful people. In any search, I would bet you could dump the top 10 people in a drum, spin it and pick one, to get a new hire with just as much promise, and less political skill.

  12. Campus visits are mostly academic butt sniffing anyway. It's been my experience that faculty members want to hire not who's best for the institution, but people who will meet some need or criteria of their own. I can't believe this is any different with deans. Their criteria for a "good" candidate, however, is going to be a bit more homogenous. That is, the dean wants someone who is not only familiar with but supports whatever policies or institutional developments that they themselves support. The "revealing" part of the interview is to, via small talk, expose whether the candidate is a "rah rah" team player (good) or one of those grumpy folks that are going to make noise on faculty senate. So the candidate must know or be informed of the latest developments, but also give a sign that she or she approves of them, as well as everything else the dean does. That is a "good" candidate from a dean's perspective.

    It's not different with faculty, seriously, although the criteria change. All deans generally want the same thing from a candidate. Faculty members have motivations that are more specific to their own particular desires, many of which are often narcissistic.

    But I'd guess we all know that shit by now.

  13. Angry Archie said, "Because only at a shithole would a dean have that kind of micro-managerial control."

    You'd be amazed at how many shitholes there are.
    Or maybe you wouldn't.
    There are lots and lots of them.

  14. Is Dean Donald for real? I'm inclined to doubt it.

    > In both cases the person in question did or
    > said something so incredibly offensive/stupid
    > in the dean's office...

    What could they possibly have done? Taken a dump on his carpet? I know a lot of colleges where the department would be highly amused by that.

  15. I think meetings with FOUR deans is a bit much. If deans have that much time to meet with various candidates, they need more to do! Why not all meet at ONE time and ask about Kansas all at once?

    Having spent three summers working in Acad. Admin. as a secretary, I know that sometimes deans have no idea who they're meeting with and why b/c their assistants set up the meetings at the search committee's request and don't always tell them why or with whom. They're kind of like celebrities with people who set up meetings with other people's people... Yes, I'm being facetious.

  16. Blackdog,

    If I'm really you, why am I posting a reply to you? You're talking to your own hand here.

  17. - "you could dump the top 10 people in a drum, spin it and pick one" ... we tried this, of course, but we encountered a surprising degree of resistance from the candidates.

    Campus visits can tell you useful things. Those 15-minute speed-date interviews in hotel basements, however, tell no one anything at all, and are gratuitous cruelty to the candidates. They should be abolished. Or replaced with the ten-people-in-a-drum procedure, which would at least limit the time. And everyone could wear old clothes and make new friends, too.

  18. @Frod: In one case that's pretty close to what the guy did. He destroyed a prized piece of furniture that the dean kept in the office. Since the dean made a big deal about this thing every time someone entered into the office, a lot of us were secretly amused/pleased at what the guy had done, while at the same time marveling at the stupidity.

  19. Was it a chair Thor Heyerdahl had made on the "Kon-Tiki" that had suffered termite damage, and he leaned on Thor's throne slightly and it collapsed?

  20. Oh Archie, this is too good. How, praytell, does one destroy a piece of furniture in the Dean's office? This isn't Spring Break, you know! What was the candidate's name, Dr. Gomer Pyle? (You were wondering what he did after getting out of the Marines, weren't you?)

    Also: Is Dean Donald real? I doubt it.

  21. I had the rare opportunity to prep a Dean once on some incoming candidates. I had 4 people to tell her about and I was in the room for 6 minutes.

  22. @Frod

    So if the Dean isn't real? What's the point of this whole page? I'm confused.

  23. [Dr. Nathaniel--I was envisioning one of those posts where someone accuses us of all being the same person since there is so much disagreement with Dean D. Clearly Dean D is a lone voice of dissent being ganged up on by the CM elite, which actually consists of three people who talk to themselves in different voices. Curses, the particular troll of which I speak hasn't arrived yet! Argh.]

  24. Well Go-o-o-lleee Frod. It was sort of a Gomer Pyle moment, mixed with some serious arrogance. Imagine, if you will, a rainy winter's day and a job candidate entering the office wearing a pair of heavy, muddy, wet hiking boots. Imagine further, an easily scratched and dented piece of mid-century modern furniture upholstered in white fabric. Then imagine the candidate dropping into the visitor's chair, theatrically throwing his muddy boots onto said piece of furniture, and saying "so, dean-o, tell me something good about your institution." Apparently the gouge and stain he left on the furniture in question was a sight to see, according to someone who later stopped in.

    And that's how you blow a meeting with the dean in under three seconds.

  25. The other case was at a Jesuit institution, and the dean in question was a priest. When the dean asked if the candidate had any questions, the candidate asked him how he felt about the fact that so many priests like to bugger little boys.

    As always, there ain't no cure for stupidity.

  26. Your description of the assault on the mid-century modern chair was amazing -- I have a colleague on the job market who I can imagine DOING PRECISELY THAT.

    He styles himself as a hardcore Marxist (I'm not even sure what that means anymore) and rejects the material trappings of capitalism. We were friends until he started dressing like Fidel Castro. Whenever he visited my house he availed himself heartily of said material trappings...drinking my booze, taking food (no, really, he walked out with five pounds of sugar under his arm once), and in one particularly egregious instance, tracking mud across my house and into the bathroom, where he deposited his mud-coated shoes in the tub.

    We were friends, to be sure, but we were not muddy-shoes-in-the-bathtub close. Ask before mudding.

  27. @Blackdog: "Hardcore Marxist", in this case, appears to be synonymous with "shameless moocher who will attempt to make you feel guilty about owning the stuff he's kindly liberating you from."

    @Archie: Wow. I'm astonished that either of these characters even made it to an interview with the Dean. They must have looked *really* good on paper.

  28. @Blackdog: I think I know this person. Did he carry around a megaphone, which he'd use to announce, "WE'LL SETTLE THIS DEMOCRATICALLY"?

  29. @Archie: Both cases are good, nay, impressive! I hope Dean Donald gets to interview them both.


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