organizational leadership

I started writing this blog on May 13, 2013. In the “Welcome” post I noted, “On July 1, 2013 I will become Professor and Founding Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Before the move I will write about preparation for assuming that position, and after July 1, 2013 I will chronicle my first year in the creation of a new unit.” In the July 1, 2014 “One Year In” post I wrote,

Today was my one year anniversary as a new dean. It’s also my 100th post to this blog. I wish that I could say that this coincidence was part of a grand design…

My original plan was to just write the blog for the first year as a new dean, but I’ll keep going with occasional entries. Thanks for the comments on posts in the first year!

I didn’t have any additional entries until March 25, 2015, when I noted that I was moving to San José State U. On July 12, 2015 I resumed making regular blog entries.

Now, however, is probably a good time to end the blog. The “About Dispatches From a Dean” description notes, “A sociologist, this blog chronicles [Jacobs’] journeys in collegiate administration, where he applies his view of academic leadership as both a social science and an art.” I definitely did that in many of the 291 other entries, but in the last year or so the entries have mostly been links to online articles that I thought were interesting. Yesterday was the College of Social Sciences’ spring 2019 commencement, and today is the spring 2019 “Black Grad” commencement for Black students. In the spirit of commencement being the end of one stage of an ongoing journey as the launching point of the next adventure, I’ll end the 292nd blog post by stating that I’ve enjoyed writing this blog over the past 6 years, and I look forward to sharing my experiences in other avenues. Thank you for accompanying me!

When hiring faculty or staff one of the final steps of the process is checking references. One frequent question is, “does the candidate have any weaknesses?” Recently an answer to this question when I called a reference was “when younger, she tended to take on too much responsibility — but always met her obligations! As she gained more experience she learned to strategically say no to requests when appropriate, or to delegate tasks more effectively.” That “weakness” is actually a strength…I’ll have to use it the next time I’m serving as a reference for someone!

In an August 2016 post about racial profiling on Nextdoor.com, I noted that the social networking site was experimenting with ways to curb actions based on racial stereotypes and biases. I just discovered a May 2018 Harvard Business Review article that provides an analysis of their efforts. The author notes, “how Nextdoor responded illustrates not only the importance of reacting quickly in a crisis, but how useful a data-driven, agile approach can be. Agile teams benefit from different perspectives, skills, and expertise, so the co-founders assembled a small, diverse team to tackle the issue.” Hopefully Nextdoor will continue to have success in its efforts to combat racial profiling.

One of my meetings today was about SJSU’s forthcoming search for a Chief Information Officer (CIO). A executive search firm will assist with the recruitment, and was on campus today to speak with administrators about the elements of the position. One of my comments was that information technology (IT) on campus is often viewed like a public utility: it’s a necessity, but we only notice it when it’s not properly functioning; the new CIO will have the opportunity to collaborate extensively with folks and make investments to refresh the infrastructure and reduce some of the problems. When I got back to the office I discovered a Pacific Standard magazine story about why the American Internet should be regarded as a public utility. While not directly reacted to IT on campus, I’ll have to share it with the new CIO…

This week my associate dean is attending the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) seminar for new deans, in which experienced deans share processes and tips to help new deans get off to strong starts. Each year a few slots are reserved for associate deans who are thinking about eventually moving over one position. I attended the seminar as a new dean in 2013, and in 2014 sent my then associate dean, who went on to become a dean last year! Hopefully my associate dean this year doesn’t get snatched up for another few years…

In a new twist for mentoring new deans, I was contacted yesterday by a new dean who is starting an advisory circle. I’ll be available to answer questions via email, and we might check in via Skype from time to time. If ever in the same city for conferences we’ll try to meet up. I am impressed by her initiative in putting together this mentoring opportunity. I wish that I had thought of this as a new dean!

Today is July 1, 2016, and it marks the start of my fourth year as a dean. In a few days (July 6) I’ll be entering my second year as the Dean of the SJSU College of Social Sciences. So since I’m not really a new dean anymore I’ll have to change the title of this blog! In the meantime, I found one unpublished post from last July, just after I started at SJSU. It’s about mistakes new deans make; I’ll paste that into this post. Thanks to everyone who helped me avoid these problems!


Inside Higher Education recently published an essay on the “5 Mistakes of Rookie Deans.” Although focusing on the experiences of business school deans, Dean Eli Jones’ advice is widely applicable. He notes that the following mistakes land deans in hot water:

  • Underestimating the knowledge, skills, and abilities it takes to do the job well.
  • Overestimating the power and influence one has in the role.
  • Lacking sufficient knowledge about managing oneself.
  • Lacking sufficient knowledge of how to generate and allocate resources across the enterprise.
  • Underappreciating the art and science of relationship building.

A comment from “stinkcat” adds two more mistakes: “Before you make significant decisions take time to understand the culture of the place. Also, in the minds of faculty you work for them, they don’t work for you. Forget that at your peril.” I would add one more that’s informed by my social science background: do not forget the importance of social structure in enabling success. If one wants to build a truly collaborative environment, for example, s/he needs to create mechanisms that bring folks together and make sure that action items get accomplished. For example, here at the SJSU College of Social Sciences the department chairs will have two regularly scheduled collective meetings per month, one with the dean group [dean, associate dean, “decanal fellow” (last year’s interim dean who is assisting me with the transition), and the college’s budget manager] where we address issues that are usually externally imposed, and one without the dean group present where the chairs can share best practices and also generate new ideas without worrying about the initial reaction of the dean before polishing them to take to the next chairs/dean group meeting.

Dean Jones notes that deans are asked to “chart a course for our organizations in the midst of continuous change, to train and motivate our employees, and to develop innovative solutions for a constantly evolving marketplace.” Mistakes are bound to happen, but we deans can minimize them by keeping the above guidelines in mind.

In the 2015-2016 academic year there were two new Department Chairs in my college. The Associate Dean and I had a group check in lunch with them back in January (along with a second-year Chair who also wanted to be included), and today we all had a second group lunch. We discussed both the pleasant surprises they experienced and the challenges they faced. Next year there will be four new Chairs, so we asked the group today about ideas for having monthly check ins. They came up with great suggestions. I look forward to using their ideas along with info from CCAS Seminars for Department Chairs [I was a Director last year]. Department Chairs are key players in the effective operation of colleges and universities, so providing them with tools and support to be successful is one of the highest priorities for Deans. Many thanks to all of the Department Chairs out there!

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, sociologist Patricia Leavy argues, “let’s give student researchers the credit they deserve.” She notes,

Just as college students often serve as research samples because they are convenient populations for academic researchers, so too do students routinely serve as research assistants and co-authors. Credit and compensation is typically attributed to student collaborators based on individual negotiations with faculty mentors. In other words, whether the student is listed as a research assistant or a co-author, whether the student is listed as the lead author or a secondary author, or how the student’s contribution is both defined and monetarily compensated (especially with a work such as a book) is based on whatever arrangement the student strikes with the researcher (who is usually the student’s professor)…

Credit and compensation should be based on the level of collaboration and how much each collaborator has contributed to the final product; it should not be based on career level. It really is that simple.

Indeed!

One of my former colleagues in the University of Wisconsin system has posted an interesting article to the Association of American Colleges & Universities’ (AAC&U) LEAP Challenge Blog. Check out his “Learning Through Friendship” reflection. LEAP, by the way, stands for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, an AAC&U national public advocacy and campus action initiative. I should think more about how I can use LEAP in strategic planning for the college.

Last summer I posted an article about a short presentation I developed for first year students about the “keys to academic success.” This week I used the guide for the first time at SJSU, but revised it. Here is the new structure of advice to students:

  1. Study Smarter: How you study changes; it’s all about quality, not quantity.
  2. Time Management: There is a seismic shift from having a schedule planned for you to making your own schedule. Consider The Three T system:
    1. Triage: Determine priority of tasks
    2. Track: System for getting things done [a to-do list process; a great resource is rememberthemilk.com and its apps]
    3. Trace: Establish good habits and patterns
  3. Navigation 1: General Networking. University is a bureaucracy, but there is navigation assistance. Talk with classmates. Talk with resident advisors. Use campus services, like the college advising centers.
  4. Navigation 2: Professors. Learn how to decipher professors’ demands, and then select the best strategies to meet them. This is about studying smarter (point 1) and also being proactive: go talk to professors!

I also encourage students to read the book College Rules! How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College [Sherrie Nist-Olejnik and Jodi Patrick Holschuh, authors. Ten Speed Press, 3rd edition.] I begin to wrap up the presentation by reading the last paragraph in College Rules!:

“While in college, think about gaining the following skills – thinking critically, writing persuasively, problem solving effectively, and speaking convincingly. If you can develop these competencies over the next four (or five) years, you are ready to learn for a lifetime. These are also likely the skills that will help you land (and keep) your dream job.”

I then conclude by telling the students: “college is serious business, but enjoy it too. Have fun!”