What deans do, why you need to know

By Ana Soltero

As college students, the order of administrative hierarchy at school is not often considered. The main focus is graduating on time and the closest glimpse we get to the hierarchy is through professors. Then, the next person who comes to mind is the president of the university. But there are several layers of people in between.

While Woodring gears up for dean applicant screening on Dec. 9, the question many students may have is what does a dean do? 

“When I was a student, I did not know what a dean was,” Brad Johnson, dean of the college of science and engineering, said.

A university is broken up into parts: the academic affairs, which the provost and the vice president run, and the colleges.

“A college is a unit that is organized around certain disciplines. There are seven colleges [at Western] and all of them report through this academic affairs structure,” Johnson said. 

Every college has a dean. The dean functions as the administrative head of the college. So, they are the junction between the overall university and the college they administer. 

“My college has seven departments and two programs that all report to me in this office and I report to the provost. So, it is kind of a management organization structure,” Johnson said.  

Deans are in charge of budgets, supervising and hiring faculty and staff, and solving personnel issues. 

“Deans have kind of the overall responsibility for the budget of their college, for the well-being of the faculty and staff and the curriculum,” Jack Herring, dean of Fairhaven College, said. 

Herring said he supervises all the faculty and most of the staff in Fairhaven. He said he has about 30 people that report directly to him and he is responsible for evaluating those people. 

Another duty that a dean holds is the tracking, maintaining and managing issues around the budget of the college, Herring said. 

“I am the person who works with the provost and the budget office to determine what Fairhaven’s budget is going to be and to make sure we are living within that budget,” Herring said.

Some colleges also have a research component that a dean oversees.

“My dean responsibilities include the administration of the Huxley College’s academic, research, and outreach programs,” Steve Hollenhorst, dean of Huxley College, said in an email.

Steve Hollenhorst, dean
of Huxley College. //
Photo courtesy of Steve
Hollenhorst

The college of science and engineering also has a research component, Johnson said. Deans function as advocates for their college and liaison between the college and industries outside of school. 

“Our connections with the industrial powers in the region are important because we get pushes and pulls on those programs — there is student demand … lots of industrial partners want our students. So, building that conduit between those two things is a part of making our college work effectively,” Johnson said. 

Herring said a good portion of dean work is also engaging with alumni. 

“In part, we all do that because we want to build strong networks so that we have people that we can send students to if they are looking for an internship in a certain field, for mentors, or potential recommendations of career paths,” Herring said.  

While the role of a dean might seem a bit daunting, the individuals that serve this role still find some fun in their position.

The most fun is when he talks with students and learns about their career goals in addition to the environmental issues that they find important, Hollenhorst said in an email. 

“I also love talking with Huxley alums and learning about the great things they’re doing in the world,” Hollenhorst said. 

Herring said he gets the most excitement out of getting to talk to prospective students and their parents.

“Fairhaven has its own admissions process and a few times a year I get to meet with prospective students and their parents and get to explain to them what Fairhaven is all about. And I just love that,” Herring said. 

Johnson said he finds joy in getting to know the different types of people and what they do in the college of science and engineering. 

“People do amazing things in this college and getting to just learn about that is really fun,” Johnson said. 

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