Being the dean #2 – creating a vision

Since this year I am the dean. Building on books I read about academic deans and my own observation, I wrote a manifesto on how I want to approach my deanship. Within this blog entry, I discuss #2 from this manifesto.

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“The dean tries to jointly create a vision for the faculty. Integrating the different ideas of professors and other faculty, as well as our colleagues both within and outside of Leuphana demands recognition of the bigger picture, as well as being able to compromise. Please help the dean to create this vision.”

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We are a faculty of more than 250 people, with more than 30 professors. We are diverse. We have sustainability as a joined goal. Naturally, we have different ideas, strategies and approaches to academia. I see this as our joined strength. We are also linked within the University, and also to colleagues outside of Leuphana. What are now the key steps to create a vision? Is is even possible to create a vision? Our former chancellor Helmut Schmidt famously claimed that “he who has vision should go see doctor”. While it is true that we should not waste our resources thriving for some unachievable vision, I think one key aspect of vision is to push beyond our imagination, regardless of initial limitations. To achieve this, recognition of diversity is pivotal. By combining different entities, such as knowledge domains, methods, approaches, frameworks etc. may enable us to create something novel. This demands a proper setting, enabling exchange and multiplication of the different faculty. Surely this poses key challenge, as it requires initial investments and lots of diplomacy.

This is one of the key goals of me being the dean. Bringing together diversity and excellence is a great challenge, but it is also very rewarding. The group of people at the Faculty is not only diverse, but also large. Diplomacy and efficiency in creating exchange is one of my key goals.  However, creating linkages demands knowledge. This can be knowledge of the rest of the faculty, but also includes knowledge of people outside of the faculty. One key goal of the dean is then to try and integrate all these different types of knowledge.  Creating a coherent and novel picture out of this knowledge is then -potentially- a vision.

Here, another vital step is necessary to be noted. Creating a vision should not be restricted to foresight. While it is vital to envision potential future trajectories, I consider it even more important to understand a goal -even a soft goal- that you want to target. We need to create visions not only by foresight, but also by a clear and bold anticipation of what we want to achieve.

Therefore, the dean needs to be able to communicate this vision and make it a participatory exercise of the faculty, university and other players. I am glad to help integrate this vision out of the coherent canon of knowledge and goals that unites us all.

Being the dean – six months on..

In the first blog post, I will reflect about the past six months, that is about the past six months as being the dean of the faculty of sustainability. After some thinking and recent events I wrote down 10 rules that I consider relevant to me. You might wonder now, why you should read them? Are you a dean? Even if not, the following might be of relevance for you. Stay tuned.

“1) The dean works on the coherent triangle of management of the faculty, research in the faculty and teaching of the faculty, together with the other deans.”

Management

Many consider that management is the central theme of being the dean. It is simply boring admin, and why would a true researcher or teacher (do these still exists?) bother at all. Well, it is admin, I will not fool you here, but maybe we can change the admin. I learned a lot about admin tricks during the last 6 months, but more importantly, I altered the mode of admin surrounding me. How I did that you ask? First, I observed for 2-3 months. During this time, only emergency changes were made, beside that I sticked quite to the structured I found.

After 2-3 months, I increasingly asked people, what they would change. Then I took the ratio and rational out of the intel, and started implementing changes. It was actually fun, not only for me, but only (I hope) for others. Fact is, that most people want responsibility and trust. I think it is vital to help people reach their peak, and through the efforts of my tremendous surrounding, I actually feel I get closer to my own peak. Admin is actually much much much better than its reputation. I think people do not consider the time to reflect. If baffled by admin and procedures, it is I learned best to take a step back and look at the whole picture. With some context, I believe to have learned that hardly anyone is harmful, and no one is evil in admin. People are just overworked, and misunderstood. Structured and solution-orientated criticism is what’s working best.

Research

Leuphana University is a tremendous place, I think. We have some truly inspiring research happening, and it is among the duties of the dean to aid the creation of a coherent and bold research narrative. This is really fun, since it is a true team effort. There are so many inspiring and fascinating researchers at our faculty and university and beyond, and it is very nice to be kind one of the central hubs in this structure. I surely still have my own interests and research (I hope), but creating ties between an array of people is challenging yet fun. What I think is even more fascinating is the mode we can have as a dynamic and thriving faculty. Whenever a new research call comes in, we are prepared, and as a team can consider the best options to approach a potential project. In addition, we build on a tremendous experience from the wider University, especially from the leaders of the University.

Teaching

The reason why I started at Leuphana to begin with was because a position with teaching seemed more attractive as compared to a pure research position. Still, teaching seems somewhat to play a minor role in today’s academia. I think this is wrong, and as the dean I can often add to discussion and strategic planning of the teaching program. Just as with research, we have a great portfolio of people, and designing and improving such cutting edge programs (no kidding) as ours is surely fun. Also, the exchange with the student representatives as a dean is a real pleasure, as you get great feedback that you can implement. Most importantly, sustainability is a surely dynamic field, and parts of our programs are more than dynamic. What is tricky though is quality. Before I always said that I want to forget all bad info on specific courses and lectures. Now I have to implement this, and this is surely a continuous process. What to do with mediocre teaching? I myself have a course that just has not ripened into a digestible form (yet!). This takes time and clear strategic planning. Being the dean is also to work with people on a longer time scale, and build trust. This can lead to lasting and sustainable change is my current hypotheses.

The team

The greatest part of being the dean is being a team. There are two vice deans, one on teaching, and one on research. In addition, there is the former dean, who is now designated advisor to the president on sustainability. The four of us make a sure great team. What I like best is the speed of our communication. Our telephone calls, meetings, slack chats and whatever mean of communication we use are among the densest I ever participated in. All this really brought team work for me to the next level.