On the Search for a New Dean

Dianne Ghirrardo, Associate Professor

Through some strange sequence of events, an astonishing number of schools are seeking new deans this year. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions asked by faculty members is what kind of person the new dean ought to be. Should the dean be a famous practitioner, either with a well-established corporate practice or a small but very prominent and trendy one?

Should he or she be an established administrator, or a well-known scholar? Someone already in the community or outside of it? There are no easy answers to these questions, but since my own institution, USC, is also looking for a new dean, like others I have asked them.

In part the answer depends upon the types of tasks that the dean will be expected to perform. These days most institutions want someone who will be an effective fundraiser, for pragmatic reasons relating to the financial stability of institutions of higher education today – especially important for private universities. But there are perhaps more significant items on the agenda of a new dean for USC. The Dean must be able to stabilize or develop three sets of relations; that of the architecture school to the rest of the university, to the architectural community outside of the university, and among faculty members within the school itself.

At USC the School of Architecture is perceived as isolated by the rest of the university: the general education requirements do not match those that the rest of the university is adopting, faculty members who design buildings, landscapes or urban plans do not produce the kind of scholarly research typically found in other disciplines, and architecture students take relatively few classes outside of Architecture. A new dean must be able to help bind students and faculty to the university and to bring students from other departments into contact with architecture courses.

This relation to the rest of the university is no small matter in these days of shrinking budgets and belt-tightening and, in fact, USC’s School of Architecture has several years of deficits to overcome in order to return to good standing within the university. However, beyond these difficult and fairly pragmatic issues are the greater issues about the intellectual and creative life of the school. Most university faculties, if they are at all vigorous, have diverse viewpoints and philosophies, and often substantial disagreements about pedagogy, appointments and tenure budget expenditures, and school administration. USC is no different from others in this respect, but ideally a new dean should be able to negotiate differences and establish an environment where informed debate can take place. A dean must be able to recognize and nourish others, have the imagination and boldness to build a strong program of visiting faculty to supplement the existing faculty, support faculty who are contributing to the discipline through creative projects or scholarly work, stimulate challenging teachers and curricula, and work to create courses and exchanges with other schools within the university. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, a dean need neither be a great architect nor a great intellect to be able to accomplish these important objectives.

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