Monday, March 16, 2015

29. What's in a Dean?

1. One aspect of Year 6 was when the then Dean, Ken Schenck, decided to apply for a New Testament position back in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). He was not looking to change positions. But he was doing some soul searching at the time. He was wondering what he should be aiming for, as he looked ahead.

What were the options, looking ahead? At some point I could join the Seminary faculty. I had more or less assumed that would happen eventually. And of course I consider Wayne Schmidt one of the leading options for General Superintendent. Was I interested in leading the Seminary, if he were promoted to glory? Would they even choose me to run the Seminary if I were interested?

As far as joining the Seminary faculty, I didn't feel like it was time. Remaining Dean excited me more. Most of the Bible in the Seminary is introductory in nature. Being Dean is more stimulating.

Was I thriving as a Dean? No doubt I was good at some things, adequate at others. In the Fall we had wrestled with a number of questions. We wrestled with the question of onsite. We were still wrestling with the formula for the Integration Paper. We wrestled some with the question of who our typical student is or should be. We wrestled with how exacting we should be with things like deadlines and grades. We wrestled with the MA in Leadership curriculum.

After all these debates, I felt like I was becoming too negative. I was becoming too much of an Eeyore instead of a Tigger.

But Eeyores don't make good leaders. I actually asked Keith Drury to meet me at Starbucks one week in mid-November to try to reset my mind. I resolved to start acting with the gravitas of someone who leads a Seminary, to start behaving with the kind of gravity and class Wayne has.

2. My final choice to apply for the New Testament position back in the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) is only partially the story of the Seminary, so I won't share much. At one lunch, someone jokingly asked me if I was interested in the job. I think I said something like, "If you'd have asked me Wednesday, I'd have said yes. Today, I'm okay."

Before I left for the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in late November, I told Wayne that I was praying and reflecting on whether to apply for the STM position. Returning to teaching New Testament with undergraduates was one of the possible options on my earlier list, just not one I thought was ever likely to happen. There are things you do well at with ease. There are things you do well at with effort. There are things you do okay at but you know others might do better.

Teaching 18-22 year olds philosophy and the Bible is something that, at least in the past, seemed to be second nature to me. I think I was at least entertaining as a professor (which of course doesn't necessarily mean that learning took place). If you gave me an impromptu topic in these areas to teach in five minutes, I could probably do better than average, and a good time would be had by many.

Being Dean is much more important, much more significant, and much more thankless. Most of the time, you don't get to do your own dreaming. Your job is to facilitate the dreams of others. In some cases, it is the job of gluing people together who are running full speed in different directions. Sometimes it's the job of policeman, and we all know that people enjoy being redirected or told no. It is a noble task, and I feel good about the job I have done.

I wasn't looking for a change. But the possibility of doing something in my sweet spot for a while just seemed too good to pass up after six years a Dean.

3. When I went to the new Deans seminar at ATS in 2013, Dan Aleshire said that, "The job of a seminary President is to make sure that a seminary has students who are coming. The job of a seminary Dean is to make sure there is something worth coming to."

That is the prevailing model of an academic Dean, to guarantee the academic quality of the institution. I believe I have fulfilled my duty in that regard. I have facilitated assessment. I have made sure the most basic academic rules have been kept. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.

For those who think of the Dean in these traditional categories, I have only been an average Dean (aside from getting us accredited in five years, I suppose ;-). Frankly, the faculty have done a much better job at ensuring traditional academic quality than I have.

I view policies as guidelines, not laws. I consider academic quality a cultural idea that is a moving target that the market sets. And I believe we should be an open door seminary that wants to improve the serve of as many ministers as possible, whether they are academically brilliant or academic strugglers. There are several really inspiring ministers I can think of who were academic duds, and there are some academically gifted ministerial students I had, who are just doing ok in ministry.

4. I believe the most important roles I have played as Dean are threefold. I have been chief academic problem solver in executing new academic ventures. I have served as the glue holding all the players together. And I have served as the academic guardian of the initial dream.

A new Dean doesn't have to play these roles. He or she can be the traditional paper pusher. But then Wesley needs others to pick up these more crucial roles. Anyone who thinks we are done designing new things wasn't in the office last week. Not to keep moving forward is to move backward.

But I'm not too worried. Wayne cannot not make new connections. Aaron Wilkinson, admissions director, has caught the bug and he knows the method. There are faculty who will sit in a room with a white board and scheme. And, of course, there's nothing I want to do more than something I don't have to do... I remain open to post-lunch white boarding.

I think others will pick up the glue piece. I think the Seminary team may be moving toward an environment where it is okay to voice strong opinions, to disagree, and yet to go to lunch after the vote or decision. There is a structure. There are things the administration has the authority to do. There are votes the faculty have on issues. The administrate will feel freer to collaborate if it knows its final decisions will be accepted after discussion. And the faculty can disagree more freely if everyone submits to the final vote.

As for the founding vision, it is always subject to change. It has already evolved, as you would expect it to. I suspect Wayne and the Seminary Board will probably keep the current vision for the Seminary for the time being. And keeping it will still fall to the Dean academically.

But I also think the faculty have owned that vision. They have made it their own. And so I don't think there is a problem here. The faculty will only make it better.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.
12. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (1)
13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)
14. Our guinea pigs survived.

Year 4: The Year of the Faculty
15. Faculty share governance with administration. (1)
16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)
17. Faculty share governance with administration. (3)
18. Faculty share governance with administration. (4)
19. Growth means addition. (1)
20. Growth means addition. (2)
21. Growth means addition. (3)

Year 5: The Year of Accreditation
22. Don't underestimate the power of a symbol.
23. A good reputation is much to be desired.
24. Sustainability needs reliable infrastructure.
25. Important decisions often involve trade-offs.

Year 6: Launching the Future
26. Good leaders look for opportunities.
27. Online programs tend to cannibalize equivalent onsite ones.
28. You can be practical on the doctoral level.

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