Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thoughts on leadership in education colleges

Our college of education at Purdue is seeking a dean. A thoughtful colleague at another institution had these words about such searches:

"I've been through several Dean searches, one recently of course, and it's a tough market for really good people. The job itself can be very tough, especially if you aren't in a resource-rich environment -- and who is?

The different academic cultures within an Ed School seem increasingly incommensurable to me -- theory/practice, qualitative/quantitative, early-childhood to adult ed, psychometric test designers/ radical postmodern critics, touchy-feelies and hard-nosed empiricists, hands-on school personnel trainers and abstract philosophers, etc etc. I can't think of another college or department with anything like that sort of range.

The status issues and mixed messages many Ed Schools get from the central admin seem very difficult to reconcile. And the tradition itself -- for all its talk of progressivism, blah blah, strikes me as institutionally extremely conservative, even reactionary."

I particularly agree with the idea about the different academic cultures within an ed school, and of course they are present in mine. We spend a great deal of time discussing these differences, trying to make bridges, but I am not sure we understand each other.



Sherman Dorn said...

[F]or all its talk of progressivism, blah blah, [the standard Ed School culture] strikes me as institutionally extremely conservative, even reactionary.

That's a wonderful insight and on the money: given the status issues involved in research-university ed schools, I have argued that ed schools will be among the last to promote non-refereed academic publishing.

For similar reasons, some education researchers who conduct extensive interviews and observations ("qualitative research") have at times claimed a parallel to psychology's concepts of reliability and validity instead of talking about the various warrants different disciplines have. Ouch: no historian or anthropologist in a college of arts and sciences has ever made such claims, as far as I'm aware.

And yet... and yet a college of education should provide the type of heterodox environment that can and should promote more interesting and influential scholarship where that environment sees the position as a matter of opportunity rather than hurdles to overcome and academic landmines to avoid. My advisor told me and my grad-school classmates that he had a better background to be a social historian from Harvard's GSE in the 1960s than he could have received in the history department. I probably have more leeway to talk about policy from inside an ed school... and I'm more rewarded for it right now... than I probably would be in an academic history department.

The education dean who can promote those opportunities and buffer faculty from the uber-Weberian status battles is the education dean who makes a difference.

Barbara Stengel said...

A.G.'s friend and Sherman are right about the reactionary culture in ed schools (a trip to AACTE will smack you in the face with that). And yet, there are marvelous, not-at-all reactionary deans around that folks love to work for and engage with. I'm thinking about Gary Fenstermacher when he was at Arizona and Ron Marx there now and Deborah Ball at Michigan (is that right?), Doug Simpson at TCU -- and I could think of lots more if I took the time.

I also know that there are folks with dean-like talent out there who don't want to do the job -- because it's almost undo-able. I plead guilty, Sherman apparently does, Ken seems to in his realm . . . and what about you A.G.?

Most of the best deans I know have a social foundations background -- or at least what I call a foundations sensibility. But you have to be multi-lingual, able to speak "quant" and "qual" and org-speak, etc.

My sense is that getting a good dean is something that can't be left to the chance of application because the folks who WANT the job often want to BE something rather than DO something. So A.G., my advice to you (if you're really not interested yourself :-) and to others looking for deans is to talk with colleagues about who you know who might be good and then get a group of folks to harass them (kindly) to apply. I think the only way to get really good people to take on this work is to ask them directly to apply. Most folks will only do this if they think SOMEBODY wants them; otherwise, why give up a tenured professorship to take on infinite headaches.

And look especially for somebody who is courageous and who really doesn't want/need the job. Because that's the kind of person who can stand up in the face of the incommensurable voices without being defensive . . and who can stand up in the face of ambiguous and or demeaning mandates from upper admin. (Think Lee Shulman with a bit more organizational edge :-)


Aaron Schutz said...

I think it depends on where you are. In my school, I'm not sure the Dean really matters that much when it comes to decisions about what counts as "academic" or not.

To add to the heterodox issue, our Ed Psych Department has a large section that has nothing at all to do with schools or education except in the broadest sense--they give degrees in counseling. There is a core group of faculty that deal with schools, and then a periphery of faculty that deal with adult education (mostly corporate stuff, as I understand it) and, in my school, community issues and non-profit work. This is getting even more complicated now that my Department has taken on non-licensure "child care" as a focus for BS degree completion.

I wish I knew how to extend this periphery in other schools of education, to get the field to look more at non-school stuff--especially community power issues. But the fact is that enrollment drives hiring, and the kind of community stuff my department does is probably too "radical" for most schools of education. This enrollment driven focus is probably what ended up turning social work departments into counseling departments.

I think if we want to shift schools of education, like I do (but almost certainly won't) then we need to change what our enrollment structure looks like. Which means we need to figure out how to leverage the departments we have and use them to create new programs that demand new kinds of faculty (maybe adult ed, where it exists, or ed studies programs?) The issue is not scholarship but students. As I've said before, I think this is what most foundations people don't get. Until they bring in their own students, they are in danger of elimination.

Dan and I talked a little about this at AESA, and I've been meaning to get back to that paper, but am mostly treading water at the moment.