Dean’s Disease

Bedeian’s article about the Dean’s Disease is quite a read.  In it, the author describes what the Dean’s Disease is, why it is the large problem that it is, and how it can possibly be stopped.  Two things are clear: the Dean’s Disease can be debilitating to a college; and Bedeian has had some pretty serious problems with university administration. Bedeian states that the Dean’s Disease occurs when all of the members of a college start to only go along with a Dean’s wishes.  He says this happens because deans possesses a large amount of power over faculty.  Deans influence their job advancement and security; as well as having direct influence over the privileges that individual faculty members may receive.

Bedeian believes that the large influence the dean of some colleges hold pushes faculty to get in line with their way of thinking.  An advantage to going along with the Dean is that these faculty find themselves in their Dean’s “inner circle”.  However, in order to get into, and remain in the inner circle, one must almost always agree with the things that the Dean thinks.  This can often lead to a pretty serious case of group think within a department.  Group think would be very damaging to an academic department becasue it would limit what the professors were able to teach; thereby limiting the quality of education offered at that school.  For example: if the Dean of a school of economics is a little more right wing in his leanings and believes in a strict free market based on the teachings of Adam Smith, than what are the chances that anything else will be taught?  Certainly under this type of academic dictatorship no one would think of issuing Keynes as required reading.  And quite frankly, an economics degree that comes without a thorough discussion of the philosophies of Keynes, is not really an economics degree at all.

Thankfully, Bedeian does offer some light at the end of the tunnel.  He believes that by making sure the college has long standing guidelines and restrictions of deans, than this disease may be curtailed.  The most important of these are that every school should establish values and encourage independent thought.  The former could possibly be seen as something that would lead to more severe Dean’s Disease if viewed in the wrong context.  If these values were ideological in nature, than the Keynes-less economics curriculum described above could come true. Instead these values should be taken to mean that a college should develop values in the way they conduct their research.  This will insure that the research done at the school is only of the highest quality.  This would eliminate group think as different researchers would be able to explore the topics they are truly passionate about, and come to unique conclusions.  Of course, the principle that will do the best to exterminate group think from overtaking a department is the notion that deans should encourage different opinions.  The great thoughts that are taught in the university were likely gleaned from intellectual conflict from long ago. It seems that knowing this would drive all institutions to declare diversity of thought as the status quo.  A status quo, that does not include the Dean’s Disease.

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