Students worry as schools, colleges lack permanent deans

Florida A&M University has six vacant dean positions.

The number of dean positions and the time some of these positions have been open have some students wondering if the lack of a permanent dean in their college is normal.

Monique Underwood, a second-year pharmacy student, said that a permanent dean is imperative for communication from faculty to students.

“I think having a dean is important because it makes us more grounded,” said the 20-year-old Orlando native.

“If we keep having interim deans it’s not stable. It would make administration do better. That means students wouldn’t have a problem going to administration because they know that they’re (administration) is stable.”

David Gibson Jr., a 22-year-old MBA graduate student said that a dean is a necessity for any organization that needs leadership.

“With any organization, company or within this case, school, you must have a leader, especially with our institution,” said Gibson a West Palm Beach native. “If the school is lacking vision, you’re basically at a standstill. Eventually, if you don’t have vision at some point, you’re bound to deteriorate.”

Gibson said that the lack of a dean has been detrimental in some areas. He said that SBI needs someone who’s ambitious, possesses resources, connections and a desire to teach the realities of the corporate world.

“To be able to compete with all the top business schools we have to create a leveled playing field,” Gibson said.

Dean positions for two of the better-known colleges at FAMU have been open for some time.

The School of Business and Industry has not had an official dean since 2003 and the School of Pharmacy’s dean position has been open since 2004.

At FAMU, there are five open dean positions publicly advertised. The College of Education, the College of Law, the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the School of Business and Industry, and the School of Nursing all need a dean. 

Debra Austin, provost and vice-president of academic affairs, said that there are two more dean positions open.

“The positions of Dean of Arts and Sciences and Dean of CESTA have not yet been advertised. All (of the other dean) positions are filled, however, with qualified professionals in their field,” Austin said.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, explained that dean searches have a lot of factors that can determine the time it takes to find a suitable candidate.

Some factors are in the specifications. A number of universities may prefer someone who has had some faculty experience, administrative experience and who has a degree in the area they will supervise.

Wheelan said that there are also other factors can play a part in the amount of time it may take an institution to find a dean.

“It depends on the time of year. It depends on the qualifications you are seeking.

I’m not sure if there is a normal time (span),” Wheelan said.

Wheelan said all institutions are having difficulty filling all administration positions.

She said that historically black colleges and universities are not alone, adding that, “all institutions are finding it hard right now to recruit for faculty and administration jobs.”

Wheelan added that most institutions are looking for minorities to fill positions to make their campuses diverse.

This situation could have some strain upon an HBCU if they specify minority for a dean position.

On top of dean searches being competitive, certain colleges have a harder time finding deans.

“The more specialized areas are traditionally the more difficult positions to fill because there are fewer qualified candidates available. Fewer qualified candidates translate into tougher competition for those individuals,” Austin said.

Like many colleges, FAMU has sought out the help of a firm. The Hollins Group was hired by FAMU this year to assist with the dean search.

Florida State University and University of South Florida also have at least one dean opening. Lawrence G. Abele, FSU’s provost and vice-president of academic affairs, has used the firm option.

“For the past four searches, we have used a search firm. My experience is that search firms vary considerably in their quality, but a good one is a good investment,” said Abele.

“A good search firm should be able to find a good pool of candidates in any area, although Education and Nursing seem to take a little longer.”

If colleges do not want to use a firm, they can organize a search committee and advertise the jobs on Web sites like those of “The Chronicle of Higher Education” and “Diverse Issues in Higher Education,” which are geared toward providing information for post-graduate education.

Contact A’sia Horne-Smith at