I spent a while trying to figure out what to call it when you stop being a dean. Have you been un-deaned or dis-deaned? At first I liked the latter, but once I realized that the former looks like undead (which is cool) and the latter sounds like disdained (which is not), the choice was clear. So here’s my big announcement:
This is my last year as an Academic Dean.
Some of you understand why this is a big deal, others are less certain, and quite a few stopped reading as soon as they saw the word “dean.” For those who are left, let me explain.
Some of you are also probably wondering what the opening picture has to do with being a dean. Answer: not much. But I liked the idea of a dean having the magic power to fling color from his fingers to splash paint on a drab world. Kind of like being a life vandal. Of course, being a dean is nothing like that, but that’s besides the point.
The 4 Legs of the Teaching Table
I have been teaching at a major American seminary for almost seven years now. And, like most, I got into it for three reasons: teaching, mentoring, and writing. Granted, you don’t have to be a seminary professor to do these things, but it does provide a really nice context for them.
Shortly after my journey into higher education began, though, it took an unexpected turn. What I didn’t realize was that there’s a fourth leg supporting the higher education table. It’s an important leg, but it’s the one that gets the least attention: administration.
Much to their chagrin, all faculty do some administration. Ask any professor and they’ll tell you all about how mjuch time they spend on grading, preparing syllabi, serving on committees, and other administrative duties. For many, it’s the bane of the academic life because it distracts from what they really want to be doing: teaching, mentoring, and writing.
Living in Deanland
But the administrative task goes beyond what the average faculty person does. That’s because someone has to administrate the faculty, helping them work together to accomplish the educational purposes of the school. At many schools, that’s the job of the Academic Dean. And, for the last five years, I’ve been the Academic Dean at Western Seminary.
Being an Academic Dean has been both amazing and frustrating. Amazing because it’s pressed me to reflect more deeply on what “quality” education looks like, what it means to be a good educator, and how you build and assess an educational institution. Serving at a seminary in particular forced me to think carefully about what it takes to prepare people for ministry in today’s world and the role that formal education can (and should) play in that process. These are incredibly difficult questions, but I’d like to believe that reflecting on them has made me a better educator. And it’s been a joy to wrestle through these questions with the faculty at Western Seminary, which I am firmly convinced is one of the best seminaries in the country.
But being an Academic Dean has also been frustrating because it’s very difficult to carry that level of administrative responsibility while still trying to teach, mentor, and write as much as you’d like. Something has to give if you’re going to be an effective administrator. Although I’ve worked with Western to find ways of balancing all four areas, and Western has been amazingly creative and supportive in helping me do this, the math is simple. If you’re going to do more administration, you have to do less of the other stuff. A successful Academic Dean finds a balance that works, willing to sacrifice a good chunk of teaching, mentoring, and writing for the joy that comes from investing in the administrative work necessary for creating an effective educational institution.
After five years, I’ve decided that it’s time for a new mix. A few months back, I notified Randy Roberts, president of Western Seminary, that this would be my last year as Academic Dean. It’s been a great five years, and I’ve grown to appreciate the importance of the administrative task in higher education, but I would like to spend the next season of my academic life focused more on the other three legs of the table.
To be clear, I’m not making this transition because of any problems at Western Seminary. Indeed, the seminary is doing amazingly well. Enrollment is at an all-time high, which is unusual for seminaries in today’s economic climate. The faculty is strong and committed to gospel-centered ministry. The senior leadership are doing an outstanding job, leading the seminary in all the right directions. And the quality of the people interested in training at Western seems to grow every year. We have our challenges, of course, but this is a great time for Western Seminary. If anything, the situation at Western tempts me to stay on as Academic Dean. But it’s time for something else.
And I’m happy to say that Western will continue to be well served by its next Academic Dean. Rob Wiggins, who has served as our registrar and Dean of Students for many years, will be stepping into his new role this summer. With his extensive knowledge of higher education and accreditation, as well as his strong commitment to Western’s vision and direction, Rob is the perfect candidate to lead Western’s faculty forward. I’m really pleased that he agreed to take the position, and I’m looking forward to seeing how God will be using him in this position in the years to come.
What do the “years to come” have in store for me? For that you will have to wait for the second part of this announcement.