Skip to main content
Office of the Provost

August 31, 2017

Searches for new deans are progressing

Jerry Baldasty

Leadership, I have long believed, isn’t about titles, business suits or conference tables. To be a leader, one does not need a formal title – such as dean, chair or doctor. Nor does a leader need to don a business suit every day. And, leaders don’t sit at the head of a conference table, giving instructions to everyone else in the room.

What makes a good leader? First, it’s someone who engages others in defining problems and solutions. That frequently means tackling issues with a team approach, and recognizing – and seriously considering – the expertise and good ideas of others.

Second, a good leader listens – really listens – to the ideas and advice of others. That means not just pausing until you can talk again, but absorbing what others are saying, really thinking about it and often asking questions to get a deeper understanding.

Third, listening produces shared decision-making, which results in a richer pool of ideas and greater buy-in – all of which enhances the chances for success. This adds up to my definition of collaborative leadership.

Over the years, I have learned that including others in decision-making routinely provides richer array of options and ideas than if I were operating all on my own. For example, when I was dean of the Graduate School I suppose I could have just told people what to do.

But I quickly discovered that I had a remarkably smart, thoughtful and creative team with expertise in a wide variety of areas, including technology solutions, academic and student services, diversity, fiscal management and communication. Furthermore, they shared a sophisticated sense of – and passion for – graduate and professional education. Relying on this diverse pool of expertise consistently produced, in my view, decisions that served the University well – and were far better than anything I could have thought of all on my own.

This experience guides me in much of what I do, and especially as we search this year for three new deans (School of Law, School of Public Health and College of Built Environments) and an interim dean (Graduate School). These searches really matter. An excellent dean helps to create a dynamic environment by engaging faculty, students, staff and alumni. And that is what enhances academic excellence within a school or college.

So, what qualities and experience do we look for in a dean?

Obviously, the first criterion for me is collaborative leadership. This can be tricky because no one says collaboration is a bad idea. But we need to find someone who not only says it’s important, but has a record that illustrates that, either here at the UW or at another institution. That’s the reason we ask candidates to give examples of their leadership experiences.

At least two other attributes help to define a successful dean. First, within their own schools or colleges, deans must demonstrate their academic vision, commitment to diversity and strong financial responsibility. Second, very successful deans must be able to take on a much broader responsibility for the University that includes and transcends their own schools or colleges.

At the UW, we are fortunate to have many good deans. To name just a few: Sandra Archibald of the School of Public Policy and Governance, Lisa Graumlich of the College of the Environment and Sean Sullivan of the School of Pharmacy. They are successfully leading their schools and colleges and, at the same time, they are contributing significantly to the University’s work in a variety of ways, such as creating University-wide faculty leadership programs, chairing the Board of Deans and Chancellors, addressing knotty issues such as activity-based budgeting or leading important leadership searches this year.

As I’ve outlined here, these searches are extremely important. And for them to be truly successful, we need your input. You may follow the progress of these searches here, and I encourage you to give your advice to our search committees.

Provost — provostsearch@uw.edu

School of Public Health — uwsphsearch@uw.edu

College of Built Environments — uwcbesearch@uw.edu

School of Law — uwlawsearch@uw.edu

Graduate School — uwgradsearch@uw.edu