Deans are more than just university administrators who oversee the daily operations of a school; they are also the face of the institution and in charge of maintaining its demeanor.
A great dean should not only be held accountable for the school’s infrastructure and decisions, but also the communication with the student body.
In a time when universities weigh the disparities of digital and in-person learning, strong communication is more important than ever.
A college’s dean must effectively and efficiently inform students and parents of how the university is responding to new developments, and they must be prepared to answer tough questions and face potential criticism.
Many deans have taken these challenges and run with them, establishing new and creative ways to communicate with students.
By taking advantage of social media platforms and other methods of communication these administrators have been able to foster positive community relations and create a more transparent leadership structure.
Check out these deans and how they’ve been working with students.
Deans Communicating Through Their Books
Eric J. Furda, Dean of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Jacques Steinberg, education writer for the New York Times, explores the complex nature of organizing the college application process in The College Conversation:A Practical Companion for parents to Guide Their Children Along the Path to Higher Education.
The book provides insights for both parents and students and capitalizes on the experiences of these two experts to demystify admissions.
Dean Furda explores the rapidly changing world of higher education, and details the steps involved in choosing a college, applying for financial aid, and writing a compelling essay. Keeping in mind both mental and emotional investments, Furda explains what families can expect from the process and and how both students and parents can adjust to the changes, with relatively little stress.
It is refreshing to see a dean encouraging families to consider the impact that a four-year study would have on their finances and careers, and while he comes out in favor of higher education, Dean Furda explores the nuances that most deans would rather avoid.
Graeme Harper, Dean of the Honors College at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, has written a book that communicates with his students, not by discussing the current state of higher education, but by discussing something he is passionate about: creative writing.
His book, Discovering Creative Writing, can be looked upon as a resource on how to improve one’s writing skills, from beginning to end, but it also offers a glimpse into an aspect of a dean’s personality that most students wouldn’t ordinarily get to see.
Deans Using Social Media and Blogs to Keep in Touch With Students
While writing a comprehensive book can give a detailed overview of the college experience, individual blogs have the advantage of providing real-time updates and responding directly to questions and concerns from the university’s community.
Many deans have used both personal websites and their universities’ pages as a means to disperse information.
Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Georgia Tech, runs an admissions blog that provides advice about applications in a conversational manner.
Clark has shared with his audience his own personal experiences during quarantine, and hosted podcast episodes with other faculty members about topics such as testing, early action, GPAs, and college essays.
A sense of humor and friendly attitude will work to break down any stereotypes that students may have about unapproachable deans.
Because Dean Clark exhibits both of these in his blog, he has amassed an audience of students keen to hear his advice.
Tulane University’s Jeff Schiffman has also found ways to deliver personalized lessons with a blog that answers common questions about admissions.
Schiffman’s many posts cover topics like 5 tips for the first 5 weeks of college, suggested application dates, and insights on activities and events close to campus.
Links to clips and quotes from other campus leaders are also provided by Dean Schiffman, in order to provide a well-rounded perspective.
Deans Using Podcasts to Provide Different Options for Listeners
Blogs are a great way to adapt and adjust to feedback, but podcasts have the advantage of providing information to students or parents while they’re on the go.
Not only does hearing a dean’s voice on a podcast provide a personal touch that can be missing with the written word, but it gives an option to multitasking listeners who need time to focus on other activities.
Several deans have used podcast formats to provide updates and bring in guest perspectives.
On The Buddle Hustle, McGill University’s Dean of Students Chris Buddle brings in students and faculty on a weekly basis to discuss a wide-ranging array of topics, including campus news, current events, and advice segments.
Buddle aims to share his own perspective and experiences while also listening to the community, and although he is known for his “dad jokes,” he’s also been able to hold powerful conversations about community relations, mental health stigmas, and financial pressures.
The positive response encouraged Buddle to continue his series into a second season.
Podcasts have also been utilized as a means to provide more traditional news coverage that is targeted specifically towards the student body.
At UC Davis, Dean Allison Brashear of the School of Medicine and Dean Michael D. Lairmore of the School of Veterinary Medicine provides all the health updates that students should be aware of, as well as their professional opinions on precautions to take.
The COVID-19 focused podcast series examines the scientific history of the pandemic and explores the research and public policies involved.
Deans Collaborated for an Open Letter About Moral Values During the Pandemic
Although individual correspondences have helped deans to target their communities, an open letter by over 300 deans has combined standardized practices and values for students and parents to consider.
The statement, released by the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, addresses many of the common anxieties regarding the future of higher education and summarizes them in a formal address.
The open letter encourages students to prioritize their self-care and care for their families, and gives advice on how to continue engaging in community service and extracurricular activities.
Also addressed are the obstacles students face in their academics, and “no student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak” is emphatically stated.
Empathy is encouraged as the letter aims to provide comfort to students who want their questions answered.
Recognizing that this is an unprecedented time for everyone, the open letter aims to engage with students’ priorities and reinforce to them that schools are listening.
It is encouraging to see that university leaders are becoming more attuned to the needs and frailties of their student bodies. This outreach and expression of awareness is necessary under normal circumstances, but even more so during these very uncertain times.
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