Reflections and perspectives on aspiring to a deanship: A lived experience

Reflections and perspectives on aspiring to a deanship: A lived experience

Blogpost by Dr. Karen Ragoonaden

May 30, 2022


After seeing five deans revolve in and out of my faculty during my tenure-track period, I remember wondering about the sustainability of this administrative role. Ten years later, after an active recruitment process from another university, I decided to embrace the opportunity to lead a Faculty of Education.  By that time, I had successfully completed a variety of administrative roles, understood the impact of strong, visionary leadership and the importance of a solid team steeped in respect and reciprocity.

Leaving my home campus, I was looking forward to learning about a new environment and working with  determined colleagues, ready to embrace change.  Prior to my arrival, I appointed two Associate Deans and in consultation with the Associate Vice-President Indigenous, initiated a new position, Associate Dean, Indigenous Education. What I had not considered was the complexity of managing non-academic staff. I soon came to rely on the Faculty’s Human Resources Manager to guide me through the myriad of reviews, departures, and leaves of professional staff.

I completed my first full year remotely meeting faculty and staff online. During the summer months, outdoor meetings provided occasions to connect and to strengthen relationships.  My greatest joy was working with tenure-track faculty, getting to know their journeys, their aspirations and their hopes. I learnt about institutional history from professional staff and mid to late career faculty who traced the history of programs within an arc of time, of place and of context.

During those first months, my faculty weathered the remnants of the pandemic, remote teaching and learning, a six week strike and a highly contentious return to campus. And, we all learnt far too much about HVAC systems!

Despite these challenging contexts, we persevered, survived and continued on with our work knowing that our students’ futures relied on programmatic cohesion and delivery. To build community in our faculty, we implemented a robust communications plan. With the support of the Provost’s office, we engaged in program reviews to initiate change that reflected our globalized hiatus as we weathered the storm of the pandemic. My team and I delivered dynamic speaker series inviting colleagues from across the nation and across the province to share, to meet and to exchange. We heard from Canada Research Chairs, District Principals in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Indigenous scholars who urged us to question, to examine and to interrogate taken for granted assumptions about ourselves, about education and our relationships to the society we lived in. We held lunch hour community building get-togethers, especially for new colleagues to the faculty, to the province and in some cases, to the country.

In spring, as the pandemic lessened its grip, we organized in-person conferences and talks, on and off campus, bringing together our community from far and wide. As we approached our in-person convocation, we celebrated the distinctions and awards of our faculty, staff and students.

As I reflect on who is and who is not being invited to apply for a deanship, I recognize that listening, learning, unlearning, re-learning,  pausing, reflecting, relationships, connections, and respect are all vital considerations. Along with strength of character, a good dose of emotional maturity coupled with the ability to respond instead of reacting are considerable assets for a potential deanship.

On a last note, I began my year gathering with new Dean friends on campus, taking turns meeting at one another’s office. We shared, we laughed, we shook our heads at the challenges, the rewards, the misunderstandings, the slights, and the accolades. We recognized our own journey as faculty rising through the administrative ranks and knowing, that in some cases, we would be re-joining our colleagues in faculty positions. We were grateful for the mentorship provided by our institution in the form of mentors and coaches. I was especially grateful for ACDE and the many opportunities provided to gather with other deans, to present at conferences and to share our stories. These experiences were invaluable.

While the face of leadership is changing and heading into non-traditional directions, let’s remember that leadership styles, professional relationships and mentorship initiatives need to mirror this transformative process. Policies and processes need to align with a re-configured approach to the diversity of leadership providing much-needed support to those courageous few who head down this path.