Reflections and perspectives on aspiring to a deanship

Reflections and perspectives on aspiring to a deanship

July 10, 2022

The following blogpost was presented during the Annual Conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education in May, 2022.

Marianne Cormier, doyenne
Faculté des sciences de l’éducation
Université de Moncton

Je vous propose un exercice intéressant. Je vous invite à prendre une heure de votre temps pour écrire une lettre de présentation pour un poste de doyen ou doyenne. C’est en écrivant la mienne que j’ai compris que je voulais vraiment être doyenne.

J’étais professeure, et heureuse dans mon poste. Le doyen était dans la deuxième année de son mandat de cinq ans. Dans ce temps-là, je me disais… peut-être plus tard, mais pas maintenant. Alors, le doyen a obtenu un poste ailleurs. Le concours était ouvert. Quelques collègues m’ont encouragé à postuler. J’hésitais, je ne savais pas. Je n’y avais jamais pensé. Une amie m’a dit : Postule, si on t’offre le poste, tu décideras à ce moment-là. Pour postuler, j’ai commencé par écrire ma vision, mes motivations, mes valeurs… En les posant sur papier, j’ai compris que c’était un poste que je voulais obtenir.

Il n’y a pas de formation pour être doyenne, mais on peut apprendre beaucoup sur le fonctionnement de l’Université et on peut jouer des rôles de leadership pour se préparer. J’ai obtenu le poste de doyenne en 2014. À ce moment, j’étais professeure à l’Université de Moncton depuis 10 ans. Durant ce temps, j’avais été directrice de département (2 ans) et responsable du programme de doctorat (2 ans). Donc, j’avais joué des rôles de gestion académique. J’ai aussi siégé au Conseil de faculté pendant plusieurs années, d’abord au tout début de ma carrière comme secrétaire, ensuite comme représentante des professeurs et ensuite comme directrice de département. Ces expériences m’ont permis de bien comprendre le fonctionnement de l’Université et de développer mes compétences de leadership.

Here’s a story of my first day as a dean, the first day of classes. I put on my spiffy outfit and my new shoes. That day, I was also a very proud Mom, my daughter was starting university.  Filled with ambition, I drove her, her friend Eugénie and myself to our first day in our new roles.

That morning, I was given the keys to the dean’s office… as of then, my office…  and the master key of the building. “Don’t lose it!” I was firmly told. I sat and I glanced at trolleys full of my books and stuff and the empty shelves … I was very nervous. “Take a breath,” I told myself. “This is going to go well.”

“It starts right away,” said my administrative assistant… “The vice-president wants to see you at 3 pm, he says it’s an emergency.”

“Ok,” I said. And then whispered… “wow!” Again, I took a breath and decided to start organizing my office. “One thing at time,” I said.

Right about then, Eugénie came to the office. “I forgot my lunch in your car,” she said, “can I drop my bag in your trunk?” My hands were grasping the keychain, my keychain, tightly. I should walk out with her. I can’t lose the master key.

Stop being silly, Marianne. Give her the keys, nothing is going to happen. Instants later, keys were dropped on my unorganised, cluttered desk.

All day, people dropped by to say hi, to check in, to welcome me to the new office, to the new position. Jean-Marie, a lecturer who has a decorative flair, said I should move my desk and buy a few plants. He took pen and paper and designed a floor plan. The day flew by.

The vice-president’s office was all the way across campus. My feet were hurting in my new shoes. At fifteen to three, I pushed the button on the key to unlock my Volkswagen… nothing, no beep, no lights. I pushed again, and again…  nothing was happening. Why? How? Then I realized… those weren’t my keys. Eugénie also drives a Volkswagen! Oh God! I ran. Up the hill… in my new uncomfortable shoes, while calling my daughter to tell her to find Eugénie and my keys.

I walked in, limping on blisters, a couple of minutes late, face deep red from running, shiny from sweat.

“Hi,” he said. “You have a problem. Your new hire from France doesn’t have a visa and can’t come to Canada. Classes start today. I think we should revoke his contract. What do you suggest?”

There’s a no-show faculty? Whoa…  I had no idea. “Let me consult my team,” I replied. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”

I called my daughter as I left his office.

“Well,” she said, “maybe they’re in the bag that she put in the trunk.”

I finally made it to my office and showed the set of keys I had to my admin assistant.

Look, Marianne. Whoever owns those keys works here. And you know, I would have driven you.”

“Who drives a Volkswagen? Jean-Marie”… he put his keys down when he drew out the office plan…

“He’s teaching right now,” said my assistant.

I walked over to his classroom, and there were my keys, on the table, next to him.

He spotted me at the door… “The new Dean came to say hi! This is wonderful,” he said.

I walked in, took a breath, and welcomed the new students to our faculty as I, discreetly, switched the sets of keys.

Here are my take aways

Be prepared for plot twists, for surprises, and for the unexpected. Take it in stride and savour the excitement. But also know to focus on one problem at a time, because that is all your mind can do. When the vice-president is talking about a contract, put aside the key problem.

You will not have all the answers. That’s okay. Make sure you consult and take time to gather the information you need. When I got over the key panic, I talked to my team and they found a special program for visas which allowed us to save the contract, and the session.

Respect the wisdom of staff (they know so much, including having knowledge about whose keys you may have), and don’t hesitate to ask for help (It may save you some pain, emotional or physical… such as painful blisters).

Go talk to and greet students. They are the reason we do the work we do. You don’t need a key mishap to go talk to them, or to feed on their energy to drive your work and passion forward.

Fancy shoes are not always a good idea…

Most importantly, remember to breathe.