Vacancy

Since Fall 2007, Marquette’s College of Arts & Sciences’ permanent dean chair has been empty. Four years, three interim deans and one national media debacle later, the search continues… 

At first glance, the Rev. Phillip Rossi isn’t a conformist. He sports a neck beard, just above his bow tie, and prefers tea over coffee. But then again, he doesn’t have a normal job description. These days, Rossi’s job is to make his position nice and cozy for the next person who steps in. And at this rate, who knows when that might be.

Rossi is Marquette’s interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and has been since fall 2010. He’s the college’s third person to hold the “interim” title since fall 2007. He is the third person who can’t be sure exactly when he or she will be asked to clean out his or her desk. He is the third person who might struggle to know the difference between an interim dean and a permanent one.

This year, Marquette’s Office of the Provost will launch its third search for the position.

The tumultuous journey for a new dean, which has at points unnerved students and faculty, and in one instance attracted national media attention, is one that nobody saw coming.

Mike McKinney stepped down as the College of Arts & Sciences dean in December 2007. He was retiring and shuffling the title cards, as is so often the case in academia. Position filling is all part of the routine. But since then, Marquette’s search to fill his seat has been anything but routine.

Jimmy Kozlowski was a junior in high school in the fall of 2007. He has been a student in the College of Arts & Sciences since fall 2009, he plans to graduate in spring 2013, and if all goes as planned, he will finish his four years at Marquette without ever having a permanent dean in his college.

“If a school can search for four years, and not have a dean,” Kozlowski said, “what does that show you about their ability to make decisions?”

Patrick Coffey, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, expressed similar concern over the lengthy search process.

“Being without a permanent dean hasn’t negatively affected me,” Coffey said. “But it hasn’t positively affected me … I think we’re missing out on an opportunity to shape a vision for the college.”

Coffey also expressed concern over the college’s ability to recruit quality Arts & Sciences faculty when potential candidates don’t know who will be the dean in two years.

Both Kozlowski and Coffey noted that the absence of a permanent dean doesn’t affect their day-to-day activities. However, it’s the long-term effects that are more impactful.

But as Kozlowski is also quick to point out, he and classmates would appreciate some answers.

“This entire year and my sophomore year, there was not even a search committee going on,” Kozlowski said. “Why is that?”

University Provost John Pauly answers that question with precision, as if it’s been asked to him a million times before.

Pauly, who is on the horizon of his sixth College of Arts & Sciences dean search (three as a faculty member and department chair at St. Louis University and two at Marquette), commented that a dean search always has common problems.

“There is such a range of disciplines in this college,” Pauly said. “So it makes it harder to find agreement on who should lead because people tend to come from one specific area or another. That’s why some of the search strategies used in other colleges don’t work here.”

Pauly also said the way academics may view a College of Arts & Sciences deanship adds complexities to finding a candidate.

“I think that Arts & Sciences deanships are thought of as steps along the road to higher administrations,” Pauly said. “So they don’t necessarily think about landing an Arts & Sciences job as the place where they finally want to be.”

But with challenges ahead, the search was on in fall 2008 for Pauly and company. And less than a year later, the search committee, comprised predominantly of faculty and overseen by Pauly’s office, arrived at its conclusion: there would be no conclusion.

“At that time, we decided that none of the candidates were the people we wanted to go with and we thought it was in the best interest of the university to end the search and assemble a different committee the following year,” Pauly said.

Fall 2009 looked very similar to the year before, with the task to fill the dean position. And as a new committee narrowed their list of finalists, a familiar face had emerged. Jodi O’Brien, who was a candidate in the previous year’s search, but withdrew for personal reasons, was offered the position in March 2010 and accepted a month later.

But on May 3, in an announcement that would attract national media attention as well as some student and faculty displeasure, O’Brien’s job offer was retracted by the university. Many students, faculty and media outlets pointed at O’Brien’s sexual orientation and scholarly work on homosexuality as the reason for the sudden and unexpected retraction.

“I think it absolutely makes the position less attractive to potential candidates,” Kozlowski said. “Why would people be tempted to interview for this position after what happened to Dr. O’Brien?”

However, Pauly said the 2010 unsuccessful search was no different than any other search breakdown and didn’t say he feels it has made the position any less desirable.

“All Professor O’Brien did was apply for a job with us and then everything else that happened were things we did or didn’t do,” Pauly said.

As for the College of Arts & Sciences students, Pauly said they should not be concerned over whether or not the college is being cared for.

But regardless of the care given to the position, former interim dean Jean Hossenlopp said the interim tag limits the dean’s effectiveness.

“When you’re in a temporary position, you don’t want to make major changes because you want to leave flexibility open,” Hossenlopp said. “You leave money and be a good steward of financial decisions. It delays making some types of decisions.”

Rossi agreed, saying he sees the interim tag as a “break in planning” for the college.

“It can really limit capacity for long range planning and limits capacity for making decisions that have an impact beyond the immediate future,” he said.

Chrissy Wabiszewski, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, also has concern over the college’s ability to progress.

“I think that having a permanent dean would bring more recognition and respectability to my college,” Wabiszewski said. “Not having a permanent dean certainly will affect the forward movement.”

And today, as the search goes on, faculty aren’t hiding similar concerns.

“In terms of long term programmatic development and emphasis at the college level, I think there is an impact and we can see an impact,” said Duane Swank, professor of political science. “A permanent dean can set an agenda on college development and with interim deans, that just doesn’t occur.”

Swank gave an example of setting up a new degree program as an area where the college may stall because of having an interim dean.

“A little bit of planning may go on with interim deans but it’s not going to be anywhere near the comprehensive range of the development of college programs, like a new degree program. At least it’s not going to proceed as fast or extensively as it would with a college dean,” Swank said. “That academic leader is a fundamental figure in shaping the agenda.”

Swank, who also serves as an academic adviser to about 20 students within the college, said despite the limitations of the current situation, one would be hard-pressed to find concrete negative effects on individual students, even the College of Arts & Sciences students who will graduate without ever having a permanent dean.

“Students might pick up on the interim term and think what might not be happening,” Swank said. “I really don’t think in terms of short and intermediate term types of activities and functions, students see anything or I can’t imagine any thinking that this is a negative
situation.”

James Holstein, a professor in the department of social and cultural sciences, agrees with Swank, saying the college has done a good job of adjusting to the unintended predicament.

“The people who have occupied interim positions have done an excellent job,” Holstein said.

Holstein also served as a faculty representative on the college’s first search committee in 2008. He said that after serving on a search committee, he assures students and faculty that the length of the current search process is not a result of inefficient practices.

“The people on this committee (first committee in 2008) worked very hard and diligently to screen candidates,” Holstein said. “It involved a lot of very capable people who work very hard and the process was very time consuming.”

Holstein said he ultimately felt the first search firm used by the university was not as helpful as it could have been and therefore was not able to recommend a candidate to the provost.

With the new president in place and the provost’s office in a position of stability, Marquette will launch its third search this spring.

“I remain optimistic,” Pauly said. “I’m in the business of helping us make good decisions and giving faculty and students what they need to do their best work, so appointing an effective and smart dean is really important.”

Fall 2013 will mark six years since McKinney stepped down as the College of Arts & Sciences’ last permanent dean.

“It’s a long time,” said Rossi, leaning back and thinking about the question he had just been asked.

“Hmmm, why has it taken so long?” he asks, repeating the question back to himself. His eyes start to wander as he thinks about the process in which he has been the center for the last two years.

“We live in a culture in which the value and importance of what goes on is neither seen very clearly nor appreciated,” Rossi said. “Think about it like a thirty second movie that’s perfectly done. But even though it’s only 30 seconds, the effort that went into that movie and the amount of time it took to make, was much longer than 30 seconds. These things take time.”

And the search goes on…