A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN ASSISTANT DEAN IN THE
COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Assistant deans provide academic support and oversight services in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. Because almost all College students are grouped into “Advising Associations” based on their first-year residence hall, we are known in local parlance as Association Deans. The exceptions are student athletes, Echols Scholars, Veterans and transfer students; these students do not live together but each group works with one or two deans (most Echols Scholars do live together but there are a handful of exceptions).
Responsible for the academic progress of the College's 11,000+ undergraduate students, we take great pride in the College’s outstanding graduation rate (roughly 88% in 4 years). The offices of the assistant deans are located in Monroe Hall. The assistant deans report to the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs, who in turn reports to the Dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. While we have regular contact with other offices such as the Dean of Students, Student Disability Access Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Housing/Residence Life, our primary focus is the academic success of the 800-1,200 students for whom each of us serves as academic dean.
We are committed to the academic success of our students, and we do so within the context of the College’s policies and standards. We are academic generalists with terminal degrees in our various disciplines. We teach in the liberal arts and sciences and we provide broad academic support services to students. At the same time each of us specializes in some discrete area of academic support. For example, one dean concentrates on intra-university transfers, another on disability accommodations, another on Summer Orientation, and so on. As assistant deans we do not make the rules; the Faculty do. We interpret the policies as fairly and consistently as possible, working collaboratively with each other and the faculty, while also representing the College to the students and their families.
The assistant deans have opportunities for promotion, sabbatical leave, and for professional development, but are in non-tenure track positions. Assistant deans are part of the General Faculty. All of the deans regularly teach classes (the teaching load is one class per academic year) and many of us write, participate in state and national organizations and programs, and sometimes take students abroad. We stay current in our disciplines and strive to teach new and innovative courses.
The initial appointment is for three years. The appointments are for full time (twelve-months) with 22 vacation days. Assistant deans receive the same benefits package standard as faculty in Arts and Sciences. They also vote at faculty meetings and participate actively in the professional and intellectual life of the College.
In our work, some activities happen every day, the best examples being:
- We hold daily office hours, meeting with students, usually for 15-minute appointments. Questions about all sorts of issues lend variety, challenge us, and educate us about the academic learning environment. Students ask about transferring credits, how to add, drop or withdraw from classes, academic majors, how to handle their course load when there is an emergency at home, where to go for help with non-academic problems, and so forth. The assistant deans function as primary support for academic guidance and as a resource to other administrators working in the University-wide general student support services.
- E-mail is our primary mode of communication with students who have quick questions about academic policies. Returning e-mails and phone calls in a timely fashion to faculty advisors, colleagues, parents and students is an important part of our daily routine. More and more, many of reach out and respond to students via texting.
- We stay current with paperwork, updating files, writing letters of support for student petitions, graduate schools, medical schools, law school, etc.
Other activities happen with varying degrees of frequency, some being:
- The assistant deans teach at least one course a year in their academic discipline. In addition, most of the assistant deans teach a COLA (College Advising Seminar). Thus, in the fall or spring semesters, an assistant dean may be in the classroom two or three times a week.The preparation for classes and reading papers happens on our own time. We try to make time during the week for professional development (research, teaching preparation, grant writing, etc.).
- The assistant deans all participate in the committee life of Arts and Sciences and the University community as a whole. Depending on interest and need, we participate actively (occasionally chairing) such committees as Financial Aid, Educational Policy, Orientation, ADA/504 Issues, ROTC, Admissions, Athletic Advisory Board, and the student-run Arts and Sciences Council.
The typical working day, generally from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., is often busy. Sometimes we arrive early and sometimes we stay late. Weekends, generally speaking, are free, except for Arrival Weekend in late August, Parents Weekend in October and commencement exercises in May. The assistant deans often participate in other University events such as Fall Blast, Spring Fling, as Faculty Fellows around Grounds, etc.
The professional life of an assistant dean is particularly well-suited for that person with a strong academic background, a lively and broad intellectual curiosity, a commitment to teaching in the broadest sense, and a readiness to advocate for the legitimate needs of all students. Those who seek a balance between considerable individual responsibility and collaborative work with the other deans and the Arts and Sciences faculty as a whole will thrive in this environment.