Deans get grades. How’d they do?

Though results are confidential, 90 percent were rated positively.

Graison Hensley Chapman

University of Minnesota students late to study for midterms can take comfort that theyâÄôre not the only ones under pressure. Their deans have to sit through an exam of sorts, too.

The results of the Comprehensive Review of Deans, presented to the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents on Thursday, were largely positive. Of the one-third of deans who were reviewed this year, 90 percent were given a satisfactory or positive rating.

But that data is not available to the public.

Despite their broad administrative charge, the personnel information of top-level University administrators is treated the same as all its employees under MinnesotaâÄôs Data Practices Act.

Thomas Fisher, the dean of the College of Design and a leader of the review process, said the confidentiality of the data is appropriate and that the process is sufficiently public.

“ItâÄôs public in the sense that thereâÄôs a very wide net cast in terms of soliciting input,” he said. He added that a dean can be fired at any time.

“A dean serves at the pleasure of the provost,” Fisher said. “There is accountability âÄî these review processes have real consequences.”

There is less recourse for public disagreements a student or staff or faculty member may have with their academic divisionâÄôs dean, be the issue personal or policy-related.

The UniversityâÄôs Office of Conflict Resolution resolves non-union workplace issues. If a conflict is not the result of a policy violation, there are no grounds for a grievance hearing, but there are informal options to address minor conflicts.

The conflict resolution office does not deal with many cases centered on administrative discretion or the personal way a dean handles the job.

Fisher offered one solution for bottom-up accountability: a vote of no confidence by an academic unitâÄôs faculty. But he said those were uncommon.

Agronomy and plant genetics professor Paul Porter said large issues between faculty and deans are uncommon, though they do arise. Smaller issues of unpopular administration are not infrequent.

“You can go to coffee and hear some grumblings here and there,” said Porter, who also serves on the Faculty SenateâÄôs Academic Freedom and Tenure committee.

Porter also said members of his committee sometimes receive anonymous letters expressing “disappointment” with actions by members of the committee, speculating that they may be administrators.

In line with the Data Practices Act, presenters âÄî human resources Chief of Staff Joe Kelly, Provost Tom Sullivan and Fisher âÄî offered scarce data apart from a bar graph comparing dean performance by percentage of the pool evaluated and a few quotes from the online survey.

Instead, they stressed the comprehensive nature of the reviews, which include two components: an online survey of faculty, staff and other University members and a standing committee, which uses the survey, among other information, to evaluate the dean.

The performance of each dean is also reviewed yearly in a process more data and metric driven, said Fisher, which is designed to complement the qualitative elements of the comprehensive survey.