Early departure of deans is nothing new at NU

Becky Bowman

When School of Music Dean Bernard Dobroski announced his plans to retire after the 2002-03 school year Wednesday, he became the latest of several Northwestern deans who have chosen to step down but not to leave the university in the last four years.

Since the senior class began its time at NU, six out of 10 dean positions have changed hands, but only two deans – Weinberg College of Arts Sciences Dean Eric Sundquist and School of Continuing Studies Dean Richard Lorenzen – have chosen to leave NU.

The rapid succession of dean departures and searches is not a problem, Provost Lawrence Dumas told The Daily in an e-mail Friday.

“The average length of service of presidents, provosts and deans at complex American universities like ours is approximately five years,” Dumas said. “Our overall average is a bit higher than the national average for universities like ours.”

Administrators do not expect deans to last forever, said John Margolis, associate provost for faculty affairs.

“A deanship is an enormously taxing position, and it’s entirely understandable that a person would want to yield the deanship and enjoy a greater margin in his or her life,” he said.

Margolis said university officials do not place a large emphasis on how long deans will be able to serve when conducting searches.

“The university hopes that a dean will serve at least five years or so,” he said. “But there is a great deal of flexibility in such matters.”

But longevity in a dean’s role can have benefits – Dobroski said he will be able to continue seeking funds for a new Music building because of his relationship with the school’s supporters.

“I can still help a lot because I get along with alumni,” he said. “I can tell the story of NU in ways that are special.”

Dobroski said traveling to raise funds for the School of Music has prevented him from being on campus more than 50 percent of the time. Although fund raising takes up time that could be spent working with students, he said obtaining money for a school is an important part of a dean’s role.

“I can’t deny that it’s something I’ve been good at,” he said. “You need an agent. I’m the agent.”

Former Kellogg Graduate School of Management Dean Donald Jacobs also said fund raising was a necessary part of any dean’s job.

“The truth of the matter is, it was always an important function – period,” Jacobs said. “You ought to do everything that is important, because you want to do it better than anybody else in the country is doing it.”

Stepping out of the dean role will allow Dobroski to pursue the school’s dream of a new building but also will give him the chance to work with students.

“It was not too many years ago that I was the undergraduate dean,” he said. “I knew every student by name. I knew their brothers and their sisters and their moms and their dads. I miss that.”

Former Medill School of Journalism Dean Ken Bode has remained at the school to teach and to continue hosting the Crain lecture series.

“Medill’s a wonderful school, but I wasn’t teaching any students,” Bode said.

Deans who stay said they also do so out of loyalty to their schools.

Jacobs, who has been at NU since 1957, served as dean for 26 years. He said that although he took the deanship reluctantly, he was happy to continue in it after he got started.

Jacobs resigned as dean in 2000 but remains at NU, teaching a full load of courses each quarter, traveling to Kellogg’s alliance schools and working on the creation of the Zell Center for Risk Research.

“I’ve been here so long that I think if I left it would be a scandal,” he said. “I’m so associated with the place that I couldn’t go anywhere else.”