The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 15, 2006

College Seeks Hirsch’s Replacement

The search for a permanent dean of the College to succeed Harry Hirsch has been postponed by at least a year in response to College President Nancy Dye’s announced retirement this week. An acting dean remains to be appointed.

“Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea to have a new president and a new dean come in at the same time,” said Steven Volk, professor of history. “That’s a lot of stress.”

Volk explained that a new president will require some continuity within the administration when he or she first takes up duties. After settling in a bit, the new president can enter into the process of initiating a search committee and then working with the committee to conduct a regular search for a permanent dean.

For the time being, Dye is responsible for appointing an acting dean with the “advice and concurrence of a special [elected] committee,” as is stated in the bylaws of Oberlin’s charter. The search for acting dean is generally less involved than that for permanent dean, as the acting dean typically comes from within the faculty.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the College faculty voted that the College Faculty Council may serve as the “special committee” to work with Dye in choosing an acting dean. The CFC is an already-elected executive branch of the College faculty that is chaired by the dean.

Volk, a member of CFC, said he imagines that the committee will sit down together within the next few days and decide on a few critical criteria for selecting a dean, the search tactics they will employ and a list of potential candidates. He added that the committee might decide to seek more input from the faculty.

“[The appointment of an acting dean] will be soon,” Dye speculated. “Probably a matter of a week.”

Until then, Provost Al MacKay is stepping in as dean pro tem at Dye’s request and will chair CFC. MacKay served as dean of The College of Arts and Sciences at Oberlin from 1984 to 1995.

“I’m really grateful to MacKay for [stepping in],” said Associate Dean Nicholas Jones. “It’s a very busy time.”

“[It’s] fine,” said MacKay. “I can do what needs to be done.”

He admitted that Dye’s resignation on top of Hirsch’s has created a “complicated environment.” He seemed confident, though, that everything would “manage to stay afloat okay.”

Jones had similar expectations.

“Frankly, I don’t think the impact on students will be very much. The Faculty Council is there to continue,” he said. “We lose some momentum in the longer term on initiatives that would start paying off in a year or two…but I have every faith that routine business is going to be conducted very well.”

Jones briefly described the duties of the dean and his relationship with CFC.

“The job of the dean is essentially to hire, support and develop the faculty. He or she is charged on a large level with the education of students in the college of arts and sciences,” said Jones.

The dean works closely with the head of each department, Jones explained, and presents personnel issues regarding tenure, promotions, replacement faculty and additions to faculty to CFC, when such decisions are called for.

“As chief academic officer, the dean stands in a critical position between the president and the faculty,” said Volk. “It’s a complicated job because he or she has to represent the faculty and be a part of the senior administrative team.

The dean also oversees the Educational Plans and Policies Committee, which is usually chaired by an associate dean, currently Jones. This faculty-student committee determines major and graduation requirements, and works with department chairs in developing curriculum and determines how classes get taught.

“[The] surprise, shock [and] the timing [of Hirsch’s resignation] has made it difficult but not impossible, to pursue some of the projects Harry and [Co-Associate Dean] Patty [deWinstanley] and I had put as priorities for the year,” said Jones.

One of these projects is the development of a teaching center for faculty development, which would host speakers and offer workshops and serve as a resource for all faculty members. Another project involves active attempts at recruiting more minorities to the faculty.


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