August 29, 2007
Edwina Uehara, Dean, University of Washington
Edwina Uehara was initially what she calls "a reluctant administrator." She didn't come to the University of Washington School of Social Work 17 years ago in search of a deanship; she came to be a professor, a path she pursued with "great gusto," earning the university's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996. Two years later she was tapped to be associate dean of the School of Social Work -- and promptly fell in love with the job. In April of 2006 she became the school's dean, making her one of the university's highest-ranking academic officials. Today she manages a faculty of approximately 65 professors and lecturers, cultivates partnerships with key community leaders, spearheads fundraising efforts and oversees the school's almighty budget.
Q: How did you make the leap from professor to dean?
A: I started at the University of Washington as an assistant professor in 1990, and like all assistant professors, I started off teaching and carrying out my research. And then in 1998 I was asked to serve as associate dean of the School of Social Work. That associate deanship gave me the opportunity to gain confidence in my capacity for leadership. Then in 2001, at the request of then-president Dick McCormick, I served as acting dean for five months. And that was probably what did it for me. It was an incredible experience.
Networking tip for budding deans:
"Academia is a great place for networking. You can always get support from your peers and deans. Graduate students usually have a faculty mentor. They are great resources for helping you envision your career. If you think that you want to go [the dean route], there's no reason you shouldn't start getting advice and talking about it early on."
"When you get on a faculty, let your desires be known to your dean. Don't wait. Women and faculty of color, who don't have as long a history in academic leadership, should absolutely make their desires known."
Q: What's a typical day like for you?
A: I spend a huge chunk of my time looking at fundraising, development and partnerships. Yes, spending some time talking to people who may actually contribute money to the school. But in this day and age, the name of the game is partnerships. Deans are like CEOs, so there's a lot of feeling-out of possible collaborations.
The recruiting, retaining, promotion and tenuring -- the care and feeding of faculty -- takes 20 percent or so of my time. This includes meeting with individual faculty members to assess their professional development as well as looking forward to what their plans are for research and community service.
I spend a good chunk of time -- 20 percent or so -- looking at nitty-gritty things, too: budget, facilities planning, making sure that the whole place works. We also spend time as a board of deans and chancellors, so not only meeting with other deans across the university, but with the university president and the provost. I spend some time with students, too; I would like to spend more, doing brown bags.
Q: What's your favorite part of the job?
A: I love being able to collaborate with stakeholders to make the most of our resources. If I just had more money… if often boils down to that.
Q: What's your least favorite part?
A: Having to deliver bad news about the budget, and I have to do that often. You have creative, innovative faculty and staff and students who have 101 ideas about programs they would like to pursue, and I often have to say no.
Q: What project that you've spearheaded as dean are you most proud of?
A: The first year I was dean, we created Partners for Our Children, a partnership with the School of Social Work and the state's Department of Social and Health Services. The program puts the school and state and philanthropists together to solve the problems of the state's foster-care system.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to become a college or university dean?
A: Typically you have to have a doctorate in your field. Increasingly that's just how it is, especially at a major research university like University of Washington. Second, universities look for you to be a scholar and a teacher with an established reputation -- by publishing, and by reaching the rank of professor or something close to that. In other words, [deans in the making] are senior faculty members with a published track record.
They're also looking for administrative experience, that you've successfully provided leadership and management skills within an academic setting. Even as an assistant professor, start looking for opportunities to try out your leadership skills. There will be many, from chairing an ad hoc committee to chairing larger campuswide committees to chairing a department. Look for opportunities to direct an academic program -- like a bachelor's or honors program. Seek out opportunities to apply for an assistant dean position. And if you're tapped [for a dean position] at a time when you're not ready, don't be so quick to say no.
Q: What skills should a hopeful dean cultivate?
A: They're really looking for a wide range of skills here. They want you to have the capacity to help envision where your school should go, to plan strategically with a wide range of stakeholders -- not just faculty, but also donors, legislators, nonprofit agencies and businesses and the corporate sector. Universities are complex places, so they're looking for you to have skills to collaborate, negotiate, to manage conflict and to resolve sometimes competing interests.
Q: How competitive is it to get a dean appointment?
A: It's highly competitive, especially, again, at a place like University of Washington. You have to compete in a national search. There can be a large number of applicants and the process is very thorough. There are announcements nationally in academic publications, and there will be a committee at the university or perhaps one they've hired externally conducting the search.
So even if you've done everything right -- you have that doctorate and so forth -- it's not a guarantee that you'll be a dean at your own university. I was one of four finalists and I was the only internal candidate at the university and the only one local to the region.
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