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What is a University Dean?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A university dean is an administrator that heads a department, college, or even an entire school. The complete job description of a university dean may vary from school to school, but typically the dean performs administrative tasks, is able to hire or fire professors, interacts with students, and sets goals for the department as well as handling day-to-day running of the department, college, or university. A university dean is typically an experienced professor and is often hired from within the existing faculty.

There are many different ways in which a dean can be elected or hired for a university dean position. Often, the professors vote to elect one of their own faculty as dean. Deans can be hired by the university president or by the school board or board of governors. Although often a professor by trade, deans are highly valued for administrative and management abilities, and may spend little or no time in the classroom once elected.

At universities, there are often several deans, each in charge of a different area of the school. In addition to having deans of specific programs, such as a dean of engineering or a dean of the humanities department, there are often university dean positions available for those interested in a closer relationship with the students. Many universities have a dean of student affairs, who interacts with students and may be in charge of setting or recommending student policy and handling disciplinary matters.

A dean may be ultimately responsible for the performance of his or her department, and is often tasked with ensuring that his or her particular area remains consistent with the university standards. A university dean may have considerable say over the financial resources given to the college or discipline and may also be responsible for honors and scholarships granted to excelling students. Many colleges feature a Dean's List, which is a compendium of the names of the highest performing students based on grades. Being admitted to the Dean's List may grant outstanding students privileges, opportunities for grants and scholarships, or simply bragging rights.

In many countries, deans are a major part of the day-to-day and long-term running of a university. By having a single point person responsible for each college or department, university-wide meetings can be simplified and the needs of each department specifically addressed. By giving each department an administrative head that is deeply aware of the needs and desires of both the students and faculty involved in the discipline, clear programs and goals can be set to help continually improve both education and policy.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for Practical Adult Insights. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

Discussion Comments

By recapitulate — On Jan 12, 2011

@Many universities and college also have deans of different student groups, including for different class years and even university transfer students, many of whom might feel like they are part of a separate class year at first. These distinctions help the school function better than it might if one president or dean tried to do everything.

By hyrax53 — On Jan 09, 2011

Many colleges and universities employ a president in this position, with one or more deans fulfilling other tasks. For example, a school might have admissions deans who handle university acceptance and student life deans who handle housing.

Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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