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Delay in VSTC, CPS dean search could mean officials are altering job, experts say

Christopher Deering, the former senior associate dean and associate provost of CPS and VSTC, has served as interim dean since early this year.

The University has not yet launched a search for a new leader of the College of Professional Studies and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus nearly a year after the former dean stepped down.

Ali Eskandarian, the former dean of CPS and VSTC, stepped down from his position and went on sabbatical in the spring, and officials said they have not yet started looking for a new leader. Christopher Deering, the former senior associate dean and associate provost of the CPS and VSTC, has served as interim dean since Eskandarian’s departure – and experts said his extended tenure in the temporary role could mean officials are restructuring the position.

“The search for a new dean has not commenced while we continue to evaluate,” University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email. “University leadership has complete confidence in interim Dean Christopher Deering as a leader, and he will continue to oversee both units for the foreseeable future.”

Csellar declined to say whether CPS and VSTC faculty members will be involved in the search for the new dean. She also declined to say whether the new dean will serve both CPS and the VSTC, or if there would be one dean for each.

The Virginia campus – which sits approximately 30 miles from the Foggy Bottom Campus – houses the School of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and various programs in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the education, engineering and medical schools. The campus has struggled to find its identity in recent years, but students and faculty have said the addition of food trucks and renovations to the campus’ flagship building over the past year have helped establish a greater sense of community.

Natalie Houghtby-Haddon, the associate director for the Center for Excellence in Public Leadership and an assistant professor in CPS, said when the University launches its dean search, one dean will still be sufficient to serve both CPS and VSTC because the dean mainly oversees individual programs spread across multiple schools. She said faculty should not be concerned that the dean would have to oversee both academic programs and campus development projects because the latter would not fall under their job description.

“In terms of the programs that are there, they’re associated with either colleges or schools that are already happening so, in that sense, it’s a facilities question, not a dean’s question,” Houghtby-Haddon said. “One is fine.”

But experts said a delay in launching a dean search could mean a university is altering the position before finding a permanent replacement – like separating the position into two different jobs.

The University lost two other deans this year in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Science in July and August, respectively, but searches for both positions were launched last month.

Peter Lake, the director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said it would not be surprising if officials were having conversations about separating the dean roles. He said the reconstruction could make each role more efficient by not overloading one person with the duties of running both a school and a campus.

“Sometimes the hesitation to go looking for someone new or even make a decision on what kind of candidates you’re looking for is actually dependent on changes in the job description and the job duties,” Lake said.

Lake said any time there is a senior administrator change, the timeline is “very situational to the institution,” and the amount of time it takes to replace a dean is even more variant than selecting a new university president, which follows a more standardized search process.

“I would say there’s not a cookie-cutter approach to every single situation,” he said.

Lake added that a university might eventually look to the interim dean as a permanent leader because that person will have the most institutional knowledge specifically needed for the job.

Joseph Sullivan, a professor in the department of plant science and landscape architecture and the associate dean for academic programs and faculty affairs at the University of Maryland, said it is not uncommon for an interim dean to hold a position for an extended period of time.

“I can tell you that it is not uncommon and probably the norm to have an acting or interim dean in place for some time between deans as these searches tend to be rather slow,” he said in an email.

Jared Gans and Hannah Lewis contributed reporting.

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