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External candidates tapped for deanships

James Coller/Daily
President-elect Mark Schlissel, who spoke at Thursday's regents meeting, will work closely with newly appointed deans. Buy this photo

By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 17, 2014

At their monthly meeting Thursday afternoon, the University’s Board of Regents confirmed the appointment of Andrew Martin, current vice dean of the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, as the next dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

Martin was one of two dean appointments approved Thursday. James Dalton, a former professor at The Ohio State University who most recently led research and development at a Memphis pharmaceutical company, was selected to head the University’s College of Pharmacy.

Whereas dean selections frequently come from within the institution, both of Thursday’s selections were external hires.

History Prof. Terrence McDonald, director of the Bentley Historical Library and former LSA dean, said there are benefits and drawbacks of an external appointment like Martin.

“The widely thought benefit of an external person is that they come from a different context and may have ideas that come out of that context,” McDonald said.

“Therefore some people would argue that you have a chance of a fresh look when you bring somebody from the outside. The contrary argument is that there is a terribly steep learning curve from someone who comes from the outside. Inside people ironically know how to get things done as well. So I don't think that necessarily either kind person is necessarily going to be better than the other.”

McDonald, who served as dean for a decade and has been at the University since 1980, stepped down in 2012 to direct the Bentley Historical Library. He was replaced by LSA interim dean Susan Gelman, a professor of psychology at the University.

Martin’s term officially begins July 1 of this year, and comes with a tenured professorship in the Political Science department.

Martin was among a pool of international candidates that the University was vetting for the position. University Provost Martha Pollack said his academic resume and collaborative skills made his external background easier to ignore.

“There was a predisposition amongst a lot of the LSA faculty to say, ‘We don’t want someone from the outside’,” Pollack said. “But when they met Martin, there was very positive feedback about him. I think he’ll fit in wonderfully.”

On the cusp of a presidential transition, a number of administrators have been leaving for other schools or stepping down from their roles to engage in other pursuits, and the University is trending toward replacing them with faculty from other universities instead of promoting current faculty.

At the University, deans propose the budgets for their academic units and play a significant role in setting a vision and culture in the schools and at the University at large. Deanships have also been stepping stones to other University leadership positions. Before becoming provost, Pollack was dean of the School of Information.

Still, McDonald was quick to warn about viewing such hiring as a long-term trend.

“It’s very hard to say that there is a trend in these things because you're working with a certain pool, and so every dean search is run by a search committee,” McDonald said. “There may be times when there’s a lot of internal people, and there may be time when there’s a lot of external people, but I find that to be more connected to the components of the pool than to some kind of trend you know for example, the provost and the president decided we should get more outside deans.”

Out of the current deans, including Dalton and Martin, 10 were external candidates and nine were internal hires. Seven of the 12 appointments since 2008 were selected from outside institutions.

For comparison, former University President James Duderstadt, who served from 1988 to 1996, said 13 were inside hires and three were from the outside.

Additionally, Duderstadt said seven more deans will approach the end of their 10-year tenure by the end of 2017.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily Thursday, Martin said he was confident that he would find his footing.

“This is a very, very complicated University,” Martin said. “LSA is a very complicated and large school. So it will take me some time to get up to speed and learn the organization. One of the things I’m very grateful for is the terrific group of people in LSA now who will be helping me through this transition process.