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  • The Essential Academic Dean: A Practical Guide to College Leadership, and: Building the Academic Deanship: Strategies for Success
  • Mimi Wolverton
The Academic Deanship: Direction versus Reflection The Essential Academic Dean: A Practical Guide to College Leadership, by Jeffrey L. Buller. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. 448 pp. $40.00 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-470-18086-0.
Building the Academic Deanship: Strategies for Success, by Gary S. Krahenbuhl. Westport, CT: Ace/Praeger, 2004. 256 pp. $44.95 (cloth). ISBN: 0-275-98326-9.

Perspective and purpose dictate style and impact substance. Jeffrey L. Buller, in The Essential Dean, and Gary S. Krahenbuhl, in Building the Academic Deanship, write about the same topic—effective leadership. But their perspectives and purposes differ.

Buller’s faculty career and academic administrative experience as department chair, dean, and vice president for academic affairs derives from employment at a number of small, primarily undergraduate, private and public colleges and universities. In 2006, he moved to a research university as dean of its honors college. The Essential Dean is based on Buller’s multi-institution experience, consulting practice, and a series of workshops that he conducts nationally, including those offered by ACE for department chairs.

Krahenbuhl spent 30 years at one large, preeminent, public, research university. Before retiring in 2003, he served as department chair; more than ten years as dean of its college of liberal arts and sciences, which itself is larger than some of the institutions where Buller gained his experience; and finally as senior vice president and deputy provost. Krahenbuhl writes from the vantage point of his longevity at a single institution, consulting activities, and his interactions with other deans across the country in his role as a former president of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences and the Council of Arts and Sciences in Urban Universities.

Each author’s professional history influences the perspective he takes in examining academic leadership; and this perspective determines the purpose for writing the book. Buller’s directive approach reflects his experience on the workshop circuit where participants want answers. He authoritatively prescribes what deans must do to be effective and boldly derives a universal set of principles to which successful deans should subscribe. His purpose in writing The Essential Dean is to tell the reader how to be a dean.

In contrast, Krahenbuhl clearly states that Building the Academic Deanship is “not meant to be a book of how-to-do-it prescriptives.” He goes on to caution that in it he “conveys ideas, perspectives, principles, and practices that worked at one specific time in a specific setting.” His purpose for writing the book is to “help prepare the reader’s mind for effective academic leadership.” [End Page 354]

Purpose influences writing style, and style affects the reader. Buller is instructive, frequently commanding, and at times almost canonical in the presentation of his message. He directs the reader, telling “you” what to do. As the reader, I sensed that he knows what he’s talking about because he so firmly believes that he does. Indeed, Buller seems to come from a position of knowing what to do and a belief that the reader does not have the same advantage. Krahenbuhl makes no such assumption.

Instead, he distances himself from direct interaction with the reader (for example, he never uses the pronoun you, so readily employed by Buller). Krahenbuhl invites the reader to engage in a conversation about what might work. He sees his reader as a thoughtful colleague interested in thinking about new ideas. He reflects on his experience; and I, as the reader, came away convinced that he is not only knowledgeable but insightful as well.

Their professional experiences and purpose for writing also dictate the substance of the books. Both books cover a broad array of topics. Buller begins by asking about the type of dean you are or want to be, proceeds through a myriad of roles and concerns, and ends by suggesting what your career options are once you decide that you need a professional change. He suggests that vision and leading reform are key. He identifies dean constituent groups, briefly discussing interactions with and responsibilities for students, parents, faculty...


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