An academic dean is an educational administrator who serves as the head of a school within a college or university. Academic deans provide vision and direction to their school. They are responsible for guiding and directing the school's faculty, and they represent the school, its students, and its faculty to the campus as a whole.
In most institutions, academic deans answer to a vice president or provost, although in some schools a dean might work directly under the president. Academic deans are generally in charge of department chairs and faculty. An academic dean is typically assisted by associate and assistant deans and support staff who work in areas such as outreach, development, and student services.
The role of an academic dean is different from that of a dean of students. The dean of students serves as a liaison between students and faculty, and might also have a hand in student services. An academic dean does not interact as much with students except in class, and occasionally in an advisory capacity to student groups or as an adjudicator in cases of academic misconduct.
Academic deans are responsible for the school's budget. They set policies and procedures for the school as a whole and for its departments. They make decisions regarding the number and type of personnel in a school, and take the lead in hiring new faculty. Many deans mentor faculty who are going through the tenure process.
An academic dean, especially an associate or assistant dean, might lead fundraising efforts for the school. Deans nearly always serve on multiple committees across campus, and often in the outside community. They might participate in outreach activities and build relationships with local businesses and agencies.
In addition to administrative duties, most deans are expected to teach at least one class each semester. By the time most individuals are appointed to a deanship, they are already tenured, but they might still be expected to research and publish. Some deans change the focus of their research and publishing to more administrative topics, or change their role in research to a supervisory one.
Nearly all academic deans in colleges and universities have earned the terminal degree — usually a doctorate — in their fields and have taught for many years at the college level. At some schools and in some fields, a master's degree is acceptable for a dean. Most have earned tenure through a years-long process that includes teaching, researching, publishing, serving on committees and boards, and being evaluated regularly by their peers and administrators. They are often appointed from within the ranks of the faculty, but might be hired directly.