Response to Rosemary S. Keller's Plenary Address
Presentations at the 2001 Conference for Chief Academic Officers by Gary Riebe-Estrella, Vice President and Academic Dean, Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois
Thank you, Rosemary, for your emphasis on the vocation of the Dean and for the spiritual tone you have set for our gathering. Meeting the challenges of this complexity of responsibilities (doing the work, building relationships, forging a vision, having a life) certainly demands our reliance on God's grace more than on our own talents.
Particularly, I want to thank you for ushering us into what is perhaps for deans an all too rare moment, at least in my experience, a moment of self-reflection. In the multiple responsibilities of our vocation as deans, we're really the biblical Marthas of our institutions: we're busy about many, many things. Your invitation to change roles, to be Mary for a while, is a precious one. To take some time apart with colleagues to reflect on who I am as a dean and on what I am about is something I hope remains central to the work of the new Society of Chief Academic Officers which we'll be inaugurating during these days.
I've been asked by the organizers of these conference to pose some questions for our table discussion. Following Rosemary's lead, I would ask you to reflect on these questions from within yourself, not as a reaction to or an analysis of what she has said. Let this be a real exercise in self-reflection.
From all Rosemary has shared with us there arises a wealth of possibilities for framing some questions. I chosen to pose three.
In business, the saying is that success is determined by "location, location, location!" Being dean is not dissimilar. That is, how one understands one's vocation as a dean is highly contextual.
The first context is you, particularly your professional and personal life trajectory, where you think you're going with your talents and your dreams. Where do you locate your being dean on that trajectory? Is being dean a hiatus, a sort of "time out" in that trajectory which really points in some other direction and which has other goals? Is being dean, no matter how you were initially chosen, now something that you have chosen? Let me suggest that, though deaning is always a vocation as Rosemary has so clearly indicated, "how much of a vocation it is" and "how much of a vocation it is for you" may depend on how you understand its place in your own development. So, my first question is this: where do you locate your being dean on your professional and personal life trajectory?
The second context is your institution, which has its own peculiar ethos, a unique history, a particular constellation of internal relationships, a specific kind of connection to its denomination, a concrete social location. And, while each of these characteristics is important, some are more and others less important at this time in the life of your school. It's in this very particular institution and at this very particular moment of its history that you are dean, since, though we might wish it were so, there are no deans-in-the-abstract. So, the second question I will offer is this: given the particular coordinates of your school, how would you articulate your vocation as a dean, not as a dean in general, but as dean in this concrete context? That is, what does the concrete location of your school call you to as dean? Where are you being called to place emphases in your vocation as a dean?
The third context are the people within your institution. They are one of the most significant factors in your location as dean for, like it or not, they can often determine whether you achieve what you are called to as dean. So, my third question is this: who are your resources? who could be your resources? who are your stumbling blocks? how could you make those stumbling blocks into resources?
- where do you locate your being dean on your professional and personal life trajectory?
- given the particular coordinates of your school, how would you articulate your vocation as dean?
- who are your resources? who could be your resources? who are your stumbling blocks? how could you make those stumbling blocks into resources?
Your table discussion may go in an entirely different direction from that suggested by these questions. And that's fine. These are just possible discussion starters and I hope they might be at least minimally helpful.
© Gary Riebe-Estrella, 2000