Default header image

Should deans teach? This fall I’m returning to the classroom and trying it out

One question I often get asked as Dean is whether I still teach. I started my term as Dean of the College in January 2018. There was no question of teaching that first term. No one even asked about it.

But the next year? I felt I was still very learning the ropes. Both Associate Deans were due for some research leave and we had some big staff shoes to fill due to departures from the Dean’s office. I was also still involved in the Canadian Philosophical Association (as President and then past President) and with Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, the open access journal I co-founded and co-edit. I decided to wait. While I was waiting, I canvassed some opinions from deans elsewhere and from past deans here.

On the one extreme, I heard from a dean who taught throughout his term. He said that it was important for deans to stay connected to the classroom, to undergraduate students. He felt you’d become disconnected from the main mission of the university if you stopped teaching. He said you need to be in the classroom to be able to relate to and be respected by faculty. (I feel that way about research and graduate student supervision and it’s hard to do all these things.)

On the other extreme, another dean said it would be selfish of me to teach. He thinks of teaching as an indulgence. It’s squandering the university’s money to put a dean in front of the classroom. It’s much more important, on his view, that deans spend time with donors and engaged in higher level strategic planning across the university. Lots of people can teach but there are more than 40 hours a week of things that only deans can do.

Also, it seemed of note, that none of the other deans across campus regularly teach undergraduates. In recent years only the Dean of the College of Arts has taught. Since I’m often in the position of reminding people that we in the arts and humanities aren’t just teachers, we also do research, that put me in a tough spot. I get it, but I also miss teaching. I really enjoy being in the classroom.

So here’s a compromise. I’m going to teach a graduate seminar in Philosophy on material that relates to my role as dean. It’s a seminar on the ethics and politics of high education. I’ve written in the area of campus climate, diversity, and equity issues. I’m also going to invite in guests from nearby universities and from across this campus. I’m looking forward to it.

The Ethics and Politics of Higher Education: Issues in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

We’ll explore questions about university life and governance in the context of contemporary moral and political theory, including feminist ethics. Topics to be covered include freedom of expression and academic freedom; ownership of research and open access publishing; excellence and equity as values; justice and calls to indigenize the university; universal design, disability and inclusion.

Wish me luck!

I looked for a photo of me teaching but the best I could find was this one on my former university’s website. There’s a funny back story. It’s a staged shot and the slides were originally all about Newton. I stood in front of the slides and told funny stories about my wedding. No more Newton now. A friend with better photo editing tools than me helped out.

Me, teaching!