Investigative paper #1: Dean of Students

The Dean of Students

The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education provides a framework and guidance for 28 functional areas in student affairs (Miller et al, 2003). One student affairs area that is not mentioned is the Dean of Students. Perhaps this area is not considered a functional area because of its lack of standardization. According to Komives, Woodard, and Associates, the Dean of Students “carries the burden of helping students while establishing and enforcing both community standards and institutional standards at the same time” (2003, p. 346). I chose the Dean of Students, specifically the role of the undergraduate Dean, as the focus of my functional paper because of the variety of responsibilities that fall within the purview of the position. Current research on the role of the Dean of Students is meager at best. It would be fascinating to find out how many colleges and universities have a Dean of Students. An online search for Dean of Students results in page after page of university web sites regarding their Dean of Students. Although the present day Dean of Students is rarely written about, I will attempt to enlighten myself and others by summarizing the vast history of the position, looking at possible job responsibilities, and highlighting competencies which are necessary to be a Dean of Students.


The origins of the Dean of Students are differentiated primarily by gender. Men became Deans of Men and Women became Deans of Women. According to Arthur Sandeen (2004), LeBaron Russell Briggs, the first “student dean” was appointed at Harvard College in 1890. Briggs was appointed by Harvard’s president, Charles Eliot. Eliot, in an effort to “manage his increasing work load” created a faculty dean and a student dean (Schwartz, 2001). Briggs’ success at Harvard inspired other colleges to create student dean positions. These early Deans of Men valued “personality as a part of the deans’ natural affinity for work with students” (Sandeen, 2004). Initially, Deans of Men did not champion graduate study, research, or publication (Sandeen, 2004). In an effort to dialogue with fellow Deans of Men, “Robert Rienow, the dean of men at the University of Iowa, wrote a letter to Thomas Arkle Clark, dean of men at the University of Illinois, suggesting a meeting that is now recognized as the founding of the NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education” (NASPA History).

Women started to make strides in the early 19 th century as Deans of Women began to emerge. In 1833 Oberlin College was “the first institution to establish such a position in the form of a lady principal” (Herdlein, 2004). According to Holmes, in a survey sent out to 55 institutions in 1911, “44 had deans of women or women serving in that capacity” (as cited in Herdlein, 2004). According to Schwartz, deans of women, "laid the foundation of professional practice for higher education administration and student services, including graduate study, development of professional associations, research on students, professional literature and journals, and professionalization of the position of dean of women….Most of the significant and well-established practices of higher education administration and student services that exist today were put in place through the work of the deans of women" (as cited in Tuttle, 2004). Contrasting the early behaviors of the Deans of Men, Deans of Women “encouraged graduate study” (Schwartz, 2001). They also “published their own academic journals, and even produced a book on the topic (women deans) in 1915” (Schwartz, 2001). Women deans developed what could be considered the precursor to NASPA when the Association of Collegiate Alumnae was formed in the 1880’s (Schwartz, 2001). Women deans were also responsible for the creation of regional professional associations (Schwartz, 2002). Student Affairs as a viable profession was a direct result of these early Dean of Students positions (Sandeen, 2004).

In the mid 1900’s, the title of Dean of Men/Women was being phased out. Tuttle explains that “the rise of psychology as a discipline…the influence of Progressive education, with its focus on the individual student…and the call for an organization based on function, not gender” all contributed to the demise of gender-oriented positions (2004). “Esther Lloyd-Jones…is credited with suggesting the name "dean of students" for the new administrator in charge of offices serving both female and male students” (Tuttle, 2004). The transition from gender specific deans, to the current Dean of Students title, is written about for both Deans of Men/Women. The transition was filled with turmoil and allegations of gender bias. Schwartz states that Deans of Men became upper level administrators while women deans “found themselves with fewer and fewer responsibilities and eventually, many simply retired, heart-broken and defeated” (2001).

Present Day

Unfortunately, the literature up to this point in time has focused primarily on the history of the Dean of Student. Present day iterations are nowhere to be found except in slight paragraphs. Komives et al states that the function of the dean of students is to “respond to students, faculty, and staff, parents, community members, and others concerned with student related issues or concerns that arise on campus” (2003). Deans of Students can be in charge of several of the functional student affairs areas. Because there is not a defined role for the Dean of Students, I will simply list several areas which a Dean of Students might oversee. I will also provide practical examples. When placed into a hierarchical model where the Dean of Students is in charge of student life, several CAS functional areas appear. Student Judicial/Conduct, Counseling, Health and Wellness, Orientation, Campus Activities, Career Services, Residence Life and LGBT Programs are a few of the possible areas within student affairs that a Dean of Students could oversee. This view does not take into account the increased managerial factors which occur when a Dean of Students is also a Vice President. Our in class discussions have touched on the many areas that Jackie Balzer as interim Dean of Students at OSU is in charge of. One can assume that a Dean of Students who is supervised by a vice president would act as a parental buffer for the VP.


It would seem that it is then necessary to establish competencies which can handle the pressures of dealing with multiple constituencies. Due to the non-categorical nature of the Dean of Students role, I have gathered a list of competencies based on Dean of Students job postings found on both the Chronicle of Higher Education and NASPA websites and from various Dean of Students websites. However, I believe it is not necessary to list all of these competencies because the Dean of Students is the quintessential generalist of the student affairs profession. Jackie Balzer has stated that she is part of a variety of student affairs associations and is connected to her peers via several listservs. Seemingly, a competent Dean of Students is an individual who has studied all of the functional areas of student affairs. Dean of Students are important because they can be called upon as campus wide resources of copious amounts of student affairs information. Stanford University gives us an example of the importance of finding the correct Dean of Students. Stanford University recently conducted a search for a new Dean of Students. The search lasted for almost a year. Stanford was so intent on hiring a competent dean that, after the first round of applications failed to produce a qualified candidate; they hired a search firm to find someone who was a perfect fit. What did Gregory Boardman have that made him the right candidate for the job? “He listens to students very well; he’s a great colleague and administrator. He’s a wonderful person and he has a good feel about him", said Stanford Vice Provost for Student Affairs Gene Awakuni (Stanford Report, 2004).

It is my hope that future time and energy will be devoted to understanding the present and future roles of the Dean of Students. Student Affairs professionals owe their professional existence to the men and women who were the Deans of Men/Women. Perhaps NASPA, ACPA, and/or CAS can be called upon to revitalize the study of this historically relevant position.


Delgado, R. (2004). Boardman jumps into role as new dean of students. Stanford
, .Retrieved Oct 19, 2004, from

Herdlein, R. J.J. (2004). Thyrsa Wealtheow Amos: the dean of deans. NASPA
, 41(2), 336-355.

Komives, S., Woodard, Jr., D., & associates. (2003). Student services:
a handbook for the profession
. 4th ed. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.

Miller, T. (Ed.). (2003). The book of professional standards for higher
. 3rd ed.

Washington , DC : Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, (n.d.). NASPA history.
retrieved Oct 19, 2004 , from About NASPA Web site:

Sandeen, A. (2004). Educating the whole student: the growing academic importance
of student affairs. Change, 36(3), 28-33.

Schwartz, R. A. (2001). The Disappearing Deans of Men — Where They Went
and Why: A Historical Perspective. Annual Meeting of the American Educational
Research Association. Seattle , Washington .

Schwartz, R. A.A. (2002). The rise and demise of deans of men. The Review
of Higher Education
, 26(2), 217-239.

Tuttle, K. (2004). The Historical Perspective of Women Administrators in
Higher Education. 2004 NASPA Alice Manicur Symposium.

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