Archive for Saturday, August 25, 2007

KU needs to find dean who can build on School of Fine Arts

August 25, 2007


The announcement earlier this week that Steve Hedden is stepping down as dean of the Kansas University School of Fine Arts is sure to have come as a surprise and disappointment to his many friends.

Hedden took over the deanship in 2003 and was about to undergo his five-year review, as all KU deans must.

Whether Hedden voluntarily resigned in order to spend fulltime as a teacher or he was "encouraged" to resign is known only by the retiring dean and a few others. Is this the work of KU Provost Richard Lariviere who told some at KU to expect numerous changes on Mount Oread?

Whatever the case, Hedden should be thanked for his service and his efforts to improve the school, and sent best wishes in his teaching career.

Now, the No. 1 task is to give KU every chance of attracting and securing the services and vision of a new dean who can build a truly outstanding School of Fine Arts.

There are many questions:

  • Just how important is the School of Fine Arts in the minds of those controlling KU?
  • What priority is the School of Fine Arts given on Mount Oread?
  • Who decides what kind of person KU wants? The chancellor, the provost or department chairs and other faculty members?
  • What role do alumni play in the selection process for a new dean?
  • What skills will be important in the eyes of those determining who should be dean?
  • How important is a dean's ability to raise money? Should the new dean be recognized as a superb, skilled instrumental musician; an artist; a sculptor; a person with an excellent record in dance; or possibly a person recognized for his or her knowledge of choral music or, perhaps, design?
  • Is building strong alumni support important? How about excellence in recruiting superior students and distinguished faculty members? What makes a great dean of a school of fine arts?

Obviously, the chancellor, provost, members of the Board of Regents and the overall university community must have the genuine desire to achieve excellence. Are they willing to "pay the price" rather than just say nice-sounding words?

Perhaps one of the most important factors is how the selection committee is formed. The types of individuals chosen for this committee set the tone and importance of this search process. A weak selection committee is likely to result in a poor search and weak list of final candidates.

A university doesn't have too many opportunities to fill dean positions. True, it is almost easier to get rid of a dean than it is to shed a faculty member. Nevertheless, when an opening for a deanship occurs, it is so important the search process is thorough in every respect. There is reason to wonder just how thorough various search processes have been in past years for some of KU's most important positions.

It seems reasonable that search efforts, fringe benefits, salaries and investigations into the backgrounds, experience and "winning records" of those being considered for academic and administrative positions at KU should be just as thorough as are search efforts for a new football or basketball coach.

Why not have deans who are looked upon as "winners" who can build their respective departments into national leaders? Isn't teaching, research and the motivating of students the name of the game at a university?

Past KU School of Fine Arts deans have been:

  • Donald Swarthout, 1923-1950.
  • Thomas Gorton, 1950-1975.
  • James Moeser, 1975-1985.
  • Peter Thompson, 1986-1999.
  • Toni-Marie Montgomery, 2000-2003.
  • Steve Hedden, 2003-2008.

If deans were to be graded as a major college football or basketball coach, which of the above deans have the best record? Did any of these deans take the KU School of Fine Arts to a Big 6, Big 8 or Big 12 conference championship or top national ranking?

The five-year review policy for all KU deans probably serves a good purpose in forcing a comprehensive review of their work and how they have handled their responsibilities. A number of positions at KU have "opened up" in recent years prior to their five-year review. Turnover can be healthy in some respects, but so is tenure.

It is hoped that the search committee for the next KU dean of the School of Fine Arts will be composed of "heavyweights" in every category - faculty, students and alumni. And, these committee members should be given the charge and freedom to attract a new dean with an impeccable record, a person with vision and drive, and one who aspires to build the KU School of Fine Arts into a position of national leadership.

Why not shoot for the best?


Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 8 months ago

Given the current administration at KU, it's hard to view any change as a positive step. Hemenway is an incompetent buffoon who appears to be surrounding himself with other losers like Barbara Atkinson while driving away truly superior leaders like Irene Cummings. The ultimate good news will be when KU has his resignation.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 8 months ago

Fine arts! Everyone knows the most important thing at KU is now sports. The heck with academics and arts. That's sissy stuff, right?

Luxor 10 years, 8 months ago

It will be interesting to see if the administration uses this opportunity to talk to faculty and staff in the dean's office, the departments, and the Lied Center. There has been a lot of turnover in some areas, and it needs to be addressed. Talking to current employees, not the various directors and chairs, would provide KU with insight on some serious issues.

livingkate 10 years, 8 months ago

Listen to the faculty. Most of the decisions being made in the school of fine arts in the past few years have been made in spite of, not in conjunction with, the faculty's opinions and needs. They work closest with the students, and they know about the reality of the SFA. Go with them on this one.

toefungus 10 years, 8 months ago

III, you have it correct. The real problem with KU is that it needs to move schmoozing to a lower position that reports to a Chancellor that cares about the academic mission of the school. Instead the academic management is moved below the Chancellor. BTW, I am sure the new Dean and KU will make beautiful music together.

Chris Bohling 10 years, 8 months ago

The turnover in the SFA in recent years has been absurd, so it's hard to come across faculty who have been there long enough to actually understand the situation. What the SFA needs is a dean who is willing to work for the school itself, and stand up to the Chancellor and the Regents if necessary - something Hedden just wasn't doing. This will probably just get the next dean fired quicker, but it's what the students and faculty in the SFA need.

Luxor 10 years, 8 months ago

Chell: you hit it on the head. The turnover in SFA and the Lied Center should be getting someone's attention, but it's not.

Kookamooka 10 years, 8 months ago

Indeed. Turn over has been staggering. Didn't they just recruit that hot young buck of a Band Director a year ago? Where is he now? Off to some better paying school no doubt. Is this why Hedden is leaving? There is a really BIG story here. I wonder if the Journal World will report it or wait for some young whippersnapper at the UDK to take it on. Scooped! That would hurt.

Confrontation 10 years, 8 months ago

We must protect the School of Fine Arts. Without it, how would be have enough degreed workers in the fast food industry?

Confrontation 10 years, 8 months ago

"how would we" Sorry, I must have spent too much time in art class...

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