The Small School Difference: A Dean's Perspective

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Dean Steve Elias of the Fort Lewis College School of Business Administration discusses the unique advantages of leading a business school at a small institution.
Recorded virtually in February 2021.


Steve Elias: [0:15] Serving as dean of a business school at a small college certainly provide someone with a lot of liberties. For example, there is far less bureaucracy to deal with. I came to Fort Lewis College from a much larger research university.

[0:35] Frankly, it would be frustrating sometimes to cut through the bureaucracy to get things done. Currently, if I need to speak to a VP, president, or provost, I'd pick up the phone, I walk over, or I send a text.

[0:48] Generally, all those individuals who are extremely important for a dean to be able to do his or her job are available. I know when I was at larger schools, it could literally take several weeks to get an appointment to see the provost.

[1:02] If you need the individual at that point in time, really isn't an efficient way to be an effective dean, but having more access to VPs, administrators, even staff in general is extremely beneficial and does provide you a certain liberties.

[1:18] You can be a little more nimble, you can be a little more responsive to needs and situations that arise. From an AACSB perspective, serving as dean in a small school has been an extremely beneficial experience, because there's a certain level of camaraderie that exists between deans at small schools.

[1:39] It's not to say it doesn't exist amongst deans at larger schools, but for a fact it exists among deans at smaller schools. We have an active small school network that most of us try to be a part of, try to get together at conferences and events, and are always there to help each other out.

[1:59] Someone has a question or situation that arises, they go to the small school network, message board, and generally can get pretty quick responses from colleagues because there is that level of camaraderie. All the small school deans want to see all the other small school deans be successful.

[2:18] We can also relate to other small school dean's situations and environments. Serving as dean at a small school does come with some constraints. Not surprisingly, being at a smaller school does typically mean you have a smaller budget, maybe not always, but typically.

[2:41] Then that does have your ability to do some things. For example, recruiting faculty might be more difficult if you're serving as a dean at a smaller school.

[2:50] We certainly have been successful at recruiting phenomenal faculty, but that's because we have a great faculty already and people want to be a part of our culture, they want to live in our environment.

[3:03] We live in a beautiful part of the country in Southwest Colorado, but having fewer resources does certainly put a constraint on some of the things you are able to do. Another constraint is small schools tend to have fewer administrators. For example, we have one associate dean.

[3:23] I know some schools that have two, three, four associate deans. We don't have traditional department chairs or department heads, whereas other schools typically would have a head of every department.

[3:38] That means deans at smaller schools may wind up getting a little more down in the weeds, doing things that they might not otherwise do if they were at a larger school. I think there is perks that come along with that as well, because then you see everything that's going on here, if you're a part of it.

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