When Dr. Joshua Reichard, president of Omega Graduate School invited me into the role of Academic Dean, he challenged me with a significant metaphor as I stepped into it. He asked that I “shepherd the faculty.”
Coming from the background of pastoral leadership and chaplaincy, this sounded like a natural fit for me. However, I discovered in the academic literature regarding the Academic Dean’s role, very little attention has been given to this operative metaphor for that position.
The leadership role of the Dean is defined by the many hats that are worn, but with the hope that special attention be given to the care and support of the faculty will provide a positive contribution to the overall morale of the faculty (Sell, 2023; LaRocca, 2022).
The leadership role of the Academic Dean contributes to motivation and performance of the faculty.
My proposal in this article is that faith-based institutions provide the perfect platform for the Academic Dean to intentionally care for and support the faculty from the stance of a shepherd with a flock of sheep.
So, in this article I want to briefly introduce the shepherd as a leadership model, highlight its four dimensions for the Academic Dean’s role, present the overall concerns of the shepherding model, and present a “how-to” application of this shepherding model among the faculty.
While Omega Graduate School is a Christian faith-based graduate institution (we only have Masters and Doctoral students), the principles here apply to an Academic Dean of any Christian college or higher education institution.
Stages of Dean-Shepherd Formation at the Christian College
One of the oldest recognized models of leadership is the shepherd. As far back as Old Testament times, followed by Rabbinic Judaism with its timeless lessons from the Midrash, this model of leadership came to be understood fundamentally as one about care (Friedman, 2023). Even in the Medieval age, it became an image in glass tapestry represented by the Good Shepherd as a foil to wealth and power (Freeman, 2021).
Because of my charge to shepherd the faculty, I became fascinated with and intrigued by how little of an intentional leadership model this has been employed. Interestingly, there is a paucity of Christian academics who appropriate this metaphor in their leadership role.
The basic concept of a shepherding model in pastoral ministry has been recognized as seriously missing. Thus, the integrity and fabric of pastoral ministry itself has been called into question and its effectiveness limited (Resane, 2020). If such a lack of appropriation of this model is seen in pastoral leadership, is it no wonder that it is not thought of much in academic circles! Because of this, an attempt has been made to almost equate the shepherding model to the servant leadership model (Resane, 2020).
I want to challenge that collation of the two distinct leadership models and come back to the shepherding model as one of its own right than can definitely be applied by the Academic Dean of a Christian college to shepherd the faculty.
Many attempts have been made to delineate all of the facets of what a model of shepherd leadership needs to look like. In order to bring this to the specific context of the Academic Dean, I would like to overlay the four dimensions of leadership identified from an academic standpoint and overlay it with specific aspects of shepherding. Bringing together the spiritual framework of a shepherd and the academic framework of an Academic Dean will solidify and make concrete how we can even think about the carrying out of that role.
Wepner and Hink identify the four salient dimensions of leadership of a Dean based on twenty-five years of research into that role (2022). Core to these dimensions is a mature ego. This mature ego is expressed in one’s intellectual, emotional, social, and moral integration. The integration of the Dean’s professional identity, professional attributes, professional capabilities, and professional context contributes to their own job satisfaction and longevity.
Interestingly, a leader that experiences job satisfaction and longevity provides a solid example of leadership and provides a stable platform from which to shepherd the faculty. McCormick and Davenport (2020) highlight eleven functions of the shepherd leader. Of these eleven, the following four coincide with the research by Wepner & Wink:
- The moral (vigilant without being adversarial) aspect of the Dean’s Shepherding role operates in the realm of evaluating and holding professors and faculty accountable in all aspects of their roles. This includes supporting them in their teaching and having their backs when conflict arises with students.
- The social (serving without being passive) aspect of the Dean’s Shepherding role is encouraging the faculty in their successes and an affirmation of their gifts.
- The intellectual (guide without commanding) aspect of the Dean’s shepherding role is openness to communication with the faculty and supporting them in their own professional development.
- Finally, the emotional (whole person-care) aspect of the Academic Dean’s Shepherding role focuses entirely on getting to know each faculty member on a personal basis, attending to their own job satisfaction, and affirming their value to the entire Academic team with an eye toward communicating longevity for them.
These shepherding aspects of the Academic Dean’s role can only be carried out by one who understands the matrix of self, professors, and calling.
The matrix of “self” is a spiritually mature self that understands the role is about attending to the well-being of the professors, and not about self. This calling of leadership weaves together the academic and the faith-based aspects of the Academic Dean in a Christian faith-based institutional setting.
How to Track Your Shepherding Duties with Excel
Let’s bring this to a practical close. I have created an EXCEL spreadsheet with all of the names of the professors I am shepherding. Keeping in mind the four shepherding/academic dual aspects of the Dean’s role, I have created 12 columns where I keep track of the shepherding activities I intentionally engage in for each professor/instructor:
Date of Activity:
- Email messages of encouragement
- Text messages
- Phone call—checking in and on the instructor [brief note re: conversation]
- Academia Accenta Andragogia—a monthly e-newsletter of encouragement and challenge
- Faculty Development
- Professional development
- Monitoring grading
- Syllabi revisions
- Faculty evaluation
- Facebook highlights with successes
- Negotiation of job responsibilities and support
Because the president of our graduate school, Dr. Joshua Reichard, asked me to pivot from student success (CSSO, Chief Student Success Officer) to faculty success, in the last six months I have enjoyed the role of a pastor feeding the sheep.
My deep care and concern for the faculty has grown immensely. What I have noticed is that each instructor has life issues that impact their performance. In my role, I have to come alongside them and provide the support that is needed. Things like personal medical concerns and surgeries, unanticipated conflicts in their schedule, negative responses of students to their teaching and grading, an overloaded plate of responsibilities, etc., are just a few of the challenges that face all instructors and makes my role as an Academic Dean/Dean of the Faculty a taxing yet energizing call!
I am intentionally answering that call with the metaphor of a shepherd caring for the sheep. Only the Great Shepherd can give me the resources to do it faithfully and well!
Freeman, J. A. (2021). The Good Shepherd: Image, meaning and power. Baylor University Press.
Friedman, Hershey H. (2023) “Timeless Lessons About Leadership from the Midrash,” The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 16(1), 1-13.
LaRocca, F. (2022) Wearing Many hats, playing many roles: A study of business school deans at Jesuit affiliated Universities.(Doctoral dissertation, University of Georgia).
McCormick, B., & Davenport, D. (2020). Shepherd leadership: Wisdom for leaders from Psalm 23. Fortress Press.
Resane, K. T. (2020). Servant leadership and shepherd leadership: The missing dynamic in pastoral integrity in South Africa today. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 76(1). a5608. https://doi.org/ 10.4102/hts.v76i1.5608
Sell, A.J. (2023) Contextual factors associated with the morale of academic and support staff in universities, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 27(2), 41-50. DOI: 10.1080/13603108.2023.2167016
Wepner, S. B.; & Henk, W. A. (Spring 2022). What Might We Learn From 25 Years of Research on Education Deans? Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 6(1), 1-21.