Thoughts on Future Leadership in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor
Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 1:56 p.m.
KU Lawrence Faculty, Staff and Affiliates

Dear Colleague,

The university is preparing to post the position description that opens the search for the new Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. I want to share with you an approach that I believe will help ensure we have an exceptional applicant pool, ensure constituents in the college are properly supported, and also strengthen leadership opportunities within the College.

Our position description will announce that KU is seeking an Executive Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Adding a single word to the title may seem inconsequential, yet it will allow us to appeal to and attract a broader range of diverse candidates, including those who might not at first understand the significant opportunities at KU and the great quality of life Lawrence offers. This change also offers advantages that will radiate through the College.

Recent restructuring in the College honors its intrinsic disciplinary divisions. It makes sense to have this structural organization, and at the same time there are remaining challenges we want to address. The College is so large, there may be an unrealistic expectation that the dean is in all places and overseeing all activities. The new Executive Dean will take leadership for priorities such as promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for students, staff and faculty in the College; fostering interdisciplinary research and discovery, increasing enrollment and retention of undergraduates, aligning the College strategic plan with Jayhawks Rising, and engaging with KU Endowment in philanthropic activities. It is imperative that this new leader be properly supported, with a path to be successful.

Under this new Executive Dean, I envision the College’s Associate Deans will assume a higher profile role that better portrays the advocacy and leadership responsibility they provide the current divisions. The Executive Dean, in turn, will need to appreciate the diversity they represent – the range of units in the College – and will also play a critical role in facilitating interdisciplinary studies for the university. While the Executive Dean will still retain budget authority, the Associate Deans, perhaps with new titles such as Executive Associate Dean or Divisional Dean, will advocate for their respective divisions, inform the dean and be accountable for implementing and monitoring fiscal decisions and appropriate policies and processes in the units.

How Did We Arrive Here?

This wasn’t a decision made in isolation. Over the past two years, I’ve received input from across the College, and have read and considered hundreds of responses from a survey conducted last spring. Many different and contrary ideas were expressed on how the College should move forward with its new leadership. One thing, though, was clear. The College needs a structure that will allow its leadership to succeed as it supports the people who give its programs value and voice. I’ve also held conversations with members of the College Dean Search Committee to better understand their perspectives, questions and concerns.

While there is no structure that is likely to please everyone, there are strong reasons why this approach makes the most sense. The College Dean has the largest academic portfolio at KU. We need to offer an organizational structure and personnel support to ensure the success of the individual in the role in a way that also ensures the success of the College and its people. Further, the Associate Deans of the College have roles that differ in size and scope from Associate Deans in other areas of the university. This plan arranges roles and responsibilities that recognize the Associate Deans’ contributions and builds their leadership opportunities without directly adding to KU’s bureaucracy.  Finally, we need to ensure the Executive Dean position is one that will draw a broadly diverse pool of talented academic leaders, a pool that is fitting of the opportunity we offer at KU.

This is a major milestone in setting a firm foundation for the future – for the College and for the university. I welcome your thoughts and questions. You can send them to me directly,, or share them with the co-chairs of the search committee,

Thank you for all you do for KU.



Barbara A. Bichelmeyer

Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor