UPDATED 5/19/11 2:04 p.m.

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, eight of its 19 deans are interim — temporary placeholders until permanent deans are hired.

University officials say the prevalence of interim deans is in part the byproduct of a failed plan to merge four schools under one dean. The search is on to fill one of those positions with a permanent hire.

But interviews with past interim deans and outside experts indicate that a dean’s temporary status can sometimes hinder their ability to make staffing decisions and set longterm agendas. In one case, one interim dean at UH held his post for eight years.

“One school of thought is that it doesn’t make any difference (to have interim deans),” said Reed Dasenbrock, vice-chancellor of academic affairs for UH Manoa. “Another school of thought is that interim deans have less clout and ability to move their agenda forward.”

UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said that while the university does not have policies governing the length of interim appointments, officials are working to remedy the situation.

“Clearly, some interim appointments in the past have gone on for too long, which is why we are committed to reducing their numbers at UH Manoa,” Hinshaw wrote in an email.

Part of the reason UH Manoa has as many interim deans as it does is because of a long-running conversation to put the four Arts and Sciences colleges under one banner, Dasenbrock said. Those colleges included The College of Arts and Humanities; The College of Language, Linguistics, and Literature; The College of Natural Sciences; and The College of Social Sciences.

Chancellor Hinshaw evaluated this proposal in 2008.

“There was some sense that if there was going to be a Dean of Arts and Sciences, it didn’t make sense to do a search for permanent deans. It was not the sole factor but it might have played a role,” said Dasenbrock.

But the plan was abandoned after a 2009 electronic survey of faculty found that a majority of them opposed the reorganization, according to Hinshaw’s office. Today the current structure of individual arts and sciences deans remains. Two of the current interim arts and sciences deans took their posts prior to 2009.

Some interim deans interviewed suggested the lack of stable leadership at the chancellor level also slowed down the search for deans, leading administrators to fill interim positions for long periods of time. Since 2001, there have been three chancellors, including Chancellor Hinshaw.

“Although that level of turnover may have contributed (to the amount of interims), the larger impact may well have been the long-term consideration of the appropriate organization for Arts and Sciences which had apparently been discussed for over a decade,” wrote Chancellor Hinshaw in an email.

Dean Held “Interim” Post for Eight Years

Joseph O’Mealy was one of the longest serving interim deans at UH Manoa. For eight years, he acted as interim dean of the College of Language, Literature, and Linguistics. He said he felt the taxing effects of serving in a temporary position for such a long period of time.

“It was a great privilege to be an interim dean but I think the cons were more prominent than the pros,” O’Mealy said.

O’Mealy outlined the problems experienced as an interim dean.

“One is for the university, when other universities wonder what the problem is (with so many interim positions). That lack of decisiveness is a problem,” said O’Mealy.

“The effect on me is that it didn’t build my confidence (as an administrator). Being an interim for that long ultimately had a wearing down effect and I became less and less confident that I had real authority,” he said. O’Mealy stepped down from the position in 2009 and returned to teaching English as a professor at UH.

O’Mealy was succeeded by Robert Bley-Vroman in 2010, who served as interim dean for one year before being appointed its official dean in January 2011.

“The permanent position gives greater stability to the college so that the college knows who the dean is going to be,” said Bley-Vroman. “It is most importantly a question of stability and is more about the message that it sends.”

College or School Dean’s Name If Interim, Date of Appointment
College of Tropical Agriculture & Human Resources YUEN, SYLVIA H L July-10
School of Travel Industry Management LIU, JUANITA C November-08
Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work MOKUAU, NOREEN K August-10
School of Pacific & Asian Studies SHULTZ, EDWARD J July-06
Outreach College CHISMAR, WILLIAM G1 October-10
College of Natural Sciences TERAMURA, ALAN H January-08
Graduate Division COOPER, PATRICIA A October-10
College of Arts & Humanities BINGHAM, THOMAS R January-06
Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge BENHAM, MAENETTE K N/A
School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene BOLAND, MARY G N/A
College of Engineering CROUCH, PETER E N/A
College of Social Sciences DUBANOSKI, RICHARD A N/A
John A. Burns School of Medicine HEDGES, JERRIS R N/A
School of Architecture LLEWELLYN, CLARK E. N/A
Shidler College of Business ROLEY, VERNON VANCE N/A
William S. Richardson School of Law SOIFER, AVIAM N/A
College of Education SORENSEN, CHRISTINE K N/A
School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology TAYLOR, BRIAN N/A
College of Languages, Linguistics, & Literature BLEY-VROMAN, ROBERT W N/A

Interims Typically Serve For 1 or 2 Years — or Less

Outside experts said O’Mealy observations are spot on.

Jean Dowdall, vice-president of Witt/Kieffer, an Illinois-based consulting firm for higher education, health care, and other organizations, said interim administrators sometimes face challenges hiring and firing staff, and settling clear goals.

“The typical appointment period of an interim administrator is 1 or 2 years or less,” said Dowdall. When told about interim dean who had served 8 years in his post, Dowdall said she thought the period seemed excessive.

Interim deans said that their pay isn’t changed or determined by their permanent or interim status. For many, the issue is more about cohesiveness and direction within the college to have a stable, permanent dean.

Individual experience clearly comes into play as well.

Alan Teramura has served as interim dean for the College of Natural Sciences under the Colleges of Arts and Sciences since January 2008.

He said he did not feel limited in his decisions because he had previously led the school as its dean in the 1990s.

“I was unique in the sense that I served as permanent dean from 1994 through 1998. Personally I made decisions based on my previous experience as dean,” said Teramura.

“I have talked to some interim deans that had they known they would serve for such a long period of time, wouldn’t have taken the interim position,” he said.