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Academic Deans: Using Equity-Centered Leadership to Navigate the Challenges of Dual Reporting

In the realm of higher education, academic deans hold a critical role in shaping the success and growth of our institutions. Their responsibilities encompass a delicate balance of managing academic affairs, fostering an inclusive campus culture, and guiding faculty development. However, the role of academic deans can often be challenging, particularly when it comes to dual reporting structures as they navigate the complexities of reporting both upwards and downwards within their institutions. 

At the core of an equity-centered approach to leadership lies the unwavering commitment to inclusivity and fairness. An equity-centered academic dean acknowledges the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and needs of their faculty, staff, and students. They prioritize creating an environment where everyone is heard, valued, and supported in their pursuit of academic excellence. 

Embracing an equity-centered perspective, academic deans play a crucial role in championing diversity and ensuring that the institutional culture fosters inclusivity. This involves creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, addressing disparities in resources, and promoting a sense of belonging among all members of the academic community. 

Equity-centered leadership also entails promoting transparency and accountability in decision-making processes. When faculty and staff witness that their dean is committed to fair and just practices, trust is built, and a collaborative and supportive atmosphere can thrive. 

Challenges of Dual Reporting 

One of the unique challenges faced by academic deans is the dual reporting structure. They are accountable to both their faculty and department heads below them and to higher-level administrators above them, such as the provost or president. Balancing the expectations and needs of these two groups can be daunting, but an equity-centered approach can provide guidance in navigating this complexity. 

Academic deans are responsible for guiding and supporting faculty and department heads within their purview. They must prioritize faculty development, encourage research and scholarship, and advocate for their departments’ needs and resources. Leading downwards requires open communication, active listening, and an understanding of the challenges faced by faculty and department heads. 

An equity-centered dean actively seeks feedback and input from their team, fostering a culture of collaboration and shared decision-making. They provide mentorship and professional development opportunities, acknowledging the unique strengths and aspirations of each individual. By creating a supportive environment, an equity-centered dean empowers their faculty and department heads to excel in their roles and contribute to the overall success of the institution. 

Reporting to higher-level administrators demands a different set of skills and responsibilities. Academic deans must align their goals and decisions with the institution’s overall vision and strategic plan. They are tasked with ensuring that academic programs align with accreditation standards, meeting enrollment targets, and managing financial resources efficiently. 

An equity-centered approach to reporting upwards involves communicating the unique needs and challenges faced by different departments and advocating for resources that support inclusive practices. An equity-centered dean understands that a well-rounded institution values diversity and prioritizes an inclusive campus climate. They can articulate the impact of equitable practices on student success and institutional excellence, which resonates with higher-level administrators’ broader goals. 


Equity-centered leadership is fundamental to the success of academic deans, especially when navigating the complexities of dual reporting. By prioritizing inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration, academic deans can create a campus culture that values and embraces diversity. 

The challenge of reporting upwards and downwards can be eased through an equity-centered lens. By actively engaging with faculty, department heads, and higher-level administrators, academic deans can build bridges and foster understanding between different stakeholder groups. An equitable approach empowers faculty and staff to thrive in their roles and ensures that the institution remains focused on creating an inclusive environment where all students can succeed. 

In conclusion, academic deans who embrace equity-centered leadership not only transform their institutions but also leave a lasting legacy of positive change in higher education. By working together with all members of the academic community, these leaders pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future for academia.