A sneak peek at President Dean's new book

Monday, October 22, 2018
President Jim Dean

Photo credit: Jeremy Gasowski / UNH

If they get a break before starting a new job, most people might take a vacation, tackle some overdue house projects or just sleep in. In the weeks between leaving Chapel Hill and moving to Durham, UNH President Jim Dean finished writing a book.

That may not be surprising for an accomplished professor and administrator who’s devoted his career to studying and teaching organizational behavior. What is, though, is the refreshingly frank approach that Dean’s book takes to exploring the intersection of higher education and business.

Free of academic jargon, it reads like a sensible guidebook, aimed at helping businesses, philanthropists and state lawmakers to better understand higher education institutions and to work more closely and effectively with them. Dean is co-writing the book, titled “Inside Universities,” with Debbie Clarke and expects it to be published in 2019. It opens with a good deal of empathy for business leaders who wade into the sometimes befuddling world of academia.

“Businesses are tempted to see (universities) as badly run businesses,” Dean writes, “with costs that are too high, decisions that take too long, and no clear sense of their objectives.”

Throughout Dean’s career, business leaders have asked him questions about higher ed such as, “When faculty members act out, why don’t you simply fire them?” “Are research grants like earmarks, so you don’t have to compete for them?” And, “Why isn’t growth a priority for universities, as it is for businesses?” The book could almost be titled, “Businesses Are From Mars, Universities Are From Venus.”

While businesses and higher ed may speak different languages, Dean wants business leaders to understand that American universities have a long track record of success in educating generations of talented citizens and workers, enriching the nation’s culture, and delivering research that solves major social and technical challenges, starts businesses and builds economies. Experience matters, he says. “Not everything that drives you crazy about universities should drive you crazy,” Dean writes. “There are good reasons for some practices that initially seem strange.”

The book is also aimed at philanthropists, business leaders who move into careers in higher education, state lawmakers overseeing university budgets and capital requests, and consulting firms and others who work with both businesses and universities.

“The American system of higher education is the most successful in the world . . .You can use this book to explore why this approach has been successful, as well as its limits,” Dean concludes.