Monday, April 20, 2015

How to select the new Dean of Alumni Relations

The department has received a notice asking us to suggest who could be the next DORA (Dean of Resources and Alumni) of IIT Kanpur. It is surprising since Prof. Prabhat Munshi's term was till March, 2016. Why has he resigned.

In any case, let us think of how we should go about finding the new Dean. First of all, is there a job description. Surely, there must have been some document approved by the Board. The document must have listed what are the responsibilities of DORA. But is that document available to the departments. And is that document sufficient. Unfortunately, the answer to both the questions is in negative.

Nobody seems to care that the document is not easily accessible. After all, we know what the job entails. I can bet my last dollar that most faculty members do not know the full extent of what the job entails. Everyone has a vague idea and we will recommend names based on those vague ideas. And is that document enough. Well, the leader of the organization may have a certain vision for the Institute, and may, therefore, want to focus on certain aspects of that job description. For example, the Institute may want a person who can help in managing resources very well and suggesting how we can make more efficient use of our existing resources and enhance our internal resources, like increase in electricity charges, increase in hostel charges, etc. At other times, institute may want to focus on International relations and do things to attract foreign students, joint degree programs, and so on. Or the Institute may want to raise friends - ensure that our relationship with Alumni Association improves, that our alumni feel positive about the institute. Or the Institute may be keen to raise funds from our alumni and other friends. I am just giving four examples from the job description of DORA, and a focus on each of them require different skill sets. It is important that we know not just the overall job description, but also the focus areas within that job description.

From what I understand, the institutional focus has not been on fund-raising for the last 7 years (three Deans), and now, we want to change that. The next DORA would probably be expected to focus more on fund-raising than on other aspects of his/her job description. Now that the Government is cutting down on the budgetary support, funds from alumni and friends have become more important than at any other time in the past.

Let us understand that asking for money is not an easy task. It has the connotation of begging (shouldn't be, but that is how many people feel about it). Many people are ambivalent about why alumni or anyone else should give a gift to a government funded (and well funded) institution, and they will not find it easy to bring passion to fund-raising. So, if fund-raising is the new focus for this deanship, then we must find a person who believes that giving to alma mater is the right thing to do. And of course, if you believe that this is the right thing to do, then you must have done it. So ask potential Deans whether they have given a gift to their respective alma mater, and that too, not as a part of batch fund or other group exercise where you end up paying as part of peer pressure, but separately. If you haven't paid yourself, you will feel shy of asking, and that is not good for the Institute.

It is also very important that the person has a good understanding of how social media works. That is the way to keep in touch with alumni today. Of course, one does not have to be an expert in social media oneself, there will be staff for that, but if you strongly believe that facebook and twitter are complete waste of time, then there is a problem.

Travel will be an integral part of fund-raising. You need to personally meet people multiple times before things happen. If you are the kind that can not sleep well in the overnight train, or need a day or two to relax after an inter-continental flight, or just hate to be in the cattle class even for short domestic flights, then you are not the right person for this job.

Most importantly, how excited the person is about learning new things. Fund-raising is like nothing else that a faculty member would have done in the past. (Some may have had some contact with alumni, having worked in alumni association. Some may have done some outreach in terms of courses for industry, and may have learnt a bit of marketing. But fund-raising is really very different from all this.) So one has to see what is it that the faculty member has done in the past which was very different from his/her routine job and how much learning did the faculty member had in that job, and what new things the person did, etc.

Fund-raising will require support from everyone else on campus. It will be good if the potential Dean is acceptable to most stakeholders on campus (and preferably off campus as well).

With the gap between funds raised by IITK and other IITs increasing every year, it is extremely important that we find the right person for this Deanship. the right person can make a difference of Rs. 5-10 crores per year in our budget.

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