The Dean of Deans

A conversation with the dean who took UT’s College of Education to the top.

The Dean of Deans

In the 25 years Manuel Justiz has led the College of Education, the program has gone from facing allegations of lax academic integrity to being one of the best education schools in the country. The college was ranked No. 1 in the country for three years in a row by U.S. News & World Report, and No. 1 in research expenditures for a college of education among public and private universities for six years in a row. We sat down with Dean Justiz to reflect on his quarter century at the helm.

I hear you referred to as the ‘dean of deans’ on campus. When there’s a new dean, do you give him or her any pointers?

Never give deans pointers [laughs]. I always have lunch with a new dean. This is a really collegial place. The deans respect and like each other. We compete, but we compete in a very collegial, thoughtful, and supportive way.

Why have you stayed a dean all these years?

I love this university.

But have you ever thought, “Oh, I could be a provost?”

It’s very gratifying to be a dean. You can see the impact of the work you do. I get to see it in the departments. In the students we hire. In the research projects that we undertake. I’m close up where the action is.

Is there anything that you would change, if you were all-powerful for a day?

The relationship with the Board of Regents would be first and foremost.

What do you wish you had known when you started?

That it was achievable. There were a lot of times that I wasn’t sure that we would get here. When I took over, the college was under scrutiny. There was the Fonken report and the Vick report [in the 1980s]. Jerry Fonken was a former provost criticizing the college, and Jim Vick was a vice president of student affairs who oversaw questions of academic integrity. I took over in ’89.

So it was a turnaround job?

In every way. Hiring the right faculty, making the tough decisions about promotion and tenure—when someone should be promoted or not.

How big a part do money, resources, and financial planning play in being a successful dean?

It’s a big part of it because you have to have those resources to attract the best. Remember that we’re dealing with a national market both in terms of graduate students and faculty. So we’re competing against private institutions and the best public universities in the country.

I hear there’s a party coming up to mark your 25th anniversary as dean.

Yes, on March 5. I finished 25 years as dean in December, believe it or not.

The halfway point, right?

[Laughs] Not hardly, my friend. I just re-upped for six more years, but we’ll see.

So this isn’t a going-away party?

I think of it as a celebration of the college, in all honesty.

Why isn’t it a celebration about you?

Well, it’s a celebration about me, but I like to turn it into a celebration of the college and of President Powers. I’m really honored and touched by it, I want to celebrate what we’ve done together. I think that great universities are made up of two really principal factors: great students and a great faculty. The dean’s role is just to be supportive and to help steer it in the right direction.

Before you know it, it’ll be your 30th anniversary. Maybe they’ll light the Tower orange for you.

That’d be nice.

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