What Is the Typical Organizational Structure of a University?

Dan Cavallari

The organizational structure of a university refers to the hierarchy through which delegation of responsibilities is accomplished. This gives employees and students a sense of who answers to whom, and who to address should a problem arise. The specific organizational structure of a university can vary depending on the institution, though in most cases, the executive level is the highest rung on the organizational ladder. This level includes the college or university president, as well as a chancellor if one exists, and the board of directors if they exist. Other positions at this level include treasurers and provosts, as well as the vice president or vice presidents.

Academic deans are the heads of various departments within the organizational structure of a university.
Academic deans are the heads of various departments within the organizational structure of a university.

While in most cases, only one president exists at a college or university, several vice presidents may exist within the organizational structure of a university. These vice presidents can be responsible for a wide variety of tasks at smaller universities, while they may only deal with one or two specific areas of the college's function at much larger universities. A vice president of student affairs, for example, will deal primarily with student activities, problems, accomplishments, and budgetary concerns. A vice president of finance will deal exclusively with the finances of the university, and his or her jurisdiction may reach to all departments within the university.

The dean is able to hire and fire professors.
The dean is able to hire and fire professors.

Academic deans are the heads of various departments within the organizational structure of a university. The English department, for example, will have a dean who essentially manages or otherwise oversees all functions of that department. A life sciences dean will run a specific department within the sciences at the university, and the dean of medicine will oversee any medical programs offered by the university. A dean can hold other positions within the university structure, though this is not common in some schools. The programs may also have associate deans that answer to the dean; these people are responsible for helping run the department and addressing any specific issues facing the department.

An academic dean may serve occasionally in an advisory capacity to student groups.
An academic dean may serve occasionally in an advisory capacity to student groups.

The organizational structure of a university can branch out from there to include other programs such as athletic programs, groundskeeping, student government, housing departments, and many more. The specific place in the hierarchy of these positions can vary according to the specific university's priorities. In many cases, a reorganization can occur to re-prioritize the structure so funds are properly allocated and seniority is properly addressed. Organizational restructuring can be difficult and stressful for all members of the university structure, so it is often best to find a system that works and stick with it.

Hoover Tower at Stanford University.
Hoover Tower at Stanford University.
A dean of students may be responsible for managing campus services such as security.
A dean of students may be responsible for managing campus services such as security.
The dean of students may provide emotional support to struggling students.
The dean of students may provide emotional support to struggling students.
The dean of students may be responsible for managing food and dining on campus.
The dean of students may be responsible for managing food and dining on campus.

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