I was invited to a campus interview for a tenure track faculty job. The chair just told me that the dean might not be on campus on the date I chose and he/she would talk with me on the phone. I am wondering how important is the meeting with the dean? Should I reschedule the visit so that I can meet the dean in person?
In US institutions I'm familiar with, the meeting with the dean serves the following purposes:
It is a way for the dean to exert oversight over the hiring process. While the dean is usually not able to tell if the candidate is really as amazing as the department will claim he/she is when they later ask to hire him/her, the dean can at least provide a basic sanity check, filter out obviously unqualified candidates, or detect various red flags indicating that there may be something seriously wrong with the department's candidate selection mechanism.
It is a way for the dean to signal to the department that he/she takes hiring seriously and is involved in the process. This may lead the department faculty to also take it more seriously and approach hiring with more respect and integrity.
It is a way for the department and dean to signal to the candidate that they take him/her seriously, to the extent that the dean is making his/her precious time available for the purpose of having the meeting. If the candidate is a hot commodity being sought after by several schools, this can be important.
It is an opportunity for the candidate to impress the dean with his/her brilliance. Usually the dean will not be so involved with decision making that this will make much of a difference, but nonetheless, there are subtle ways that the dean being particularly impressed with a candidate (or conversely, particularly unimpressed) can be communicated down the hiring chain, and in cases of extreme brilliance/lack thereof this could end up making a difference.
It is an opportunity for the dean to impress the candidate with his/her own brilliance. The interview is a two-sided event in which both parties are evaluating each other, so this is part of the package of the university trying to sell itself to an attractive candidate. Again, usually candidates won't care so much about the personality of the dean where they are interviewing, but in extreme cases a super-amazing dean can make the school seem materially more attractive, and a super-horrible dean can make the candidate run for their life.
Usually none of these effects are very significant, and not meeting the dean almost certainly won't make any difference one way or another on the outcome of the interview. The final use for the meeting that I can think of is the only one that actually matters somewhat (though still not very much), which is:
- In the event that the candidate met with the dean and was later hired, they arrive at a campus where they already met the dean. This contributes to their sense of familiarity with the place (and presumably confidence that it is well run) and gives them a feeling that if there is any trouble at the department they know who to go to. A small thing perhaps, but still worth something in my opinion...
Bottom line: in your situation, don't worry about it. If you end up being hired you will meet the dean sooner or later.
This depends very strongly on the institution. At many larger US institutions, meeting the dean is little more than a formality since the decision is essentially made by the faculty in the department that would hire you, and the dean generally signs off on whatever they determine. But in other universities the Dean may play a key role in the decision process; this is the case, for instance, at my current institution. In that situation, it is preferable to meet the dean in person in order to make a stronger impression.
Ideally, you would have a colleague in the department you're applying to who could give you an inside view on how essential dean is to the decision process.
Should I reschedule the visit so that I can meet the dean in person?
I don't see a need to do this, unless your contact person suggests as much. However, you can optionally ask whether it would be better to reschedule.
If the department feels a phone interview is workable, then it should be fine.
An exception would be, if English is not your first language, or you have a hearing impairment, that might make it more difficult for you to understand what's being said, or asked, in a phone interview.