Dean is a title within the university that can have several different meanings, depending on the school or department in which the title is given. Historically, the title has been associated with academic oversight, such the dean of a particular school or the dean of students (who was originally responsible for the academic well-being of his students). The word "dean" derives from the Latin decanus (literally "chief of ten"), the same root from which the ecclesiastical office of deacon is drawn.
At Columbia, deans are broadly separated into "faculty deans" and "administrative deans". Faculty deans oversee a faculty body. Faculty deans evaluate faculty members, recommend them for tenure, set research priorities, hire and fire faculty, and create their faculty budget. Most faculties are also schools, such as the Faculty of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, or the Faculty of Business. Two faculties are "unified constructs" that serve multiple schools: for example, Columbia College, the School of General Studies, the School of Continuing Education, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of the Arts are served by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, and the College of Dental Medicine are served by the Faculty of Health Sciences. Although separate faculties of the respective schools, such as the "Faculty of Columbia College", once existed and still do exist on paper, they were folded into the construct of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1991.
When considering faculties that serve more than one school (as opposed to where faculty and school are synonymous), the dean of a faculty oversees faculty affairs and is considered the faculty dean, not the dean of the respective school. For example, the Dean of Columbia College is considered an administrative dean and has no oversight in faculty affairs. However, the incumbent Dean of Columbia College is also separately and equally the Vice President of Undergraduate Education for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in a personal union which gives her some oversight into faculty affairs within the arts and sciences.
Administrative deans are those administrators who hold the title of "dean" but otherwise have no oversight into faculty affairs. Examples include advising deans, deans of student affairs, and deans of specific programs and centers. Broadly speaking, faculty deans are known as "deans" or "vice deans" and interact primarily with faculty, while administrative deans are deans of specific programs or centers, or associate deans, and interact primarily with students.
- Nicholas Bernard Dirks, Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
- Mary Boyce, Dean of the Faculty of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
- Shih-Fu Chang, Senior Vice Dean of the Faculty of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
- Robert Glenn Hubbard, Dean of the Faculty of Business
- James Valentini, Dean of Columbia College
- Kathryn Yatrakis, Dean of Academic Affairs for Columbia College
- Roosevelt Montas, Dean of the Center for the Core Curriculum
- Soulaymane Kachani, Vice Dean for Academic Programs for SEAS
- Kevin Shollenberger, Dean of Student Affairs for CC/SEAS and Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Student Life
- Kathryn Wittner, Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs for CC/SEAS
- Kavita Sharma, Dean of the Center for Career Education