Spoiler alert: people are serving in the role of department chair for fewer years than in the past. Since 2007, my colleague Richard Riccardi and I have yearly surveyed department chairs across the country in an effort to better understand and appreciate the prominent characteristics of this distinct and unique position. More specifically we were interested in seeking information regarding their tenure, the rank they hold, if they considered themselves a member of the faculty or the administration, the pleasant and unpleasant tasks they perform, their education and training for the position of chair, the skills needed to be an effective chair, the challenges they face, their plans after they are no longer chair, and their thoughts about collegiality. It is interesting to be able to determine if there were significant changes over the 12-years of the study.

The typical characteristics of the 2,300 chairs who responded to the study was a tenured full professor working at a four-year public university, was 46 years old when s/he initially became chair, chaired a department of 26 faculty members, will go back on faculty when no longer serving as chair, was very satisfied with his/her career choice, would “probably” become a department chair if they could do it over.

What was the most important skill/competency needed to be an effective chair over the 12-years of the study? (Choose 1 answer)

  1. Ability to communicate effectively?
  2. Ability to manage conflict?
  3. Problem-solving skills?
  4. Interpersonal skills?

The correct answer to the above has been rated as the most important competency needed to be an effective chair each year of the study.

A department chair is in the best and most strategic position to know what skills and competencies they need to be effective. In many ways, we found a significant interconnectedness among several of the skills and competencies. For example, one will use his or her interpersonal skills to manage conflict, et cetera.

Join us on September 20 for Department Chairs: Trends and Issues Over Time, a Magna Online Seminar led by Robert Cipriano, EdD. You will explore data about a study Cipriano performed about the roles and responsibilities of the department chair over a 12-year timeframe. Trends will be analyzed over time and issues will be explored regarding the future of the roles and responsibilities of the chair. Register now »

Challenges in Serving as Chair

There is no one size fits all when discussing the myriad roles and responsibilities of a department chair. Some chairs teach 3 classes a semester, others do not teach at all; some chairs develop and monitor their department’s budget, others have no input in developing a budget; some chairs hire new faculty, others only refer candidates to the dean. For example, “dealing with non-collegial, uncivil faculty has maintained the number 1 or number 2 challenge throughout the study. Also, “loss of autonomy” has consistently been rated as the least most important challenge for the chairs. However, there were significant changes from 2007—2018 in some categories e.g. excessive use of email, lack of quality time to spend with family, working with unmotivated faculty, etcetera.

Skills/Competencies Needed to be an Effective Chair

ANSWER TO ABOVE: Ability to communicate has been rated as the most important skill/competence each year of the study.

This category has remained very consistent throughout the 12-years of the study. The one exception is the “ability to manage conflict” is becoming more important.

It has been stated that 80% of decision in institutions of higher education are made at the department level. The department chair is the lynchpin of the university. Despite this, little is known about specific characteristics and precise, explicit details relative to the roles and responsibilities of this important and unique position. This 12-year study provides insight into the department chair, and compares trends and issues that can better prepare people in the academy to prognosticate salient features of the position of department chair.

Robert E. Cipriano is chair emeritus in the Department of Recreation & Leisure Studies at Southern Connecticut State University and senior partner in ATLAS—Academic Training, Leadership & Assessment Services-an international consulting organization providing services to institutions of higher education. Dr. Cipriano will be presenting a 1-hour webinar based on his research on the department chair on Thursday, September 20, 2018.