chairs October 2, 2018

The Case for Chairs Working Beyond Their Departments

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Over the past two decades, the responsibilities of academic department chairs have grown in both number and complexity. The newer work for chairs has not replaced traditional duties but rather has been layered on top of them. Many of the emerging chair responsibilities are related to calls for accountability, expectations for improvement, and efforts to reform higher education. Chairs in particular have been impacted by these changes because they are the gatekeepers to disciplinary cultures and the faculty, the working units that manufacture the products of higher education. It is widely recognized that little will change without the participation and support of the faculty, and chairs are the critical people who can bring them to the table. In order to lead change of the necessary magnitude, chairs will have to become active not only with their departments and their faculty and staff, but also at the campus level and beyond where many of the ideas and models for change and improvement originate.


select a department chair September 25, 2018

How to Select a Department Chair

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In most academic departments, chairs are elected—or at least recommended to the dean—through a vote of the faculty. At other institutions, the chair rotates among the entire full-time or tenured faculty, while at still others the upper administration appoints the chair either from among current members of the department or as the result of a national search. In cases where deans, provosts, or presidents are in a position to choose the chair of a department, what principles should guide them?


department chairs September 10, 2018

Department Chairs: Trends and Issues Over Time

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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.


department chairs June 29, 2018

Rethinking Councils of Chairs

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Over the last two decades there have been occasional conference presentations and articles in the higher education literature about collectives of academic department chairs that meet to discuss a variety of topics. These groups are not the same as a chairs’ council that is convened on a regular basis by the dean to disseminate policy and other information. Instead, it is a chairs-only organization that sets its own agenda and works on assigned or self-generated tasks independently of other administrators.


department chair August 28, 2017

The Department Chair: A Retrospective Perspective

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The department chair is a linchpin of a university. It has been estimated that 80 percent of the decisions made in higher education are made at the department level. The chair is a classic hybrid-in-the-middle position; not really an administrator but “more than” a faculty member. The roles and responsibilities of a chair can differ significantly from one university to another.


stress, work August 25, 2017

Creating Space, Relieving Stress, and Making the Job More Enticing

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One downside of the chair position, aside from the heavy workload, is that it leaves little time to do the work that they originally joined the academy to do—research and individual scholarship. Yet, at the same time, a strong majority of those contributing to these surveys indicate that they are satisfied with their role as chair. Results also indicate growing stress levels among chairs.


Department Chairs Managing Up May 29, 2017

Considerations for Successfully “Managing Up”

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A great deal has been written about department chairs in higher education who deal with a myriad of issues related to the faculty for whom they have leadership responsibility. Such an emphasis is appropriate when one considers that virtually everything our institutions deliver in teaching, scholarship, and service results from the expertise and effort of the faculty. Thus, the development of leadership skills of department chairs has become a major focus; however, the literature puts significantly less focus on helping chairs “manage” the next layer up—the dean.


Introvert Leadership May 22, 2017

The ‘Quiet’ Dean: Rethinking the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ of Leadership

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I am sitting quietly in my dean’s office, a serene place I first occupied in 1986, reflecting on a book by Susan Cain, one that I think you all should read, titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I would much rather communicate to you from my peaceful digs by way of a memo than set forth my ideas in a sparkling speech at a conference. Perhaps, like you—or perhaps not—I am an introvert and quick to admit it. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert (and so many academic leaders now embody the “extrovert ideal” of our contemporary culture), you will find Cain’s book informative, thoughtful, and (even) practical.


Managing Student Complaints April 28, 2017

Managing Student Complaints

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Knowing how to handle student complaints is an essential skill for department chairs. In an interview with Academic Leader, Patricia Markunas, chair of the Psychology Department at Salem State University, offered advice on minimizing the number of complaints and managing those that do make it to the department chair.


department chair April 14, 2017

Six Ways to Ensure a Smooth Chair Transition

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Faculty members often become chairs under less-than-ideal circumstances or for the wrong reasons. An underprepared faculty member or one with an axe to grind can wreak havoc and lead to frequent department chair turnover. Recognizing this all-too-common cycle, Gian Pagnucci, chair of the English Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Ethan Krase, chair of the English Department at Winona State University, offer the following recommendations to help smooth chair transitions and promote a well-functioning department.