Report from Academic Council Subcommittee

on Department Chairs

28 April 1999
 

Committee Members: Steve Braye (Chair), Janie Brown, Richard Haworth,
Nancy Midgette, and Rosalind Reichard.


The Academic Council Subcommittee on Department Chairs was formed in the spring of 1998 to address concerns identified by an earlier Academic Council subcommittee, the Evaluation Subcommittee. This subcommittee argued that the growth of the college, in students, faculty, and programs, and the addition of an administrative level, the Dean level, has changed the duties facing department chairs and greatly increased their workload. Given this subcommittee report, and the reluctance faculty across the campus have expressed in accepting the chair position because of the workload, Academic Council felt it time to examine the position of department chair.

The Subcommittee on Department Chairs was charged with examining four issues relating to department chairs:


The subcommittee of four worked through the spring semester, before adding Rosalind Reichard, Dean of Math and Science, to complete the committee in August. The five committee members represented three members of the earlier Evaluation Subcommittee, three past department chairs, and one current department chair.

The subcommittee decided to hold an open forum to discuss concerns about department chairs during the August orientation. This forum allowed the committee to share and revise its basic premises (see Appendix A) and listen to faculty concerns about the chair position. Approximately forty faculty attended this forum. The subcommittee also conducted a survey of current department chairs (and a few selected faculty) to acquire information and determine whether the subcommittee’s perceptions about the position and its duties accurately reflected the chairs’ feelings and concerns. The questions and results of the survey are attached (see Appendix B and C).

This information has led the committee to offer the following report and recommendations. We consider the first four recommendations fundamental, changes we feel the college must accomplish in order to address the needs of department chairs. The other recommendations address not only the four charges given the committee by Academic Council, but also address thorny issues relating to the position of department chair. We provide a rationale for each of these, explaining why we felt it imperative to make each recommendation.

Hopefully, these recommendations will enable the college to improve the position of department chair and increase the effectiveness of this position within the college community.
 

Fundamental Recommendation

1. The college should provide formal training for department chairs addressing issues such as:


2.    The VPAA, in concert with the department chairs, should develop guidelines for dealing
       with three issues: release time, staff support, and summer compensation. These problems
       confront various departments in different ways, and should be handled more
       systematically by the college. Guidelines would provide more consistency and
       predictability in these areas.

3.     Regular times need to be established for department chairs to gather and talk about the job
        of  being department chair.

4.     Department chairs should not teach overloads.
 
 

Secondary Recommendations and Rationale

A.     A Department chair should have professional or tenure status and should be
        at the  Associate Professor level or higher.

Although this committee sees the need for flexibility in this recommendation and realizes that exceptions could be made, we believe that it is important for a department chair to hold such senior faculty status.

One of the primary functions of a chair is to be an advocate for the department. Chairs must have some sense of security and confidence before they can stand strong for their department.

It is in the best interest of the college to encourage junior faculty to develop and establish themselves in the normal mainstream of faculty excellence and performance before they are asked to focus such a large amount of their time and energy on one specific endeavor.

Having professional or tenure status and having been promoted at least once identifies a faculty member as one who is both accomplished and respected. This faculty member would also understand what it takes to successfully go through the PP&T process. This understanding would be an effective source of information when dealing with new/junior faculty or when trying to balance one's own professional status with the increased workload of a department chair.
 

B.     Initial appointments of department chairs should be four years, with additional
         two-year increments.

Currently department chairs are appointed for two-year, renewable terms. However, two years is hardly enough time to become comfortable with the job. It certainly is not enough time to have an impact on the development of the department. Since the vast majority of chairs responded that one of the positive aspects of the position is the opportunity to impact departmental development, it would seem logical that their appointment should give them sufficient time.

Subsequent appointments of the same chair should be in two-year increments, although it is not difficult to conceive of the need for exceptions (impending sabbatical, semester in London, etc.) An optimum time to serve is six years - long enough to be effective, short of burnout. Again, a variety of situations could propel someone to serve in this capacity longer.
 

C.     Department chairs should earn a sabbatical at the completion of their fifth
         year as chair.

The chairs agreed that their chair duties take up an enormous amount of their time, leaving little time for working on the teaching and professional development parts of their job. Many mentioned that starting new professional development directions, including developing new courses and pedagogical approaches, was difficult, especially since they feel it is their duty to further those efforts in others (sabbaticals and grants, for example), rather than in themselves. It was also clear that chairs see their main responsibility to the campus as one of leadership: leading the department and its members in new directions, while supporting individual and campus initiatives.

If we agree that most chairs will serve four to six years, chairs need time to move back into their teaching and professional development roles. A sabbatical at the end of service would give chairs the chance to rejuvenate, as well as provide the opportunity for them to reflect upon the role they will now play in the department and across the campus. A sabbatical would enable chairs to develop a long range professional development plan that would benefit themselves, their departments, and the campus as a whole.

Finally, it would provide additional compensation for chairs, making the role of the chair more attractive. The inclusion of a sabbatical in the compensation package for chairs would be a part of their reward for a job well done.
 

D.    A department chair should serve a one-year apprenticeship.

Most department chairs reported that it took them a year just to learn the basics of the job. All too often, they made some avoidable mistakes because they didn't completely understand either a process or a deadline. While a department chair "manual" would be helpful, many issues are department-specific (such as rotation of courses). There are a number of nuances with this job that an upcoming department chair can best learn by observing and doing (curriculum committee, handling complaints, working with the dean and other chairs, etc.)
 

E.     Division deans should complete a formal evaluation of a department chair
         that addresses only their role as department chair.

Many department chairs argued that the current evaluative system needs to be supplemented in order to place adequate emphasis on the contributions to the college community made by department chairs. Therefore, besides the yearly Unit I, II, and III evaluations, department chairs should have an annual written evaluation providing feedback on their role as department chair. This evaluation should be provided by the appropriate division dean, but should not be automatically included in the permanent personnel file of the department chair. Department chairs may choose to include this formal evaluation in their personnel file. The evaluation will be shared with the Vice President for Academic Affairs.
 

F.     A department chair should have the option of not teaching during Winter Term.

Anyone who has taught Winter Term is well aware of the fast pace required for planning, teaching, and assessing. Little or no time remains for additional responsibilities. ( In general, committee meetings, faculty meetings, etc., are not held.) Thus it can be assumed that meeting departmental administration demands, in addition to teaching, would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for chairs. Add to that the time involved in writing Unit IIIs, a task that must be done in January. In the chair survey, the item of most concern was time.

For faculty not teaching Winter Term, there are large blocks of time available. Department chairs could use this time not only for departmental administrative tasks, but also for planning for spring teaching which would make spring term responsibilities easier.
 

G.    Before selecting a new chair, the department should compile a list of
        departmental expectations for the position.

Although there was general agreement on the part of the responders to the questionnaire that chairs should be tenured or professionalized and at the Associate professor level or higher, there may be additional qualifications which each department could delineate. This would give faculty input into the decision-making up front and would make the decision easier.

The qualifications may be personality characteristics, but most often they would be professional in nature. The qualifications could well be determined by clearly defined duties, responsibilities and authority (see task force information in "J"). Qualifications are determined by the job description.
 

H.    Before selecting a new chair, the process of selection should be made clear
        to all department members.

We suggest the following process for selecting department chairs.
 

Selection Process:

Deans and chairs should have ongoing conversations, so that, unless the chair is being removed, both should know well in advance when the search for a new chair will begin. The dean and chair should begin discussing criteria for the new chair at the beginning of the academic year. The timeline for choosing the chair should develop so that the new chair will be able to serve as an apprentice to the current chair. The dean should discuss possible candidates and criteria for the new chair with every full-time faculty member in the department. After consultation with all of the departmental faculty, the dean should recommend a candidate for department chair to the Vice President for Academic Affairs.

J.     An appropriate task force should be formed to more clearly define the duties,
        responsibilities, and authority of the position of department chair.

It is in the best interests of the institution that each level of administration clearly understands their duties, responsibilities, and authority. Currently, department chairs see themselves with little power to make decisions. Clearly, the institutions benefits from strong department chairs, who recognize their duties and and power to carry them out. A number of years ago, a committee attempted to define these duties (see Faculty Handbook), but clearly more needs to be done.

Any definition of duties at one level of administration influences the duties at another. A task force from the three main levels involved, chairs, deans, and VPAA, should discuss and decide which level is best prepared to handle what duties, then devise the means for granting authority to that level.
 

Appendix A:  Summary of Committee Views

Appendix B:  Ad Hoc Committee on Department Chairs Questionnaire

Appendix C:  Department Chair Survey Report

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