Handbook for Department Chairs


The ideal chairperson of a department/program:

  • knows that:
    • it is OK to delegate things and that is it not really his/her problem if it doesn't get done
    • some things that appear initially to be a real head-ache actually turn out to be helpful in moving an agenda along (e.g., an administrative mandate tying new faculty requests to a departmental review)
    • there will always be more worthy things to do than can get done well, and that choices have to be made and that clear priorities help determine those choices.
  • learns that:
    • the administration's knowledge of what is needed to build and sustain a strong STEM program is not only surprisingly deficient, it's simply non-existent
    • the dean treats you as though you have real authority and the power to accomplish great things, but the faculty treat you as though you have neither
    • most faculty members do not have and do not care to have involvement with larger institutional issues, but care deeply about their own courses (thus may be amenable to sweeping changes in overall degree requirements, but resistant to suggestions for even minor changes in what happens in their courses and labs)
    • sometimes you have to say "no," but must be able to justify that response, given departmental priorities and institutional circumstances.
  • is learning that keys to building a vital department for the long-term include:
    • keeping a focus on the future - on the changing context for their work
    • making the right "hires" and investing in the right faculty
    • focusing on the quality of student learning
    • understanding the national context for local efforts to transform deapartments, programs, and institutions.