Follow-up report: Characteristics of the Ideal Department

The ‘department of the future' was the basic theme for the workshops in Cluster II of the PKAL Summer Institute. Over the next few weeks, we will be reporting on discussions from the workshops and plenary sessions.

At a morning plenary session, in at-the-table working groups, participants identified a set of characteristics of the ideal department, including:

  • there is a clear vision, with everyone "pushing the wagon" in the same, agreed-upon direction
  • there is a politically-astute department chair, with no agenda except to facilitate, who provides constructive feedback, and ensures all faculty are rewarded for their contributions
  • there are large enrollments of sharp, motivated majors
  • there is collegiality, respect for all members, where everyone works and plays well with others
  • there is a "can do" rather than "we have already tried that" spirit
  • where students feel they are a part of a group and are excited to be in college
  • there is a sharing of burdens and responsibilities, frequent assemblies to share work with colleagues.

The ideal department is a place where you would want to come and work most days. It is a place where the 3C's– communication, cooperation, and community & the 4R's– recognition, resources, rewards and risk-taking abounds. Below is an excerpt from the Institute's daily newspaper for June 5 that details the discussions about the ideal department.

The PKAL 2002 Summer Institute Daily Newsletter:
The Ideal Department


  • Has a common agenda, or at least a non-conflicting agenda.
  • The ideal department has a plan, a vision for the future.
  • Everyone "pushing the wagon" in the same, agreed upon direction.
  • Has a clear vision with effective (and flexible) leadership.
  • Has a stated and understood mission.
  • Has clearly stated rules and regulations.
  • Has strategic (rational) plan for going after grants.


  • Department has sufficient resources (budget, facilities, people, equipment).
  • Has a great administrative assistant.
  • Has a reasonably good physical plant with excellent technical support.
  • IS RICH !!!!

Students & Student Learning:

  • All faculty realize they exist because of the students.
  • Focused on student learning and student retention.
  • Responsive to student needs. A Student-friendly environment.
  • Dynamic curriculum with continual evaluation and strategic change.
  • Universal commitment to excellence.
  • Can quickly respond to changes in technology.
  • Offers challenging courses for both majors and non-majors.
  • Large enrollment of sharp, motivated majors.
  • Coordinated course offerings.
  • Good placement testing of students.
  • Good advising and mentoring of students.
  • Has programs where students can get involved in research as early as possible.
  • Students feel they are a part of a group and are excited to be in college.


  • Has a politically astute department chair.
  • Has an open-minded management.
  • Has a chairperson with no agenda except to facilitate.
  • Has a chairperson that provides constructive feedback.
  • Transparency in decision-making by administrators.
  • Has a chair that represents the department well to the administration.
  • Shared leadership/governance. Strong sustained leadership.
  • Enthusiastic leadership which ensures all faculty are rewarded for the contributions.


  • Can agree to disagree.
  • Not threatened by having personal views challenged. Willingness to park egos.
  • Everyone works and plays well with others.
  • Minimal amount of "deadwood" in department.
  • Senior faculty are not automatically treated as deadwood and conservative just because they have been around a little longer and have more wisdom than the younger faculty.
  • Collegiality, common goals, and fairness in decision-making.
  • Respect for all members (faculty, staff, students) and their contributions to the mission.
  • Will not settle "scores" by encouraging student unrest.
  • Operates through consensus building. Has members that are able to compromise.


  • Environment conducive to innovation and risk-taking.
  • Has a mixture of perspectives, communication styles, and experience
  • Good diversity in terms of age, gender, background, ethnicity, and experience.
  • Relaxed friendly atmosphere.
  • Fair workload and compensation.
  • Shared sense of humor.
  • Nurtures new and established faculty.
  • Is alert to needs and special circumstances of faculty members.
  • Cohesive and cooperative faculty.
  • Shared responsibilities.
  • Innovative programs abound.
  • Is willing to try novel approaches with emerging technologies.
  • A place where ideas are freely exchanged and objectively debated.
  • Frequent assemblies to share work with colleagues.
  • Encourages innovation.
  • Has a sense of communal mission.
  • Sharing of burdens.
  • Harmony between faculty and students.
  • Good relationships with other departments.
  • Serves the needs of both faculty and students while creating and disseminating new knowledge.


  • A sense that if the department as whole succeeds, all faculty members benefit.
  • Shared spirit of adventure.
  • Sense of security and an entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Faculty that are engaged beyond the job description.
  • Have at least some people that think outside the box.
  • "Can do" rather than "we have already tried that" spirit.
  • Common sense of purpose, but with individual expertise.
  • Support and recognition for efforts in research, teaching, and service.
  • Has more than one department cheerleader.
  • Made up of people who have ideas and are eager to hear the ideas of others.
  • People within the department have social interactions outside of the department.
  • Willingness to give up an idea when something better comes along.


  • Good scholarship present with a strong research base.
  • Faculty are professionally current in their fields.
  • Faculty have academic colleagues beyond the campus.
  • Faculty regularly publish in journals.
  • Faculty have appropriate credentials.

Other Characteristics:

  • An effective learning community.
  • A department that is an integral part of the campus community.
  • Has a dynamic faculty development program that is supported by colleagues.
  • Is a concerned with faculty professional growth and career development.
  • Good connections to the local community.
  • Alumni are successful and department stays in touch with them.
  • Reasonable and effective committee structures.
  • C3 – communication, cooperation, and community.
  • R4 – Recognition, resources, rewards, and risk-takers.
  • A department where at least one person has a summerhouse on a beach.