department chair August 28

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

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.




Academic Leadership. Shot of a two executives working together in an office June 19

When Academic Leadership Comes with Baggage

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The baggage we bring to work with us can take a variety of forms. It could occur because we applied for our positions as internal candidates and suddenly find ourselves as bosses of the very people who only a short time ago we regarded as close friends. It could occur because we find ourselves in charge of a department or college in which a current or former mentor, romantic partner, or spouse works. It could occur because we develop a special affinity for someone who reports to us—or to whom we report—and we need to set aside those personal feelings when it comes to making a decision. In all too many cases, baggage places us in a lose-lose situation. If you decide in favor of your friend/lover/mentor, you’ll be accused of playing favorites. If you make a decision to that person’s detriment, the personal relationship could easily be strained.


department chair April 14

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.


Surviving a Leadership Transition March 17

Surviving a Leadership Transition

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Leadership changes in the upper administration can be stressful for chairs and deans. We’ve all seen situations in which a new chancellor or president arrives, and between six months and a year later, there’s an entirely new team of vice presidents. Sometimes entire divisions are reorganized. Offices are moved from the supervision of the provost and vice president of student affairs to create a new center for enrollment management, or an existing division of enrollment management is dissolved, and the people who worked in it are reassigned to the provost and vice president of student affairs. At times, too, new CEOs like to bring in their own team, usually people they worked well with at their previous institutions. (On why such a move is almost always a mistake, see Buller 2016.) A new vice president for academic affairs is often followed by the hiring of new deans, a new dean by new chairs, and so on.


The Quiet Dean: Rethinking the Extrovert Ideal of Leadership March 17

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

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Memo to academic leaders: 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 to 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.