ERIC Identifier: ED363165
Publication Date: 1993-10-00
Author: Seagren, Alan T. - And Others
Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC.| George Washington
Univ. Washington DC. School of Education and Human Development.
The Department Chair: New Roles, Responsibilities and
Challenges. ERIC Digest.
The academic department is the base unit of universities and colleges, "the
central building block...of the American university" (Trow 1977). While
departments fragment and divide the faculty of an institution of higher
education, they also provide a useful structure for the day-to-day activities
that shape faculty members' attitudes, behaviors, and performances.
The metaphor of a block of wood held in a vise for shaping seems appropriate
to describe the situation of an academic chair. The chair is squeezed between
the demands of upper administration and institutional expectations on the one
side and the expectations of faculty, staff, and students on the other, with
both attempting to influence and shape the chair. The chair is caught in the
middle, required to provide the most sophisticated leadership and statesmanship
to avoid being crushed by these two opposing forces.
The purpose of The Department Chair is to glean from the research insights
about the chairs or heads of academic departments who are caught in the middle.
The literature documents that chairs of academic departments in the 1990s will
be expected to perform in an increasingly complex, diverse, and changing
environment, with ever-increasing expectations from the institution and the
faculty. The following issues are most often raised as needing attention: (1)
roles and responsibilities of chairs, (2) the chair as leader, (3) the political
influences on the chair and the use of power, (4) the chair's responsibility for
evaluation and development of faculty, (5) the influence of institutional type
and specific discipline on the chair, and (6) challenges facing chairs in the
1990s and beyond.
WHAT ARE THE ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF CHAIRS?
studies have been conducted on the tasks, activities, roles, and
responsibilities of departmental chairs, but despite researchers' ability to
identify tasks and job-related duties, the chair's role continues to be
ambiguous, unclear in terms of authority, and unable to be classified as faculty
or administrator--all of which contribute to a high level of stress. Thus, the
chair must learn to cope readily with the demands of being in the middle, with
responsibilities to both faculty and administration.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR LEADERSHIP?
higher education differ from many organizations, requiring leadership to be a
more shared phenomenon than in most profit-focused enterprises. The concept of
faculty ownership is basic to academic institutions; thus, departmental
leadership requires greater emphasis on empowering activities than in many other
types of organizations. The chair, in concert with faculty, must develop a
vision beyond the immediate tasks and employ strategies that develop the
faculty's commitment to that vision. While chairs have opportunities to exercise
leadership in a number of different settings, including faculty meetings,
offices and laboratories, the total institution, and the disciplinary community,
the requirements of leadership vary depending on the department's stage of
development, the specific management function, the academic discipline, and the
chair's own style of leadership. The chair must ensure that an effective data
base exists for informed decision making, try to understand the use and dynamics
of the politics of the institution, use faculty members' strengths to develop
quality, and create an environment where faculty can strengthen their own
professional status through the achievement of a shared vision.
HOW CAN THE CHAIR EFFECTIVELY USE POLITICAL INFLUENCE AND
A number of internal and external constituencies--faculty,
upper-level administration, the institution's governing body, legislative
bodies, accrediting bodies, other external agencies and groups--influence
decision making in the department. Institutions of higher education are, to a
large extent, open political systems. Chairs draw upon two primary sources of
power: the authority outlined in formal job descriptions and the informal
influence of personal characteristics, expertise, and ability to capitalize on
opportunity. Chairs must understand the political forces and processes of the
institution and must skillfully maneuver groups and coalitions to achieve the
autonomy and control necessary to develop a strong department. Chairs must
skillfully use certain strategies (called push, pull, persuasion, preventative,
and preparatory strategies in the literature) and tactics (impression
management, agenda setting, networking, and negotiation) to manage an effective
WHAT IS THE CHAIR'S ROLE IN FACULTY EVALUATION AND
The quality of the program of an academic department is largely
determined by the quality and performance of the faculty. Evaluation, the
process of making judgments about performance, is one of the most powerful
opportunities for developing quality available to a chair.
For a chair to evaluate faculty effectively, the reasons for the evaluation
and the techniques to be employed must be clear to the chair, the dean, and the
faculty. Procedures to evaluate faculty can provide focus, clarify expectations
for work, give direction to faculty members' efforts, and define the need for
faculty development. What is to be measured, how it is to be measured, who is to
measure, and the indicators of quality must be carefully considered. The chair
must provide that leadership in developing and implementing evaluation of the
faculty (Braskamp, Brandenburg, and Ory 1984).
A second and equally powerful opportunity to encourage quality is faculty
development--the process of assisting faculty to grow professionally by gaining
an understanding of institutional expectations, improving performance in
teaching or research, creating a positive work environment, refocusing or
redirecting activities, and helping faculty resolve and deal with personal
issues. Faculty development is a shared responsibility that can be facilitated
through a number of activities and strategies, including orientation sessions,
mentoring, intervention in teaching and research, providing models of desired
behaviors, considering alternative professional career paths, and assisting
faculty in using available resources, such as employee assistance programs.
WHAT ARE THE INFLUENCES OF INSTITUTIONAL TYPE AND DISCIPLINE ON THE CHAIR?
The roles and responsibilities of and expectations for the
chair are all influenced by the type of institution and by differences in
methodology and body of knowledge of specific academic disciplines. The chair
must recognize how institutional type, history, and culture, model of
governance, and discipline can influence what is expected of him or her, in turn
determining the most effective strategies to use. Chairs should take advantage
of opportunities for professional development through programs offered by a
number of organizations, institutions, and professional associations.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Institutions of higher education
face a number of challenges in the remainder of the 1990s and beyond: quality,
diversity and gender, recruitment and retention of faculty, funding for
professional development, faculty workloads, evaluation, minority students, and
ethics. These challenges have no quick fixes, and they can be met and dealt with
only through the combined efforts of the entire academic leadership team,
including the chief executive, the academic officer, deans, chairs, and faculty.
The quality of leadership must be improved at all levels. Chairs should consider
human resources, the structure of the organization, and political and symbolic
frames of reference in providing leadership to the department. They must pay
attention to upgrading leadership skills through mentoring, reading, workshops,
self-assessment, and networking. Creating a professional development plan can
assist chairs to identify needs, specify objectives, and design techniques for
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