Most issues facing the
effective functioning of departments can be traced back, either directly or
indirectly, to a lack of collegiality in the department. Establishing and
maintaining a collegial atmosphere helps to prevent conflict because there is a
common social basis from which to tackle difficult issues. Faculty members who
feel that they are understood and appreciated are probably more likely to
contribute to the larger good of the department, the students, and the
institution as a whole, making the department a better place for everyone to
work and to learn. In addition, such an inclusive environment builds
connections between faculty members, faculty members and students, and faculty
members and staff/administration members. Prospective students and prospective
faculty members also gain a sense of a welcoming community, enticing them to
become members of your department.
possible, chairs should work to gain buy-in from department members. This will
empower and encourage department members to contribute their ideas and
suggestions in a civil and respectful manner.
with department members.
Faculty members need to have their ideas articulated and heard, so that they
have ownership in department business. Chairs should listen to all voices in
the department and encourage all department faculty members to contribute at
department meetings. Strike a reasonable balance in determining situations
where you can make a decision on the department’s behalf and when you need to
consult with your colleagues (see “Developing an effective leadership style.”).
and implement shared responsibilities. Chairs
should be ready to delegate and to make sure that work is shared. Where
possible, work should be given to faculty members who have an interest in the
work, and the workload should be distributed equitably.
abuse the authority associated with being chair.
Chairs should not be driven by their ego. Decisions should be made by taking
into account the needs of the department, not for personal gain or due to
Treating people well
department members’ and students’ accomplishments. Chairs should publicly and privately
celebrate the achievements of each faculty member (e.g., awarding of tenure,
promotion in rank, writing a grant, writing an article for publication,
obtaining a grant or contract, any awards for teaching/research, etc.).
anticipated goals for teaching, professional work, and service. Try to informally visit with every
department member sometime in the early part of each academic year to discuss
their goals for the upcoming year in terms of teaching, professional work, and
service. Not only does this allow the chair to become familiar with the plans
of all department faculty members (no matter where they are in their careers),
but it also provides a means to provide feedback and/or make suggestions to
help each faculty member grow and develop as part of the departmental
frequent and consistent interaction with colleagues. While some routine departmental business
can often be conducted via email, it is important to hold regularly scheduled
departmental meetings that occur face-to-face. Such meetings provide an
essential environment for making important departmental decisions where all
voices can be heard, ideas can be discussed, and options can be deliberated in
an open and supportive atmosphere (although keeping in mind that having
meetings just to meet is not an appropriate use of faculty members’ time).
a climate of tolerating differences. Department
climate should encourage acceptance of dissimilarity and variation of thoughts
and ideas among faculty members.
sure department members interact as equals. You can promote this by not showing favoritism and by
moderating heated exchanges, so that the issues are the discussion points, not
Chairs should make sure that untenured faculty members are accorded the same
respect as senior faculty members (recognizing that there are certain
situations where policy dictates that term and part-time members are not permitted
to attend some meetings or are exempt from some types of service).
in generational, racial, and gender equity. The composition of faculty members within departments
changes over time. All department members should be treated equitably.
the temptation to get even with or to punish a department member. There are times when it is tempting to
react in this manner to the behavior of others. However, such responses not
only lead to continuing issues with the specific person, but the chair also
loses credibility in the department.
on the ideas/issues/behaviors, not the person. During heated discussions, make sure that
the ideas/issues/behaviors are the central focus, not the individual. Keep the
dialog conversational, positive, and constructive, even in situations where
others may be critical and/or confrontational.
Managing your own behaviors
that your behavior will be seen as a model. Even though this may be uncomfortable at first, the
fact that you have taken on the role of chair makes you a role model. Try to be
self-aware and think about how you would like to be treated by someone in your
be defensive. Remember
that the discussions are not about you personally, but rather about the issues.
Even if someone tries to make it personal, bring the conversation back to the
ideas at hand.
order for department members to trust you, you need to be transparent and
consistent in your dealings with personnel. Without this behavior, people will
not feel secure and will waste valuable time and energy worrying about what you
might do next.
accurate, specific, and up-to-date records. Chairs should keep records of communications,
especially those that are contentious. These can be in the form of notes
written after a meeting or in saved e-mail conversations. The records should be
in a secure place and accessible for easy reference when needed.
- Be informative, constructive, and honest. Department members appreciate
knowing what is happening, what decisions have been made, and why those
decisions were made. Even when they are not in agreement with everything,
knowing what has happened provides a transparent environment so that people
aren’t worried about any hidden agendas.