Faculty Handbook 2017-2018

I.1.e. Promoting a collegial atmosphere

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. 

Sharing Governance

  • Emphasize consensus. Whenever 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.
  • Consult 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.”).
  • Develop 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.
  • Don’t 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 personal agendas.

Treating people well

  • Celebrate 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.).
  • Discuss 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 community.
  • Maintain 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).
  • Establish a climate of tolerating differences. Department climate should encourage acceptance of dissimilarity and variation of thoughts and ideas among faculty members.
  • Make 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 the individuals.
  • Deemphasize status differences. 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).
  • Engage in generational, racial, and gender equity. The composition of faculty members within departments changes over time. All department members should be treated equitably.
  • Resist 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.
  • Focus 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

  • Recognize 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 position.
  • Don’t 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.
  • Be consistent. In 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.
  • Keep 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.