The posting below looks at some important lessons learned over the years as a department chair. It is by DoMenick Pinto, chair of the Department of Computer Science at Sacred Heart University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The article is based on a presentation at the 31st Annual Academic Chairpersons Conference,February 12-14, 2014, Jacksonville, Florida. The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Summer 2014, Vol. 25, No. 1. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066(email@example.com), or see: http://www.departmentchairs.org/journal.aspx.
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The Chair of 2014: Faculty, Administrator, and Academic Leader
Having been a department chair for the last twenty-seven years, and realizing that I will be continuing as chair for at least several more years, has caused me to stop and reflect on how the responsibilities and duties of the chair have evolved and continue to do so in our academic world of economic uncertainty and, in many cases, declining student populations. The increasing publicity about MooCs; the pressure for all faculty to produce excel- lent scholarship, teaching, and service; and rapidly changing student demographics all contribute to the stress and worry of the position, especially for new chairs.
The chair role has evolved from that of a faculty member with some administrative duties to one in which we must be budget and efficiency experts, time management specialists, and politically savvy academicians. An increasing responsibility, and one to which I refer often in this article, is the chair's marketing ability-to put yourself and your department "out there." In addition, accountability and performance evaluations have, in many instances, taken on disproportionate importance to the basics of teaching well and effectively and maintaining a good dose of active and engaged learning in our classrooms.
How does the chair of 2014 maintain excellence in teaching, satisfy the need for a diligent and effective administrator and recruiter, and lead the faculty academically through a greatly volatile time in higher education?
I have been at sacred Heart university for almost thirty-eight years, of which thirty-three have been as a full-time faculty member. During that time I have been a department chair for twenty-seven years as well as the graduate program director for sixteen of those years for the computer science and information technology program and the cybersecurity program. I also serve as president of the university academic assembly, our faculty governance group. This last role can be time consuming and political but, as will be noted here, can greatly enhance your department's profile. In addition to the traditional role expectations of a department chair, I spend significant time focusing on several other evolving and important aspects of my position.
- Worry about class sizes, budget, and retention.
- Compete for departmental resources including space, equipment, and personnel.
- Expand recruitment efforts to include international students.
- Oversee all departmental operations relating to faculty, students, and administra- tive assistants.
- Maintain expertise in my field to enhance my leadership skills.
- Join committees and governance bod- ies to promote my department.
With such a large and varied list of responsibilities, how do chairs stay focused, manage their time, and achieve their goals?
- Be innovative and current in your field.
- Put your department out there: spotlight your accomplishments and your faculty.
- Be visible as a university faculty leader and advocate for your department at all times.
- Be organized, manage your time well, and seek out appropriate people to assist you.
- Know your limitations.
- take the time to teach what you enjoy.
- Maintain positive relationships with your faculty and as many administrators as possible without sacrificing your ability to be a strong leader.
Using Your skills
Our graduate computer science and information technology program has a large number of international students. since 2008, the program has grown steadily and we have been enrolling eighteen to fifty new full-time international students each trimester.
We accepted about 175 new international students for the spring 2014 semester and expected a typical yield of 20% to 30%, about thirty-five to fifty new students. But when all was said and done we enrolled ninety new students and, due to the uncertainty of how many students would actually get visas, we didn't know the final tally until the first week of classes. This required that, as chair, I organize a very deliberate and swift plan of action to accommodate the addition of forty international students to our program.
1. I immediately went to all the new student files and created a schedule for them based on whether they needed prerequisites and which track they were in before meeting with them.
2. I called my entire faculty (including adjuncts) and asked who would be willing to teach an extra section and added twelve new sections to accommodate these students. (All full-time international students must take at least three classes at three credits each to maintain their status.)
3.I added a section to one of my own classes.
4.I asked my support staff to work extra hours and my faculty to help me advise the students.
After many add/drops, and much confusion, chaos, and long hours, everyone was placed in classes by the second week. Although it took a lot of last-minute planning, these placements went smooth- ly because I prioritized, did as much as I could ahead of time, and put on hold everything I could for a few weeks. A situation such as this is where the chair of 2014 uses his or her combined skills as an administrator, academic leader, and faculty member.
Promoting Your department
If you have an opportunity to become a faculty leader while you are still chair, should you accept it? Although this will involve a significant time commitment, as well as attendance at meetings and social events, I believe this is an important way to market your department-to put it out there-because it provides an opportunity to promote the good work of your faculty from another venue. In addition, you not only meet with key administrators and campus members, but you become involved in important academic and administrative issues within the university. Another benefit is that you gain the respect of your colleagues and make political alliances that may become valuable to you in the future.
I conclude this article with some final observations.
Be flexible. You cannot be rigid in planning your day or the meetings that you chair, but you can maintain control. Remember to allow others to have a voice at all times.
Delegate where possible. There are many repetitive tasks that can be completed by an administrative assistant or even a junior faculty member that can free up your time as chair to tend to problem-prone areas.
If you don't have faculty who are productive, engaging, and relatively happy, the learning process for students can be seriously flawed. ultimately, it is the faculty who are the most important part of any thriving university.
Take the time to do something meaningful for yourself, such as attending a workshop or conference or sitting in on a lecture that is of interest to you.
The chair of 2014 has much to do and much to balance, all while keeping the best interests of the department in mind. There are many things that we as chairs can change or try to change, but there are equally as many that we cannot. Seeing the positive and potential in ourselves and others is key to surviving in the role and feeling competent that we can in fact make a difference.