Roles and Responsibilities of Department Chairs

May 7, 2002

Roles and Responsibilities of Department Chairs

The Academic leadership in a university begins with the Board of Regents and extends through all administrative levels. Individuals who play a key role in daily promoting policies and leading the well functioning of academic life are department chairs. Ordinarily, these are the individuals who work closest with their faculties to improve the quality of graduate and undergraduate education and research. Chairs may propose new majors and graduate degrees. They assign teaching and other functions to the faculty. They work closely with their deans to shape academic visions and serve as the key link between deans and departments.

In an environment of shared governance, the chair has the responsibility to consult with faculty on the initiatives in the department and attempt to develop a majority position, if not consensus, on them. In the following pages, it is assumed the chair consistently consults with faculty in performing the many responsibilities of the chair position. At the same time, even in shared governance, there are prerogatives of academic administrators and chairs who are responsible for communicating academic policies and decisions to their faculties. There are numerous examples. The president normally determines what portion of the university budget can be committed to faculty salary increases. Although the faculty grievance process consists of several levels of faculty committees, the provost represents the last decision maker. When space is allocated to a college, it is the dean who determines how that space will be assigned.

The purpose of this document is not to suggest there is a significant need for change in the role of chair. Rather, it is to clarify that chairs’ responsibilities and expectations have evolved as universities have become more complex, much less dependent on state funding and more aware of public expectations. The majority of departments already operate within the model that follows. Those departments that do not will need to make adjustments. In particular, no college by-laws can be inconsistent with this document. If department by-laws are not consistent with this description, they are inconsistent with college by-laws and will require change.

 

Chair Responsibilities:

The chair is both the chief academic and chief executive officer of a university unit and, as such, reports to the dean who is the chief academic and executive officer of the college. The position is an eleven-month appointment and appropriate compensation for this commitment should be determined by the Dean at the time of appointment. A chair should have the stature to represent the academic ideals and aspirations of the department as well as the ability to perform its executive functions, including budget and resource allocations. The ideal chair stimulates the department by generating ideas and initiatives. Faculty members deserve a chair they are pleased to have represent them at college and university meetings as well as national meetings of chairs and scholars. The chair position involves a myriad of responsibilities and challenges.

The chair, after consultation with the faculty and according to the department by-laws, recommends to the dean all faculty personnel actions including appointments, promotion, tenure, dismissal, salary increments, and post tenure review. The chair organizes faculty searches. The chair oversees the departmental promotion and tenure process. In addition to forwarding the faculty’s recommendations, the chair submits an independent evaluation of each candidate. The chair also promotes faculty development by mentoring or providing mentors to assist new as well as continuing faculty. The chair should be the first person consulted by faculty and students on matters of academic honesty. These matters will be handled in accordance with University procedures.

The chair provides academic leadership and vision for the department in order to enhance its quality and reputation. Planning should occur with faculty in an environment in which the chair demonstrates an ability to listen, organize and stimulate discussion. These discussions, at times, may lead the chair to negotiate with other chairs to develop interdisciplinary initiatives or collaborations.

At times, vigorous discussions in departments can escalate into uncomfortable dissensions. It is imperative chairs attempt to resolve such disagreements in a collegial and evenhanded manner. In all situations, it is expected chairs treat all departmental personnel with fairness and dignity.

The chair is responsible for the department’s relationship with and service to students. This occurs through participation in the design and implementation of undergraduate and graduate programs. The chair has the prerogative to assign major responsibilities for these initiatives to other members of the department. The chair also is responsible for making teaching assignments in ways that will fulfill the department’s responsibility to provide adequate access to courses in the major, service offerings, and distance education, as appropriate.

It is the responsibility of the chair to meet at least annually with individual faculty to discuss each person’s performance. This includes a discussion of the individual’s expected teaching, research and service initiatives for the past and coming years and whatever salary increases (if an increase is available) a person will receive. If the faculty member is an exceptional performer, the chair may wish to examine how special rewards can be given (e.g., nomination for an endowed professorship, request for an equity salary increase, etc.). If the faculty member is not performing well, it is the responsibility of the chair to inform that individual and to advise and assist the person to improve his or her performance.

The chair serves as an advocate to the dean for departmental needs and priorities. The chair is responsible for and oversees the financial affairs of the department, submits the annual plan and budget request to the dean, and administers the approved budget as a reflection of the department’s priorities. In addition, the chair oversees the department’s assessment process.

 

Additional duties of the chair include:

Within the larger college and university context, the chair enhances the resources of the department through grant writing and fund-raising initiatives in both the public and private sector.

The chair maintains sound relations with important educational community constituencies, including the relevant business or professional community, parallel academic departments at other educational institutions, departmental alumni, and the general public.

The chair oversees routine departmental matters including but not limited to scheduling classes, admitting students, allocating space, supervising departmental staff, managing internal and external communication, and conducting department meetings.

 

Selecting a Chair

The dean, in consultation with the departmental faculty and in accordance with college by laws will decide when a search for a chair will be initiated and whether the search will be an external one or restricted to current UH faculty members.

The search will be governed by the following conditions. The process of recommending a chair will be performed by a departmental search committee (which can be a committee of the whole).

The committee will recommend one or more possible appointees to the dean. The dean has the prerogative to request a further search. Otherwise, the dean appoints a candidate as chair. In searches for an outside chair, all procedures for appointment of new faculty must be followed.

 

Review of Chair

A chair will be reviewed on a regular basis in accordance with college by-laws. When a chair decides not to continue in the position, no review takes place.

The review will be conducted by a committee selected in accordance with college by-laws. The review committee will first discuss its findings with the chair. After these discussions, the committee will provide a confidential report to the dean. Ordinarily, the dean will use this evaluation to share with the chair positive reports on the chair’s leadership, any concerns that are expressed and ideas that are proposed for improvement. The dean may use the evaluation to indicate specific actions a chair must take to retain a leadership position. Finally, the dean meets with the faculty, without the chair, to discuss the results of the evaluation.

 

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