DU Chair Handbook

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Managing up and out: Working with the dean and other university administrators

There are similarities between deans and chairs

Both are in the “middle.”

Both deal with multiple constituencies.

Both must respond to many demands with limited resources.

The dean is just as dependent on good chairs as chairs are dependent on a good dean

But, deans and chairs are also distinct

Deans are more distanced from everyday activities. They can see the institutional “big picture” more clearly than chairs, but they must often depend on chairs for implementation.

Chairs are committed to a single discipline and set of programs; deans must understand and support all of the programs and disciplines in the college.

Deans expect chairs to be aware of their institutional context:

Understand the mission and goals of the unit and university, including strategic plans.

Be familiar with institutional procedures and regulations (faculty contracts, process for handling student complaints, university T&P guidelines).

Chairs should keep deans apprised of their department’s activities, priorities, and challenges:

Pass along positive information about faculty, staff, and student achievements.

Offer evidence about the department’s productivity (enrollment, publications, service to the discipline or community).

Remind the dean about challenges faced by the department (inadequate staffing in a particular area, need for curricular revision).

Notify the dean promptly and fully of any issue likely to need immediate attention (budget short-fall, major student complaint, faculty resignation, major program change, request to extend a job offer, etc.).

Advocating up the chain:

Share faculty members’ perspectives with the dean.

Advocate for departmental mission/strategic plan.

Understand which issues are brought to the dean, and which issues may be addressed by an associate dean or staff member. This varies from unit to unit, but deans should be the first contact for requesting new faculty hires and other major departmental resources.

Avoid bringing problems to the dean that should be solved at the departmental level.

Be prepared to generate proposals for solutions to problems you need to bring to the dean: avoid dumping them in the dean’s lap without proposing solutions.

Offer proposals that are consistent with the mission of the college:

  • Provide a narrative to show how your request makes programmatic sense.
  • Offer quantitative and qualitative data to back up your request.
  • Look for opportunities to make your proposal work for more than just your own program, especially if you are requesting more resources (people, space, money); show how these can meet more than one need in the college.
  • Show how the department is also investing resources. Be prepared to give up something in order to get what you want.
  • Time the request appropriately: if there is a logical deadline for a request, make every effort to submit it by then.
  • Align your proposal with institutional missions and strategic plans.
  • Read more about what deans expect of department heads (Gary A. Olson, 2008, Chronical of Higher Education)

In addition to managing a departmental relationship with the dean, the chair will also be an advocate for departmental values and goals throughout the university.

Although being chair often feels like a powerless position, the chair can leverage departmental power and voice in the following ways:

  • Make sure faculty voices are heard through other channels like faculty senate. The chair can delegate senate positions wisely and make space in department meetings to participate in this type of shared governance.
  • The chair can also appoint or encourage faculty to serve on important university committees in order to advance departmental values.
  • The chair can guide the department in creating robust tenure and promotion guidelines, which are more detailed and specific than college or university guidelines. Departments have control over what kinds of research and creative works, pedagogies, and types of service should be considered valuable and meritorious in the university.