DU Chair Handbook

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Operations & Management

Advising assignments

Depending on the size of the department, level of the degree, and complexities of the programs different types of advising models may be used.


One model for undergraduate student advising divides the duties among all full-time faculty in a program. The administrative assistant handles assigning advisors to students, while the chair also advises and handles tricky advising questions.

Other departments identify a primary advisor (maybe a staff or a faculty) who orients students to the major, meets with prospective students, troubleshoots tricky advising situations, and approves substitutions, waivers, and study abroad as well as transfer requests. This model may include a course release for faculty – check with your dean. (These departments can still distribute students to major advisors for general PIN management.) The departmental advisor can meet with students both between registration rushes and throughout the entire year.

Some programs have an advising team that is made up of professional advising staff.

Office of Academic Advising is also helpful for answering questions about the common curriculum and other advising topics unrelated to the major itself.

Graduate students

One model uses an advising team consisting of faculty or staff, depending on the program, until a research advisor and thesis committee is established.

Some departments assign a temporary advisor for the first year, until the student and graduate director select a permanent advisor.

Irrespective of the models of advising used, it is a collaborative decision between the chair, faculty, and the academic services associate on the type of advising, keeping in mind equity of advising load, rank and faculty lines, and the degree for which advising occurs (e.g. MA degree advising may be less taxing than advising a PhD student).

Budgeting and fundraising

What every department chair needs to know about budgeting

Budget processes vary from department to department and from college to college, so most budget questions are localized and unit-specific. But here are helpful links to the university’s general timeline for budget development, as well as a guide to understanding the financial structure at DU.

DU’s General Budget Timeline (pdf)
Understanding Financial Structure at DU (pdf)

  • The chair is responsible for understanding the departmental budget and departmental expenditures. There are, however, financial officers in your unit. Get to know them. Your administrative assistant can also be a valuable resource. Make sure that person is knowledgeable about your budget and basic budget processes.
  • Make sure that your departmental mission should drive your spending priorities.
  • Know the difference between operating funds and rollover funds. The former disappear at the end of the fiscal year (June 30), while the others do not.
  • Know when hoarding will help, and when it will hurt. If funds can roll over to the next year, they might be worth saving. But if you do not exhaust your funding in key areas like research/internship support, materials, etc. it may be hard to make the case next year that you really need funding in these areas.
  • Be prepared to make requests for your program. Have a soundbite ready about what the most important thing your project will achieve if funded. Say it in 50 words or less. Deans and donors like good ideas that are well-articulated.
  • In some departments, faculty members obtain external grant funding. DU sends a portion of the indirect / F&A back to the department as flowback funds, which may be used at the grant PI’s discretion or for the department’s use. Speak with your dean about the policy in your college around flow back funds.
  • In some departments, equipment and lab fees are collected to support the use of equipment and supplies for teaching labs. The chair typically works with the faculty to assess what small piece of equipment can be purchased. Any large purchases need to be coordinated with the dean’s office.

Other budgeting issues to consider

  • When submitting a budget, create a narrative that clearly defines the vision and the need for funding. Although not every proposal has to connect with university/college strategic plans or other campus initiatives and priorities, they will have particular resonance if they do.
  • When submitting a budget, ask for what you need, rather than inflating the budget in the hopes of getting more.
  • Be specific and focused: avoid general requests for “more support” and recounting past injustices.
  • Provide several options so that the prospective funder can see how an increase or reduction would affect what the project can achieve.
  • Always share good news with the dean or prospective funders: this can increase future support for your program’s priorities.
  • Invest in faculty. Hire well and support your hires.
  • Invest in your students. Using departmental funds to create supplemental scholarships can help with graduate enrollments.
  • Be creative. Share costs with another unit, spread costs over several years, etc.

Discretionary funds

When your department budget includes discretionary funds, from grant flowback or other sources, consider how you might use them. Options may include:

  • Travel/professional development beyond your unit’s annual allotment for faculty.
  • Paying the costs to bring out additional candidates for searches, beyond what deans will support
  • Start-up funds for faculty members starting labs in the natural or social sciences
  • Social events (beginning of year/end of year celebrations) or professional events (e.g. conferences) to develop community and foster intellectual engagement
  • Departmental retreats
  • External program reviews
  • Short-term support for departmental needs (e.g. accreditation processes, student hourly work, etc.)

What every department chair needs to know about fundraising

  • In most departments, the chair does not initiate fundraising opportunities, although chairs may be expected to attend campus-wide events when requested.
  • In some departments, the chair may be active in maintaining or even initiating connections with alumni/donors for special projects. You won’t have to do this alone; in fact, you shouldn’t. Make sure you work closely with any development officer who is assigned either to your program or college.
Course scheduling

Course scheduling is done differently across departments, often arising from departmental culture. It may be done at department meetings once or multiple times a year to evenly distribute teaching loads and curricular needs across days/times. Some programs have professional staff who oversee the mechanics of course scheduling.

Factors to consider when scheduling courses

Chairs need to schedule in conjunction with the registrar’s requirements for course coverage across days and times. Key scheduling considerations may include:

  • Is there good coverage for desirable teaching times and unpopular teaching times (e.g. not everyone can schedule their courses at 10am or noon, and everyone may need to take a turn teaching on Fridays)?
  • Is there a good balance of course offerings between common curriculum courses and departmental electives? Between undergraduate, mixed, and all-graduate courses?
  • Is there breadth in the curriculum so students are not forced to choose from a roster of thematically similar classes?
  • Are faculty teaching to their strengths/interests in a balanced and fair way?
  • Are the course offerings in line with national trends for the undergraduate/graduate program?
  • Are the course offerings helping build teaching portfolios for untenured faculty? For example, how many preparations do untenured faculty have in a single year, especially the first year? Will they have the opportunity to repeat some of their courses sufficiently prior to a tenure decision?
  • If your program has graduate teaching assistants, you may be responsible for scheduling them.

Other Issues

  • Department chairs may need to make schedule changes in the case of faculty life events, course buyouts for grants received, or cancelled classes due to low enrollment. If you have developed good capital with your peers from good practices described throughout this handbook, you may have a more receptive collection of colleagues to help you with these changes.
  • Be prepared for some faculty to be very particular about their teaching schedules. Make sure that the loudest faculty members do not drown out equity considerations.
  • Chairs need to be prepared to provide rationales for required courses to stay on the schedule if under-enrolled and to manage course substitutions or subsequent quarter overloads if a faculty member’s course is canceled.
  • If you choose to change your program’s culture of building a class schedule, make sure you have a good reason that shows clear benefit to the program. Also, make sure you have told your colleagues in advance of the new process. Ideally, you should ask for input in advance of any proposed change.
  • Some courses may need to be taken outside your department or even outside your college (e.g. electives, interdisciplinary degree courses, statistics and research courses). Work closely with the department that is offering the courses so that you can schedule appropriate number of sections.
  • Always check the schedules before the enrollment begins. It is much harder to change anything after these starting dates.
Scheduling and facilitating department meetings

Whenever you schedule a meeting, remember that you are asking for people’s time. Make sure you use their time wisely with a clear purpose to the meeting and with good preparation.

Chairs need to maintain a balance between transparent communication with faculty and the burden of numerous meetings. Certain times of the year require more meetings (i.e. during faculty hiring). In general, 1-2 meetings/quarter have been sufficient for some departments. Other departments tend to hold 3-4 meetings per quarter.

The Chair schedules meetings and attempts to schedule them when the maximum number of faculty can attend. To be inclusive of all faculty, if a meeting is held during the teaching time, you should consider holding a subsequent meeting at a different time. Another option practiced by some departments is to find a weekly “common hour” in which no classes are scheduled. Whether this option is possible relies on a number of factors, such as size of your program and department culture.

Some good practices for scheduling and facilitating meetings include:

  • Send out an agenda ahead of time and allow faculty to add to the agenda in advance of the meeting.
  • Encourage your department to follow standard governance procedures. To promote fairness and clarity in the governing work of your program, you might consider applying guidelines, such as those by Alice Sturgis (Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure) or Roberts (Roberts Rules of Order). They may not be necessary for smaller programs, but may be appropriate to for large programs.
  • Maintain a record of issues discussed and decisions made during faculty meetings. Memories fade, and all of us can misremember. Consider some way to maintain a record of work done during faculty meetings. Meeting minutes that are shared using a common platform (e.g. department shared drive) are helpful.


Supervision of staff
  • As chair, you will supervise full- and/or part-time administrative and other staff members. Numbers vary with the size of your department.
  • Whereas it is normal for department chairs to come and go, the professional staff remains in place. As such, they are both knowledgeable and experienced in the workings of the university and your program. Put differently, their assistance will be crucial to your success.
  • Working collaboratively with your staff can ease the burden of chairing and extend your impact. In the introduction to this Handbook Kara Duggan provides some good advice on how to be a good supervisor and collaborator.
  • Familiarize yourself with HRIC and Risk Management offices and policies. DU offers at least one “Legal Lunch and Learn” each year – be sure to attend.
  • You may have to supervise hour logs for staff. Fmilaiarize yourself with the electronic systems (e.g. Kronos) that are used to track hours, develop and monitor staff performance etc. Your College’s business manager and DU Shared Services can help.
  • DU expects supervisors to conduct annual staff performance reviews and to work with staff on quarterly and half-year check-ins. Familiarize yourself with the software and the process, known as Pioneers@Work. Taking reviews seriously shows your staff that you value them and support their professional goals.

Some recommendations

  • It is good practice to establish a regular weekly or biweekly meeting with your administrative assistant. Such a meeting helps you both review upcoming deadlines, set up processes and procedures, keep on track with projects or reports, and simply stay on top of general departmental business. It also creates a predictable, structural moment when you can keep your administrative assistant apprised of important upcoming events, meetings, due dates, etc.
  • Consider developing with your administrative assistant a list of actions and deadlines that need to be done throughout the year, if one does not exist already. Such “To Do” lists are helpful in staying on top of departmental operations and the surfeit of deadlines that come with leading a department.
  • Support your staff members’ professional development by getting to know their interests and helping connect them to DU’s professional development options (LinkedIn Learning, etc.).
  • There are often multiple demands on the staff. Support your staff member in helping them to prioritize tasks, goals, and activities.
Oversight and distribution of departmental service responsibilities

Departmental service is important; it sustains the health and operation of your program. It also can be a source of contention and conflict if it is distributed unfairly. Exactly what “fair” means can rest in the eyes of the beholder, so it is important that you establish some method or system, either formally or informally, that can be seen as equitable.

Service can be an opportunity to develop a model of distributive leadership in a department. When multiple people have responsibilities, they are invested in departmental decision-making in a way they are not when the Chair is responsible for everything. It is to your advantage to avoid the Atlas Complex in which you feel you must carry the weight of the world (in this case, your department). In a healthy department, advising, assessment, and other responsibilities are often distributed to various faculty members as a form of service.

Here are examples of departmental service that faculty may do. Your department may have a few or all of these; it may also have others:

  • Hiring committee
  • Tenure & Promotion committee
  • Tenure & Promotion representatives for the larger unit
  • Teaching Line Promotion and Evaluation
  • Teaching Line Promotion and Evaluation representative for the larger unit
  • Assessment committee
  • Curriculum planning committee
  • Social committee
  • Liaison positions to other programs or initiatives on campus
  • Graduate/Admissions Committee
  • Orientation Committee
  • Social Media Committee
  • Faculty senate

Best Practices

  • If your department does not have specific language about the importance of departmental service in its bylaws or tenure and promotion criteria, think about how this can be set as an expectation in writing in one of your departmental documents.
  • When it comes to making committee assignments, keep in mind that all assignments are not equal; some will require substantial time, while others will not. Try to balance these assignments equitably, and factor in a faculty member’s position and rank within your program. For example, is this person an assistant professor or a full professor? Based on factors such as history of service at DU, who should have the heavier service assignment(s)? Who should have assignments that will give them opportunities for greater visibility in your unit or the University? There is no magic formula; you will need to determine these assignments, although it would be advisable that you confer with a colleague or two in the process.
  • Balancing service among faculty is important. It can be tempting to gravitate to the person most eager to do a particular kind of service, or to do the “hallway ask” (Kerry Ann O’Meara, 2018, Inside HigherEd) and snag the person who puts in more face time in the department and tends to do the most service anyway. These methods of informal asks can inadvertently lead to overburdening certain faculty over others, especially women and faculty of color, and can negatively impact career development and promotion. Research has shown that minority faculty or faculty from underrepresented groups in their fields are often are burdened more in a way that does not typically show up when listing service activities (Audrey Williams, 2015, Chronicle of Higher Education). Be cognizant of this and avoid it.
  • Think about service in terms of suitability and distribution of labor. Keep a record of who does what from year to year. Consider making this transparent at a faculty meeting or through a shared document so faculty are aware of the service responsibilities that other people undertake.
  • One of your task also includes helping faculty prioritize their service tasks and help them maintain a balance between service, research, and instruction according to their job expectations.


Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: UGH!

Chairs receive and must send numerous emails, which can quickly take over the day (and night)! Here are some suggestions for managing time and email:

  • Accept the fact that you likely will not process all the emails you feel you should in a day. They serve as another example of the increased loose ends that come with the nature of this position.
  • Develop methods to control email that make sense to you. Here are three examples of possible methods:
    • Choose specific periods of the day to read and respond to emails and set a timer for how long you will spend on them.
    • Triage your emails by sorting them in some way. For example, you could create folders within your email application or color code messages as they come in. You then can identify those emails that 1) need immediate attention, 2) need to be answered by the end of the day, 3) can be answered within 1-2 days, and 4) should be answered within the week, even specifying a certain day.
    • As you receive emails, do one of four things: Respond, sort (see above), delegate, or delete.
  • Turn off email alerts. You know they will constantly be coming in without being notified, and the alerts can distract you from other important tasks. Try to keep emails short and to the point. Use short paragraphs and put a space between paragraphs.
  • Try to keep emails short and to the point. If you can’t respond in a handful of lines, a phone call or face-to-face meeting may be more effective. Use short paragraphs and put a space between paragraphs.
  • If you send too many emails, especially long ones, you run the risk of burning people out on reading your messages. They will stop reading carefully, or they may not read them at all.
  • Try to keep emails limited to transactional work. Do not use them for long discussions about complex issues. Save complicated discussions or problem solving for face-to-face interactions, such as faculty meetings, especially if there is a chance for exchanges to get heated. Going back and forth several times also runs the risk of people missing portions of the thread or mistakenly being excluded from important communication.
  • Generally speaking, extended email exchanges around a particular topic, particularly contentious issues, tend not to end well (and remember: it is not always you who will define whether something is contentious or not). After two email exchanges, it usually is more effective to pick up the phone, walk down the hall and talk with the colleague, or set up a meeting to discuss whatever the matter is.
  • If you find yourself sending similar emails multiple times, create a document that includes the email template that you can use and modify so that you do not have to re-write the message each time it needs to be sent.
  • Model the kind of email habits you want others to practice. For example, if you don’t want to have to respond to others’ emails over the weekend, do not send you own messages that require responses.
  • Minimize the emails sent for scheduling purposes by asking people to check your Outlook calendar and book themselves into available time slots, or use an online scheduler – one example is youcanbookme or Calendly.com. If you have a larger department, you might ask a staff member to assist with scheduling.

Chair-to-Chair Communication

  • Building relationships with fellow chairs can help you develop a strong and supportive peer group. If there already is a group that gathers informally, join it. If one does not exist, consider developing one.
  • In some units chairs in different departments work closely together (e.g. in coordinating courses in common, setting schedules together to make sure don’t overlap). Keep communication lines open within units/colleges/divisions for practical needs as well as for moral support.
  • Some units hold meetings for all chairs, which can be helpful for keeping everyone on the same page, continuity in communication, and collective brainstorming and feedback.
  • Don’t try to do this job alone. Seek advice and input from other chairs.
  • Learn more about the DU Chair Advisory Board.

Communicating with your dean

Keep your supervisor up to date on important developments, activities, issues, or successes in your program. There are three reasons for this:

  • It keeps your supervisor informed about your program, which is to your advantage.
  • It enables your supervisor to keep others up to date about goings on within the unit she/he/they oversee. Your dean and associate dean(s) might also have some ideas on ways to help with an issue, promote your program, or seek additional resources.
  • No one likes surprises, especially your supervisor.