DU Chair Handbook


Hiring and onboarding processes for faculty and staff

How to write job descriptions and position announcements

In some fields, posting locations may enhance the recruitment of an inclusive pool of applicants. For help with this, contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

This is a guide by the Chronicle of Higher Education (2016) on how to recruit and retain diverse faculty. Included are personal narratives of what it is like to be diverse in academia.

The Department chair’s role in successful faculty searches

It may be different for different colleges or units; the chair may or may not be responsible for the final negotiation around the job offer, the Dean may be the person in charge of this process, or entire search committees are responsible for making the job offer and managing negotiations with the chosen candidate.

The HR process – who to contact at DU?

DU has support for many aspects of the hiring and management process here: http://portfolio.du.edu/facultyhiring

Faculty onboarding

Find support for onboarding new faculty here.

Understanding Leave Policies and Procedures at DU

There are two main types of leave that are available to a faculty or staff member.

1. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA provides federal protection for family illness or an employee’s medical need for a leave of absence.  It protects an employee’s job while they are away for a maximum of 12 weeks. But on its own, it is unpaid. For staff, it is paid if it is covered by accumulated sick and/or vacation.

FML can be 12 weeks total (usually is the case for faculty, but not always) or it can be taken in intermittent chunks (this is more appropriate for staff who log their time with time cards).

An employee is eligible for FMLA if any of the following conditions are met: 1) Worked for the employer for more than 12 months; 2) Worked more than 1250 hours in the last 12 months; 3) Work within a 75 mile radius of 50+ employees..  If an employee has not yet worked a full year, it is still possible that DU would support a leave.  However, DU is not obligated to do so under law.

2. Parental leave

This is a DU-created benefit.  Parental leave is solely about pay.  It provides pay for a quarter (faculty) or 10 weeks (staff). More information on the differences between FMLA and Parental leave.

What should I know and do as chair? Legal and procedural considerations

If an employee is covered by FMLA, then FML and parental leave would converge. Once the ten weeks of paid parental leave is exhausted, faculty and staff can still take two additional weeks of FML, but these last two weeks would be. Staff can also use sick or vacation time to fill the gap or supplement parental leave if they have not yet exhausted this. Faculty can use sick leave to make salary whole after they exhaust their parental leave.

If you think that your staff or faculty member might be eligible for ADA (American Disabilities Act) accommodations, contact your local HR partner.

Chairs should refrain from providing any kind of accommodation for an employee before HR has been able to review documentation about a disability. The ADA Coordinator will review documentation about a disability. If a chair provides an accommodation to a faculty or staff member before HR has documentation in hand about that employee’s disability, then the employee is considered to have a disability for the duration of their employment and is entitled to accommodation on an ongoing basis, even without subsequent documentation.

Chairs do not need to see proof of a medical issue/illness. The employee only needs to state that they have a medical condition and need to explore a leave of absence. The chair does not need to determine eligibility. The employee should contact Shared Services to get this process started. The chair has the legal obligation to at least mention FMLA as a resource for an employee. If an employee makes any reference to health or medical issues, this should be enough to set the chair in motion to suggest FML as a possibility.

Chairs should contact their appropriate HR partners to find out more, or to get guidance as to next steps. These divisional HR partners are trusted advisors for chairs, while shared services are the point of contact for the employee seeking leave. They handle the transactional process of determining eligibility and guiding the employee through the next steps.

What leave can look like in practice

Many folks like to break up their FMLA and parental leave. An employee can be out the first six weeks of a birth, for example, then come back to work for another three weeks, and then distribute parental leave over other segments of time. But the ten weeks of parental leave must be used prior to the new child’s first birthday or from the date of adoption or foster care placement.

The chair has the discretion to approve intermittent parental leave if a faculty member does not want to take the typical full quarter (although these are unusual cases).  This discretionary approval is based on the nature and volume of the staff or faculty work.  In these cases, the chair would send an explanation of chair approval to the provost for final approval.  This explanation would cover why this intermittent parental leave plan would work for faculty, students, and the department.

After leave is approved

If necessary, the chair can communicate to the department that the staff or faculty member will be on leave. But the chair should not share details or specific reasons with the department or other colleagues.

Chairs are technically supposed to keep track of FMLA time taken. Shared Services will follow up with the chair about the FML request, and they will tell chairs about whether or not the request has been approved and the duration of the time taken.

For more information, please see this the Employee Handbook which describes leave policies in more depth:

Chairs can also send any questions to: askhrpartners@du.edu



Manager ToolKit – Staff Parental Leave (PDF)

Manager ToolKit – Faculty Parental Leave (PDF)

Teaching and professional faculty

Find background on DU’s history related to and support of teaching and professional faculty here.

Evaluation and assessment: Annual evaluations of faculty and staff

What are evaluations used for?

Annual merit raises: DU does not offer cost of living increases, only merit raises. Annual evaluations help to justify the chair’s merit recommendations, so they should catalog the key achievements over the last academic year. These don’t have to catalog everything, but they should highlight the biggest achievements in research/performance, teaching, and service to build a case for merit.

Opportunities for mentorship: annual evaluations should detail strengths/accomplishments, and areas for improvement. Chairs should be mindful to sync their suggestions for improvement with major future benchmarks for promotion (e.g. mid-tenure review, promotion to associate status, promotion to full)

Documentation used for mid-tenure, tenure, and promotion reviews: Keep in mind that annual evaluations are used to substantiate promotion decisions or major multi-year reviews. It is for this reason that annual reviews should be candid about potential problems. If annual evaluations are overwhelmingly positive, rather than a nuanced mix of strengths and areas for improvement, then it becomes more difficult for a department to troubleshoot areas for improvement or to even make a negative case for promotion down the road. Faculty who receive nothing but praise in annual reviews but who receive lukewarm or negative reviews from departmental or unit promotion committees could make the case that they were not informed about problems in the annual evaluations.

Documentation used for determining unsatisfactory performance: consistent with the faculty senate resolution on faculty development and unsatisfactory performance, annual evaluations are the place to document unsatisfactory performance in research/performance, teaching, or service.


Tips for conducting effective faculty evaluation meetings

Have a list of questions prepared. Ask faculty to self-reflect and ask how the department can support them better. This makes the conversation more of a team effort than a critique and is forward-looking. Examples of questions can include:

  • What are your goals for the year ahead? Five years ahead?
  • What are you most proud of in teaching and research over the last year?
  • What improvements do you want to make for next year?
  • What stood in the way of your productivity last year? How can the department or institution provide resources to mitigate these difficulties?
  • What are steps can we take in the next year to make sure you can advance to the next critical benchmark for promotion?

How to write first-rate faculty evaluations:

Annual evaluations are critical for guiding faculty down a path that helps them reach their goals and clarifies what the department and university’s expectations are. These should:

  • Avoid generalizations and be specific with feedback
  • Cover both positive and negative points
  • Include clear suggestions about next steps
  • The department chair’s role in program assessment

Logistics of the annual merit reviews

  • Typically, the Activity Insight (AI) reports are due from the faculty in August or September each year. From this information, the chairs write a report due to the Dean, typically by September 30th. Check with your dean and associate dean(s) about the timelines in our college.
  • Chairs remind the faculty to input their information (Instruction, Scholarship/Creative Work, and Service) in Activity Insight, as well as the accompanying narrative report, by the stated annual deadline.
  • There may be guidelines for the annual/biennial evaluation at the department or college level. If not, it is helpful for the department chair to facilitate the development of these guidelines to ensure equity and fidelity in reporting and evaluation.
  • Chairs write the annual/biennial report for each faculty in their department based on the faculty member’s AI report.
  • After sharing a draft of the chair’s report with the faculty member, the chair and the faculty member meet. They digitally sign the chair’s report and submit it to the dean; faculty members can also add comments or rebuttals to the chair’s report.

The department chair’s role in program assessment

In some units, the chair is responsible for annual program assessments. In others, there is a committee that works to produce an assessment report. Best practices suggest that assessment should not be handled by one person only, but should be built into the culture of an entire department and link to robust conversations about curriculum over the course of the year. For more information, see resources here.

In many departments, but not all, the department chair writes sabbatical recommendations. The faculty senate reviews sabbatical applications and looks for specific outcomes that will be enabled by sabbatical. Although a large portion are ultimately approved, a small portion receive additional funds for being “meritorious”. The chair and dean write support statements that specify why the work is meritorious (if it is). It is helpful to the senate that not all applicants are deemed meritorious by the chair and dean.

Staff and faculty retention

Faculty staff support network

Find information on what to do if you witness faculty and staff under duress here.

Development and Goals

It is helpful to work with faculty and staff to assess their long-term career goals then determine whether faculty and staff have the resources to achieve these goals. In many cases, connecting faculty to resources, like grant funding for teaching and research, can help find resources for development. This can begin connecting faculty and staff with access to other offices on campus that support faculty and staff development.

Promoting collegiality

Make sure to give a shout-out to faculty for major accomplishments in research/performance, teaching, and service: send an email to faculty (and, when appropriate, students) and highlight on the department’s social media platforms when possible.

Consider models of distributive leadership, in which faculty take on leadership positions in the department. This can help cultivate faculty buy-in and collegiality. A departmental advisory committee can also help in advising the chair and making sure decision-making power is not concentrated at the top.

Transparent decision-making can help to promote collegiality, if faculty feel they have enough opportunity to add items to meeting agendas, for example, and participate in high-stakes decision-making. Check out DU’s Deliberative Decision Making Symposium group for more information

Do not underestimate social engagements: end-of-quarter celebrations, welcome picnics, or other opportunities for socializing are important in keeping up morale.

Establish a department mentorship program for new hires; match new faculty with more senior faculty to better distribute mentorship opportunities in the department.

Check out these sources for more information on how to take care of professors (Kathryn Masterson, 2018, Chronical of Higher Education), retaining a diverse faculty (Kerry Ann Rockquemore, 2016, Inside Higher Ed), and leaning on your staff (Michael C. Munger, 2010, Chronical of Higher Education).

Supporting faculty in non-majority positions

A variety of best practices exist for support faculty that are typically underrepresented within a department:

  1. DU has resources covering many topics related to diversity and inclusion.
  2. Recruiting diverse faculty in hiring is one aspect of a chair’s position; retaining diverse faculty is equally important (For a Diverse Faculty, Start With Retention, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, 2016, Inside Higher Ed)
  3. Best practices: Recruiting & retaining faculty and staff of color (Sue Guenter-Schlesinger & Kunle Ojikutu, 2009, Western Washington University)
  4. Promising practices for recruiting & retaining diverse faculty (Office of the Deputy Provost for Research and Minority Issues, 2015, University of Chicago)
  5. How to be an ally to minority scholars (W. Brad Johnson, 2017, Chronical of Higher Education)
  6. Factors that affect the careers of women and faculty of color (Audrey Williams June, 2018, Chronical of Higher Education)
  7. Gender bias in letters of recommendation (Colleen Flaherty, 2018, Inside Higher Ed)

Supporting faculty who care for dependents

DU’s Human Resources & Inclusive Community provides several support services for new parents and those caring for dependents, including options for back-up childcare, lactation rooms, mini refrigerators, and travel solutions for breastfeeding.

Understand parental leave and tenure clock delay policies. Be familiar with leave policies, and try to be as flexible as possible with leaves of absence.

Be mindful of childcare constraints when scheduling department meetings and courses. Whereas university policies may or may not offer supports for parental leave, back-up care, and other faculty and staff caregiving accommodations, departmental practices can lead to more localized support for faculty caring for dependents. This is especially important for the development and retention of junior faculty. However, accommodations for care responsibilities must be weighed against university and college/divisional course scheduling guidelines. Chairs must also take into account how these accommodations might create new burdens on faculty who do not have caregiving responsibilities.

Transparency and feedback

Give faculty and staff opportunities to give feedback about departmental and institutional experiences. This can occur annually as part of the merit review, but also can be done at faculty meetings and through other avenues.

Chair as mentor

The chair is an important mentor, but good mentorship is enacted via multiple mentors both inside and outside departments. In many cases more than one mentor may be needed, for example, in a position where research is a component, a person that can advise on grantsmanship is very helpful in addition to a mentor for the teaching aspect of the career. Mentors can come from within or beyond the university, but the chair can help see that new faculty are partnered with mentors.

Beyond the newly hired professor, remember that mid-career and late-career faculty also need mechanisms for mentorship.

Student issues (academic integrity, Title IX, etc.)

Fielding student complaints about faculty:

  • Be willing to be a sounding board for students. Begin by listening and information gathering.
  • Encourage students to bring their concerns to the faculty member, if possible.
  • Keep careful documentation on number of complaints and the nature of complaints.
  • Be willing to engage the faculty member in conversation about the problem and work with them regarding solutions. Document this conversation.
  • Understand Title IX polices around mandatory reporting

Reviewing student grade appeals

Faculty issues & conflict

Listening and taking your time is more important than talking and rushing to action. Few conflicts require quick and immediate action. For conflicts that don’t require an immediate response, sleep on it.

Commit to not letting your emotions dictate your response.

Handling difficult conversations — SLOW down:

  • Set a positive and collaborative tone
  • Listen actively, and acknowledge the other person’s perspective
  • Observe and organize the conversation: What is the heart of the matter? Values or identity conflicts? Resource distribution?
  • Work to find a win-win solution. Focus on interests—what each party really wants—rather than demands. Look for creative solutions that satisfy as many interests as possible.
  • It will often take multiple conversations to resolve a conflict, and in some cases it will be difficult to find a win-win solution. As department chair, you will need to make decisions that are unpopular. As much as possible, communicate your decision in a way that is forward-thinking and minimizes the potential harm to your working relationship with your colleague(s).

You are not alone. Your resources include:

  • Policies, procedures, and contracts.
  • Dean, Associate Dean, Chair colleagues
  • University offices (HR, Student Affairs, Legal Counsel), in some cases, chairs must consult with these offices.
Crisis management: Resources at DU and links

Ways to minimize conflict:

  • Keep an open door and open mind.
  • Lead by example.
  • Keep your department members well-informed.
  • Be cautious about alliances. Avoid the perception of favoritism.
  • Don’t participate in department gossip or vent your own personal frustrations. If you need to blow off steam or get advice, turn to other friends or trusted colleagues outside the department.

When resolving conflict:

  • Separate the people from the problem: avoid personal attacks.
  • Choose the language of your response carefully.
  • Balance transparency with confidentiality.
  • Pick your battles: set priorities for conflict resolution.
  • Be cautious when using email.
    • Keep it brief and to the point.
    • Don’t get sucked into email battles, especially after hours. Sleep on it.
    • Use the phrase “I’d be happy to chat more in person” often.


Nickols,F.(2015). Forget about causes, focus on solutions.

The Conflict Management Tool Kit.

Stone, D., Patton, B., Heen, H. & Fisher, R. (2010) Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. Penguin Books.