March 24th, 2009

Five Things that Will Ease the Transition from Faculty to Department Chair


Inadequate preparation, unrealistic expectations, and increased workload can be overwhelming for faculty members making the transition to department chair. Brenda Coppard, chair of occupational therapy at Creighton University, found this transition “just a little mind boggling” and decided to focus her research on it.

Coppard chose a grounded theory approach to answer the questions, “What experiences do first-time chairpersons perceive as meaningful in transitioning from a faculty to a chair position?” and “What are the principle factors associated with the process of transitioning from a faculty to chair position?”

Coppard compiled a list of current department chairs in occupational therapy departments at four-year institutions throughout the country and decided to conduct extensive interviews with four relatively new chairs. “I wanted to speak with fairly new chairs so that the [transition] experiences were still fresh in their minds, but I didn’t want them to be too new because I wanted them to have gone through the things that normally happen in the cycle of a year, such as budgeting,” Coppard says.

The group of four chairs was varied: two chairs were at private institutions, and two were at public institutions; two were internal hires, and two were external. Before the interviews, Coppard collected their CVs and listed each activity on a separate note card. Coppard had each chair rank these activities in order according to those that helped most prepare them to be chair to those that helped least.

The activities that were the most helpful in preparing them to be chair were:

  • completing a doctoral degree
  • teaching experience
  • committee work
  • involvement in university governance
  • involvement in national associations

The activities that were somewhat helpful in preparing them to be chair were:

  • scholarly presentations and publications
  • strong clinical experience (because occupational therapy is a health care profession)
  • chairing committees

The following activities had no benefit at all:

  • service work external to academia
  • early clinical experience.

Editor’s note: Part two of this article will post on Thursday.

Excepted from Study Identifies 5 Most Helpful Experiences for Moving from Faculty to Department Chair, Academic Leader, Aug. 2006.