Unlike faculty who for the most part work with students and scholars within their subject matter area, chairs are responsible for representing the department in
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academic leadership issues
When faced with a problem or challenge within your unit, your first inclination might be to immediately look for solutions. Makes sense, right? But when the problem or challenge comes from an individual or the way individuals interact—which is often the case—those who feel they are being viewed as problems to be solved might not appreciate being labeled as such. A better approach is a practice known as appreciative inquiry, which builds on strengths and what is working well to bring about positive change.
Difficult conversations are inevitable in any organization. Understanding how they arise and how they play out can help minimize the disruption without avoiding the issue or alienating those involved.
The faculty members in the chemistry department are confused.
Last semester, the campus teaching center held a series of workshops to get faculty more familiar with the anti-plagiarism tool that the university adopted and linked into everyone’s online course environment. The teaching center showed everyone who attended the training sessions 51 ways that they could help to catch cheaters, based on research conducted by two researchers at the University of Texas’ Telecampus (McNabb and Anderson, 2009). But the 51 strategies are not why the chemistry faculty are confused.
Incivility and lack of collegiality are on the rise in institutions of higher education (Cipriano, 2011). This phenomenon can range from disputes and tension at one end of the spectrum to violence at the other. There are many departments that suffer from non-collegial, uncivil, and nasty encounters between faculty members, faculty members and professional staff, and faculty members and students.
Curriculum changes or differences of opinion about what should be taught and how it should be taught can create tension in any department. And the budget situation in many departments can add fuel to the fire. Jon Bloch, chair of sociology at Southern Connecticut State University, offers the following points to keep in mind to help manage these conflicts:
Ongoing problems within a department can have profound consequences, including difficulty in recruiting and retaining faculty and students, loss of funding, and even program termination. While the health of a department cannot be the responsibility of a single person, the department chair plays a pivotal role in getting departments out of trouble and maintaining a healthy, positive direction.
For the past 25 years Bernard Sorofman has worked to build and maintain a collegial team within the department of pharmacy practice and science at the University of Iowa. In an interview with Academic Leader, he shared his techniques.
“It begins with recruiting great people who are able to work with others,” Sorofman says. “If you get the right people who are happy working together and are collegial, everything else will fall into place.”
It’s an issue many colleges and universities are facing today: How do you expand research capacity while still preserving an institution’s traditional emphasis on effective teaching? How is it possible to improve your reputation in one of these areas without abandoning your reputation in the other? How can you expand your mission in an environment of increasingly strained budgets, greater competition among institutions (including public, private, for-profit, and virtual universities), and rigorous accountability? And how do you balance the expectation of so many legislatures and governing boards that you demonstrate student success with their simultaneous expectation that you obtain more and more external funding from sponsored research and the frequent pursuit of grants?
Handling complaints is one of the defining roles of academic administration. It demands perseverance, good listening skills, tact, and adherence to institutional policies and legal requirements. In an interview with Academic Leader, C.K. Gunsalus, author of The Academic Administrator’s Survival Guide (which includes an entire chapter on complaints), offered advice on how to manage this important role.