The job of a department chair is a mixed bag: departmental leaders have diverse responsibilities and duties to students, staff and faculty. There is more to the job than being an instructor; one day the chair could be mediating a conflict between a teacher and student, and the next day they could be engaged in the recruitment of new faculty members. From managing the departmental budget to helping resolve interpersonal issues, here’s what a departmental chair is responsible for:
Overseeing the budget
Every fiscal year, school departments are allocated budgets. The departmental chair must ensure that the budget is utilized properly for the advancement of the department’s goals. Sometimes, the chair may be required to ask for external funding from alumni and the community, for example, when the department’s budget is overstretched.
Reporting about their department
The department chair is appointed by the dean and is required to report directly to the dean’s office. Chairs not only report about the department’s progress; they also advocate for faculty members to the dean. Reports could be as wide-ranging as financial progress, alumni projects, course scheduling, tenure and promotion, issues about the curriculum, and any significant projects pertaining to the department.
Recruiting and evaluating faculty
Departmental chairs do not single-handedly recruit staff—the headhunting committee is in charge of this. However, the chair must assess the suitability of a prospective professor with regard to the overall goals of the department. The chair takes new hires under their wings and ensures that that new instructors stay informed about the visions and objectives of the department. The departmental head also ensures that the staff can access professional development opportunities, such as higher education and relevant trainings.
Supervising course allocation
The chair is responsible for allocating faculty members to their course of specialization. Before the start of each semester or school term, the chair ensures that each class has a suitable instructor to allow students to acquire the necessary credits for graduation. The departmental head also discusses with faculty to determine the course structure and the most appropriate time allocation for the courses.
Departmental heads work with the school’s Human Resource office to coordinate and implement personnel issues such as salary increases, tenures, promotions, allocation of space and equipment for faculty, leaves of absence, and vacations.
Curriculum development and design
The chair plays an important role in developing, designing and amending the curriculum to ensure that it meets the academic goals of the department. In collaboration with the faculty and departmental administrators, the chair discusses appropriate changes to be made to the curriculum and reports this to the dean on an ongoing basis.
The head of a department acts as a mediator in conflicts that arise among staff, faculty and students. Conflicts can range from complaints over unfair grading systems and discrimination to interpersonal issues among faculty. Overall, the chair is charged with the responsibility of creating a conducive working and learning environment within their department.
The multifaceted nature of the job requires the department chair to possess a wide array of skills ranging from financial management, interpersonal communication, mediation, and mentoring. In many ways, the chair has a responsibility to keep the administrative wheels of the department running smoothly, while ensuring that the department attains its greater goals and visions.