Meeting the Leadership Challenge

Importance of the Department

"For several years, AAHE and the Roundtable publications have argued that the academic department... ought to take broad responsibility for the quality of the service it provides. A department should be held accountable for the quality of teaching its members deliver, for the coherence of its major, for its contributions to the general education curriculum, and for the supervision and rewarding of its individual faculty members.

This academic department alone has the power to organize and make accessible what is known, and what is to be taught by whom. It is the department that provides the foundation to support both disciplinary study and interdisciplinary efforts that span complex issues and problems..."
     Pew Higher Education Roundtable. Policy Perspectives. Vol. 6, No. 3. 1996.

The Academic Department

The academic department is a structural unit common to nearly all institutions fo higher learning. Creswell, et al. (1990) lists the advantages of these units as:

  1. Departments provide the milieu most suitable for the development, preservation, and transmission of knowledge.
  2. Departments have the familiarity, formal simplicity, and clearly defined hierarchy of authority to which students and instructors can easily relate.
  3. Departments serve faculty as a unit where they can interact with a minimum of misunderstanding and superfluous effort.
  4. Departments serve as a protective unit for the faculty within the college or university organization.
  5. Departments provide an understandable and workable status system within which the faculty member can be oriented and professionally evaluated.

The department chair fills the leadership role in this extremely important functional unit. While studies have consistently suggested that the job involves a myriad of responsibilities, including daily activities which comprise "tough decisions about evaluating and recruiting faculty, providing raises, adjudicating conflicts; moderating tensions; and counseling faculty about diverse topics such as midlife crises, personal and professional growth, and early retirement" (Creswell, et. al. 1990), framing these as tasks of leadership is the most logical and rewarding approach to the chairmanship. Chairs have dual roles as manager and faculty, but they are fore mostly vital leaders.