Academic department chairs and directors serve critical roles as leaders of their units. Chairs are not only faculty members and the academic leaders of their units; they are the liaisons between their departmental members and the higher administration. Outstanding chairs advance the research, teaching, and service missions of their units and help foster a collegial academic environment to support these missions. Being an effective chair involves a variety of skills and an understanding of University policies and procedures; and, although departments vary in their “needs” at any given time, successful chairs share numerous common skills, despite having diverse styles.
To assist chairs in acquiring the tools to successfully lead their units, the Vice Provost-Academic Affairs sought the advice of an ad hoc committee of present and former chairs. This Advisory Committee for Department Chair Development met several times early in the 2001-02 academic year and made several suggestions for strengthening the leadership skills and knowledge base of department chairs. Among their recommendations were frequent meetings of chairs to discuss specific topics and a continuously-available and up-to-date reference source for chairs, preferably as a web site, that would serve both recently-appointed and experienced chairs.
The first recommendation led to the development of a monthly “Brown Bag Series” of noon meetings for chairs and the second to the development of this Handbook for Chairs and Directors. This Handbook is not intended to capture the “spark” of leaders who can build involvement, consensus, and a positive academic atmosphere. Rather, it is intended to provide guidance and resource information in a number of areas that the Advisory Committee felt were especially important. Thus, this handbook deals with the “nuts and bolts” of being a chair and provides a core of information on “best practices” and web resources to assist chairs in effectively managing a department, recognizing that, regardless of the degree to which the chair may delegate, the “buck stops” at the desk of the chair. Many of the web resources cited here relate to the Academic Personnel Manual ("APM"), both the university-wide policies in the APM and related UC Davis procedures and guidelines in the “UCD” manual; the UC Davis Policy and Procedure Manual ("PPM”) is also frequently cited. The UC Davis Administrative Responsibilities Handbook has a wealth of information on policies and procedures for administrators at all levels, including department chairs. In addition, the web page of the UC Davis Vice Provost—Academic Affairs has links to documents on many different topics related to academic affairs.
It is recognized that there are difficult situations that arise in a department which are not addressed here and for which there may not be easy solutions. Chairs should seek the advice of their deans when they are faced with a difficult management problem. The deans and their staffs have had experience with many departments and many types of problems over the years. Seeking early advice of the dean for a difficult problem is a prudent course of action because it alerts the dean to the issues involved, stimulates discussion that can benefit both the dean and the chair, and results in a solution that is often more comprehensive and effective.
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