In a middle-management job that has become increasingly complex, department chairs must cut costs in a time of shrinking resources, write grant applications and meet with potential donors to increase department resources, manage growing pools of adjunct labor, and respond to new calls for assessment.
Their roles are important because they are increasingly critical to a department's success and its professors' morale. A strong department chair can expand the unit's stature and improve its performance by recruiting top faculty members, attracting more students to its majors, creating a climate in which professors can excel at their jobs, and revising curriculum to keep up with new scholarship. But if a chair doesn't woo enough donors, faculty members may not be able to travel to as many conferences as they would like, or do as much research. If a department's leader fails to promote the group's work and convey its importance, deans and provosts might overlook the department when deciding where to allocate limited dollars. And if a chair is ineffective at mediating conflicts between colleagues, the simmering tensions can disrupt day-to-day work and undermine collaboration.
Yet, even though the job is becoming more pivotal, it remains a role for which few faculty members are properly trained. ...
And that's when it becomes most evident that the skills most professors have honed to become strong teachers and researchers aren't the ones they'll flex as they run a department, says Jeffrey Buller, dean of the honors college at Florida Atlantic University. In short, what attracted faculty members to academic life in the first place—the autonomy, the camaraderie of colleagues, opportunities to teach and do exciting research—isn't the stuff that department-chair appointments are made of.
My favorite lines:
"The kinds of things that I had to do as chair on a daily basis kept me from doing what I thought was important,"
"You can get up in the morning and think, I have two hours to do this or that, and by the time you drive in in the morning, those two hours are gone."
"I can't wait for this summer, when I'm done being chair,"