Calendar Task List
Roles of Dept. Chairs
Chair Support & Resources

Academic Department Chair Handbook
Albright College
(revised fall 2016)

Next Page

III.  Roles of Department Chairs

A. Leadership & Communication

B. Visioning, Goal Setting, & Assessment

C. Budget

D. Course Schedule

E. 3-year Schedule Planning

F. Individualized Study Plans (ISPs)

G. Course Substitutions

H. Transfer Credit & Study Abroad Evaluation

I. Internships & Independent Studies

J. Implementing Curricular Changes

K. Faculty

L. Students

M. Staff Supervision

N. Student Assistants

O. Interaction with Other Departments on Campus

A.  Leadership & Communication

The position of Department Chair is somewhat unique in that it is typically temporary and by election among your peers.  Some refer to this as responsibility without authority and it can be a source of frustration.  As a result, effective people skills are absolutely essential to your ability to be effective in this role, since developing cooperation and consensus is an essential process for ensuring your department meets its goals.

While this role may sometimes be difficult, the personal growth you are likely to experience and the opportunity to make a difference for both the department and for individual faculty members can be extremely rewarding.  This can be a very important time in your career of trying on new roles, of learning new skills and achieving some of your own goals.

1.   The Chair as Leader

You will find yourself leading in many different contexts. Leading in a formal sense occurs often in the most mundane of activities. Setting the agenda for each department meeting involves both organization (managing) and also leadership (as each meeting is one step along the path to fulfilling a vision of an effective department). By the questions you ask and the topics you suggest, you direct the department into discussions that, while you do not know the ultimate direction the department may take, lead toward the future of the organization.

You will be looked to in order to prioritize actions, move the department through administrative processes and organize faculty members and others to achieve various tasks.  It’s essential to remember that a department operates through collective action and thus each person is an important part of the team. Building consensus and encouraging the involvement of all faculty members builds on your department strengths and avoids potential resentment down the road.

One of the most important parts of leading is helping to establish goals and priorities. Addressing and reviewing goals often is highly useful as a map to success. Each year, departments are asked to examine their mission statement and annual and long term goals. Including all department members in this process, encouraging a frank discussion and appraisal of progress and considering how these goals fit with the overall college mission is a key to effective operation. What do you want to be able to say a year (or more) from now? How can you get there? Having a written mission statement and goals list can give you the support you need to work toward achieving those goals.

Assessment also fits within this process of moving toward department goals. Again, the administrative support and process is there to help you keep everyone focused on the goals of the department. Having a written assessment plan that is discussed often focuses attention on the important, long term objectives and provides information needed to get to them.

Encouraging effective teamwork within the department involves effective listening and problem solving skills. The department should be seen as a team and the functioning of that team is in part your responsibility. Teams typically move through various stages of development and your role as a leader is likely to change throughout that process.  Psychologist Bruce Tuckerman (1965) described team development through the process of “forming, storming, norming and performing”.  Your department is likely in one of these stages and might be in different stages on the many different tasks that a department performs (goal setting, curriculum design, assessment, student advising, representing the College, etc). Be prepared for the stage to change at any time, especially in the presence of planned or unplanned changes.

Briefly, in the forming stage, enthusiasm tends to be high though achievement is not. Roles and responsibilities of team members are not yet clear so the leader plays an important role. The leader’s role is to provide information at this phase – to explain the situation that has brought the group together.  Some might be ready to get on with the ‘real work’ and there may be some confusion and apprehension.

In the storming phase, it is common for different ideas about how to accomplish a task to emerge. Some may be overwhelmed by the complexity of the task to be performed or the confusion that is generated as new ideas are presented. Enthusiasm often wanes and performance also tends to be weak as the team tends to move in different directions. The leader provides the guidance here to ensure that team members are heard and a single goal and direction can emerge. It might be necessary to vote – it might be possible to move out of storming through the development of consensus. Conflict resolution skills of a leader may be vital in this stage. Some teams can get stuck in this phase which generates poor morale as well as weak performance. As groups develop a history of successfully navigating the storming phase, comfort level increases with this phase and it may be shorter in duration.

In the norming phase, the team goal emerges. Individuals begin to take on responsibilities for helping to achieve that team goal. You as the leader may aid the team by clarifying those responsibilities. As commitment and trust increase, enthusiasm returns and the group makes progress. You may be seen as guide at this phase, helping as needed to make other team members successful. As new questions emerge, the group may fall back into the storming phase though a successful history of resolving storming should make team members comfortable that this is normal and temporary.

Finally, teams can achieve the performing stage. In the performing phase, goals and process are well established. The leader can delegate responsibilities and step back. The leader can also focus on the long term objectives and help to develop team members. Another important component for the leader and team is evaluation of performance. This may send the group back to an earlier phase of development.  In addition, external conditions and planned or unplanned change may generate a need for revision of goals.

Where are you now? One useful tool is a brief questionnaire that is based on the “One Minute Climate Assessment” developed at University of Wisconsin-Stout and the questions posed by authors Buckingham and Coffman in First, Break All the Rules(1999). In this, the authors ask:

In my department:

  • There is a spirit of cooperation among those with whom I work.
  • I am clear on my roles and responsibilities.
  • I have the resources I need to do my work well.
  • I have ample opportunities to do what I do best.
  • I feel appreciated for my work.
  • I am encouraged to grow professionally.
  • Someone seems to care about me as a person
  • Differences among people are valued (including age, gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation)

2.   The Chair as Faculty Developer

Mentoring faculty and helping them to develop to their full potential is one of the most rewarding parts of being a chair. You have the opportunity to direct resources to influence the productivity of your department members and you will be looked to for advice and encouragement, especially by junior members of the department. You can also foster an environment in which all faculty provide encouragement and support for others.

Being an effective mentor starts with effective communication. Listen to what faculty members are really saying, thinking about what the context and sub messages that those things you hear convey.  Asking clarifying questions and using restatement (“I hear that…”) can insure you have received the message as well as guide the speaker toward better understanding themselves. Mentoring communication often involves more listening than speaking as ideally the mentee is the one who answers their own question.

Mentoring also means guiding. This may be through the sharing of information, direction to resources or by building on your institutional or professional memories or experiences. Setting priorities is often a task that gets overlooked to the detriment of both the faculty member and the department and college.  There are many paths to success, and what your mentee chooses may be different though equally successful. Still, often mentors are selected because they have more experience (either locally or in their field) and have more knowledge of expectations or institutional processes. Just helping someone see the hole that they are about to step in is also an effective mentor role.

Mentors often also serve as conduits for their mentees to meet others. You can advocate for your mentees and simply provide the introduction to people, offices, associations or other resources which the faculty member can build upon. Often you will know faculty members (especially new ones) better than your colleagues. Make suggestions to both the mentee and to other faculty members about how they might serve or options that are available.

Another way you can assist as a Faculty Developer is in recognizing opportunities for other department members to develop their own leadership. There are many different options and you have the opportunity to encourage Faculty to take on new challenges. Important examples include Search Committee Chair positions, Advisors for Student Organizations, Chairing Department Ad Hoc Committees and making suggestions to faculty members regarding college service and leadership opportunities.

3.   The Chair as Information Conduit

You are in an ideal position, and many of your responsibilities entail, moving information from the College to Faculty Members and from the department to those outside including Administrators, other academic departments and those outside the College community. 

You will attend department chair meetings at which you will hear information important for your department faculty. In some cases, you may need to send a representative in your place or it may be the responsibility of the Vice-Chair. If so, you still should assure that information distributed is made available to department faculty. Any agenda items or questions should be sent to the Provost’s office prior to the scheduled meeting.

You will also be asked at times to represent the interests of the department to the broader campus community. This happens with new position requests, when a department makes a proposal that has an impact on your curriculum or staffing, etc. You will meet occasionally with admissions representatives before they begin their recruiting season to inform them of changes and opportunities in your department.

You may find yourself also in a position of trying to negotiate consensus among department members.  This is covered in the mediator’s duties below. It is important at this phase to recognize that sometimes you may find yourself serving as a translator among members of the department. This can help to avoid misunderstandings.

Finally, as a part of manager type duties, you will be storing and sharing department meeting minutes with the administration and saving them for future discussions.

4.   The Chair as Mediator

You should expect that there will be conflict – between colleagues and students, among department members, with members of other departments and with the administration. This is perfectly normal and is just a part of the social process and inevitable clashing of different goals, priorities and opinions. You are likely to run into conflict as chair much more than usual as the issues that are very important to people and thus you are likely to experience differences of opinions and passionate commitment. That said – resolving conflicts is often one of the least favorite roles of chairs.

Believe it or not, good can come from conflict. Though not pleasant, conflict in a department can set the stage for discussions that lead to increased understanding, improved goal setting to address problems, increased cohesion by getting the issues out in the open and addressed and improved self-understanding of department members as they must ask themselves what is going on (Mindtools, 2010).

As stated by Bernard Meltzer of the “What’s your problem” radio show for more than 30 years,  "If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along -- whether it be business, family relations, or life itself."

Individual differences in style of conflict will be evident. You will probably have a variety of personality types in your own department, not to mention among students and others outside of your department.  Recognizing that individuals approach these situations differently helps, especially with the less vocal styles.

Thomas and Kilmann (1974) identified 5 main styles which people may employ to various degrees in dealing with conflict.  These are:

Competitive: Individuals take a strong position and defend it. Those in powerful positions are more likely to demonstrate this method as it is most effective when authority exists. This can be helpful in a situation requiring quick action (emergencies) or when an action is very unpopular (budget limits, etc). However, it damages morale and group cohesiveness.

Collaborative: Individuals view the impact on all individuals and all viewpoints as important. They strive for a group consensus and group commitment to the action. They generate a variety of ideas and can avoid hurt feelings. However, this process may be time consuming and sometimes ineffective. Those who expect quick action are likely frustrated.

Compromising: Individuals try to satisfy all people, at least a little. Each team member is expected to give a little. It can help to make progress when collaboration has been ineffective and does address all views somewhat. The final result may not be the most effective at solving the problem (a middle solution).

Accommodating: A person may be willing to give in order to preserve group harmony or to move forward on an issue. The surrender however may not be warranted or in the group’s best interest.  Highly cooperative people who are not as assertive may use accommodation to move through conflict quickly. On unimportant matters or issues with time constraints, this may be effective.  However, good answers may be overlooked.

Avoiding: Some people find conflict very distasteful. They may delegate important decisions or not speak up to avoid hurting anyone else’s feelings. When the issue is unimportant or the outcome is inevitable, avoiding the conflict may make sense. In other cases however, it generates animosity and frustration. 

Knowing how people might approach conflict (either with you individually or in a group), it is useful to think of some steps to address the issue and move forward. This list might also help you to keep your cool – one of the golden rules of managing conflict is managing your emotions. See also Guidelines for Difficult Conversations. Try not to take it personally – often the conflict with you is because of your position or because of situations that are out of your control. Rarely have you caused the conflict you are now a part of.  Your position, however, puts you in the middle of the conflict and these steps can provide a pathway out of it. To help structure a meeting at which you expect conflict, see the attached Documentation Template for Difficult Conversations.

Step 1:  Set the Stage for Good Communication

Encourage others to think poititvely about the discussion that is going to happen. Acknowledge that conflict is normal and brings out strong feelings. Being courteous helps to avoid making the conflict worse or more personal. Acknowledge that the other person may not be trying to be difficult but just have different views--they are a person, not just their views. Emphasize listening--real, deep listening for the root causes of the conflict.

Use active listening skills to restate the problem and paraphrase what you have heard. Speak up about what you feel and believe.

Step 2:  Gather the information you need

Ask thoughtful questions to help you understand the situation and its underlying needs or worries. Try to see the situation from more than one point of view (especially the speakers'). Assess the importance of the issue. Keep personalities out of the issue and use "I" statements to keep your perspective on the issue. Be sure to ask what the other person wants, what they are doing to get there, and what isn't working. By doing so, you might help to identify possible solutions without getting directly involved. You might need time to process what you've heard or to gather information from other sources.

Step 3:  Agree on the Problem

This is a common source of miscommunication. You may be trying to find a solution to the wrong problem from the other person's point of view. Clearly state the source of the conflict and what you are working to solve. Again, use an "I" statement to avoid confrontation or personal issues.

Step 4:  Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Be open to new ideas. Involved others in finding a solution. Don't be afraid to ask the person what they really want. You never know where a good idea will come from so be ready to listen.

Step 5:  Negotiate the Solution

This can be trivial once a misunderstanding has emerged. It may be very difficult if fundamental and important difference of opinion have emerged. If a mutually satisfactory solution cannot be found, you may need to encourage compromise, go to policy or refer the problem to another. The Dean of Undergraduate Studies, the Provost and Human Resoures are all possible sources of assistance. The problem you are facing may not be a new one for the College, so don't be afraid to ask. Remember that the ultimate goal of conflict resolution is to build respect and come to a solution which brings people together rather than pulling them apart.

5.   The Chair as Manager

Probably next to Conflict Management, and for some even more so, Managing is a Department Chair’s least favorite activity. Someone needs to ensure that the proper records are kept, that the responsibilities of the department have been fulfilled, that the reports are filed, the student assistants have direction and training, the schedules are arranged, signatures are complete, etc. Keeping a good list of management duties (see Department Chair's Task List) helps in that you remember what needs to be done when and can delegate in some cases.


B.  Visioning, Goal Setting, and Assessment 

1.   Soliciting Input

As the departmental leader, it is your responsibility to solicit ideas from departmental members and facilitate discussions to reach overall agreement, if not consensus, about the department’s mission, goals and priorities. This includes its mission and goals relative to student learning for its concentrators, co-concentrators, and students who gain aspects of their general education from the department’s courses and faculty. You should also lead the discussion and help the department reach consensus on its shorter-term, annual goals.

2.   Annual Mission Review

The department chair should lead the department in discussions about its vision for the department and most importantly for its students’ learning and development. What does the department hope for its students in terms of learning while at Albright, for graduate school, for careers, and for their activities as liberally educated citizens of their communities and the world while at Albright and especially after graduation? This visioning should be committed to writing and lead to a written departmental mission, supportive of the college’s mission of liberally educating its students.

The mission of the department should include high quality undergraduate education appropriate for majors and co-majors, the overall student body relative to general education provided by the department, and when appropriate, education of graduate students and credit and non-credit continuing education for professionals in the concentration’s graduate and career areas.

The mission should be reviewed annually by all members of the department, reinforcing their understanding of their mission and implications for their teaching, student learning, research, and service activities.  Any desired changes (e.g. introduction of a graduate program, etc.) should be discussed by the department, although changes in mission are more appropriately discussed during Academic Program Review, stimulated by any internal and external trends within the discipline.

3.   Departmental Goals – Annual and Long Term

a) Long term Goals

Student learning goals in the major, i.e. what  majors and co- majors (and when appropriate graduate students) will know, understand, appreciate, value, and be able to do (i.e. think in the “ways of thinking” and write “in the ways of writing” specific to professionals in the  major, and in areas of general education especially important in the major (e.g. writing and any other general education areas specifically important to achieve the learning goals within the major).

General education student learning goals for non- majors who take the department’s courses as part of their general education requirements.

b) Annual and Short Term Goals

Annual goals are typically more short-term than well-established and long-standing student learning goals. Annual goals support student learning goals within the department, as well as support the strategic goals of the college and development of the department and its faculty. Annual goals include those such as hiring and professional development of its faculty; identification of important resources (capital and non-capital) necessary to support teaching, learning, research and service within the department; marketing of the department and recruitment of quality students, etc. While these goals will be listed as “annual goals,” some will require more than one year to accomplish and should be carried-over into subsequent years. Unlike long-term goals student learning goals, annual goals can be accomplished, retired, and replaced by other annual goals.

c) Goal Assessment within the Department

Assessment of Student Learning - Assessment is one step in a multi-part process.  For the processes of teaching and learning, assessment of student learning is (first of all) necessary for grading of student work and determination of their qualification to graduate. Assessment of student learning in the aggregate (at the course and program levels, rather than just at the individual student level) is also necessary and contributes to the understanding and improvement of teaching and learning processes and other factors (e.g. resource allocation, curriculum composition, sequencing, and synergy among courses) so that the department can improve those processes and its curriculum structure, thereby improving program level (major and co-major) student learning outcomes determined and facilitated by the department. Assessment should use multiple methods – quantitative, qualitative, direct and indirect methods of assessment of student learning are important to accurately determine (triangulate on) student achievement of the learning goals identified by the department, near the time of graduation.  The department determines ways its students will demonstrate achievement of the goals specific to their program (i.e. what assignments in what courses, and what activities or student learning products in what other settings), and establishes the criteria of student performance or work necessary to demonstrate acceptable levels of achievement of each goal.

For chairs of departments that offer an ADP program, please note that the department's learning objectives apply to both the day and the ADP program. This is also true for any individual courses a department offers in DSP. Thus, all assessments of student learning goals should also include accelerated degree students enrolled in department courses.

Assessment of Annual Goals - Departments also assess their achievement of their annual goals by collecting and reporting information demonstrating the extent to which those goals were achieved, identifying barriers to accomplishing those goals, and steps to be taken to overcome those barriers and subsequently achieve those goals.

4.   Establishing Priorities

It is not feasible to thoroughly assess all student learning goals at the program level (i.e. in aggregate) each year.  However, assessing one or two important student learning goals at the program level each year enables the department to assess all of its important student learning goals at the program level within a 5-7 year span, coinciding with the Academic Program Review cycle.  Department members should discuss and decide on a 5-7 year calendar for assessing all of their identified student learning goals at the program level, with results and implications for improvement to be included in their Academic Program Review.

While the department can usually identify many important annual goals each year, the department should identify between three and five of its most important annual goals each year. Some of these goals may be accomplished within a one-year time frame, while others will need to be carried-over the subsequent years.

5.   Academic Program Review

Academic Program Review, conducted once every seven years (with some flexibility) is a comprehensive review of each department’s academic programs, leading to a Five-Year Action Plan for improvement.  The Action Plan includes goals for improvement and a time line for accomplishment of those goals.  As each department writes its yearly goals, goals from the Action Plan should be included so that all Action Plan goals are included and ideally accomplished over the five-year period.  Resources needed to accomplish goals, when needed, should be included in the Action Plan and the department’s budget requests each year (including multiple-year requests).  Guidelines for the Academic Program Review and examples of Five-year Action Plans are provided here.

6.   Forms and More Information

Forms including an optional template useful for listing and identifying departmental goals; activities, time lines, and resources necessary to accomplish those goals; assessment methods to be used to determine achievement of those goals and results of assessments, and plans for improvement time lines are available on the college assessment website.

7.   Annual Reports and Other Year-end Materials

Each May, the Provost provides an END-OF-YEAR TASKS outline for the department’s year-end materials including its annual report.  These materials are due in mid-June.


C.  Budget

1.   Budget Terms List:

Capital — Asset with an acquisition cost of $1,000 or more, and having a useful life of two or more years.  Approved capital expenditures do not impact the departmental operating budget. Requests and processing of capital expenditures is done separately from the operational budget process.

Fiscal Year — The College’s fiscal year begins on June 1 and ends on May 31.  The receipt, not the ordering of goods and services, dictates the period of recognition.

Operational budget — includes both annual revenues and/or expenses.  Operating activity is recognized in the fiscal year in which the revenues are earned and expenses are incurred. (i.e. cannot carry-over to a subsequent fiscal year). Most academic departments do not have to budget or track income.

Release — A credit to the operating budget to offset an expense incurred as a result of available funding.  Releases can originate from the endowment or restricted contributions.

Templates — Excel spreadsheets provided by the Controller’s Office to record expected revenue and/or expenses to be incurred for the next fiscal year.

Report Portal — An on-line tool to view monthly and/or quarterly actual and/or budget reports.

2.   Accessing and Reading College Budget Documents:

Templates for the construction of the next fiscal year budget can be found in the Budgets folder located on the network Shares drive (S:\Budgets).  Contact ITS to ensure access to these files.

Updates to the spending can be tracked in Albright’s Report Portal. This can be accessed via the Intranet under the heading “Budget” (remember that you must be on campus for access). Detailed instructions for navigating Albright’s Report Portal can also be accessed via the Intranet under the heading “Budget”.

3.   Assessing the Department’s Resource Needs:

Forecast expenses you think you will incur during the next fiscal year from the year to date actual and historical data presented in the budget template to target your expected expenses.  If applicable, forecast revenues as well.

4.   Preparing the Budget:

Budget templates will include a blank column for the upcoming budget year (to be completed by you), the current year’s budget, year to date actual, and three full years of actual history.

You are responsible for budgeting controllable expenses which are non-salary; however, student labor is considered a controllable expense. The college employs a quasi-zero based budget approach, as such no across the board increase should be assumed.  If additional budget is required in one natural code, your first option is to attempt to reallocate funds within the department. If additional funding is necessary make your best case to the Provost and support your request by citing assessment results and correlation to the Strategic Plan.

If office supplies are needed either through the bookstore or WB Mason, budget for the expenditure in office supplies. If no funds are budgeted you will not be able to make purchases through the bookstore or WB Mason. In addition, if the expenditure at either the bookstore or WB Mason is a purchase for something other than office supplies, please notify the Controller’s Office and we will transfer the charge to the appropriate natural code (e.g., a gift for a student under gifts).

If there is restricted funding available, budget for the expense in the appropriate natural code and a credit (negative amount) for the associated release in natural code 80005 for expenses funded by restricted gifts or 80015 for expenses funded by endowment; so that the overall impact to your operating budget is neutral. 

You will also need to monitor and maintain logs for long distance phone charges for the faculty in your department. You will receive monthly phone longs.

Budget managers are also responsible for identifying capital needs by completing that template and forwarding it to the Provost for authorization. (Note this is different than the operating budget process which does not require you to notify the Provost or send the Provost the budget).  If you do not send the capital request to the Provost, it will not be included in her capital request.  PAC will make the final approvals for all budget requests, usually no later than April.


Next Page