Office for Faculty Development

Big Picture Responsibilities of a Chair

Ensure open communication

Crucial to strategic leadership is the chair’s ability to ensure open communication – between you and faculty members, between you and the Dean, and, through the Dean, between you and the Provost.  You are closest to the pulse of the department! An effective chair is able to explain and persuade faculty members, the Dean, and administrators of what is best for both the department and the institution.

One thing that is difficult about being chair is that your relationship with colleagues may change when you move from being a departmental colleague into the chair's position. Being aware that this change may happen can help ease the discomfort. It might help to preface remarks to your department with what "hat" you are wearing: colleague, chair, or senior faculty member. You cannot be perceived to have favorites. Though you may be close friends with some of the faculty in your department, as a chair, that friendship should not affect the decisions you make with regard to teaching and service assignments or matters of personnel review. Each member of the department should have full trust in your fairness. 

These practices help to make a good department chair:

  • Be fair and unbiased,
  • Be a good listener,
  • Don't take things personally.

Evoke a Shared Vision

Read both UMass Boston’s strategic plan, Fulfilling the Promise, and your college’s strategic plan (usually found on your college’s website) and use them to generate a three- or five-year strategic plan for your department.  A departmental vision for the near and long term will be most effective if you keep in mind the following suggestions:

  • Your plan should emerge  from discussions among all departmental faculty;
  • Your plan should assess your department's position relative to peer universities as well as aspirational peers and should address:
  1. What the department's special niche is among the competitors
  2. How it can be improved to rise to the next level of excellence
  3. What strategic choices will move it towards that goal
  4. What benchmarks should be established to gauge progress;
  • Use your dean as a source of advice and a partner in planning;
  • Serve as both the  academic and research leader of the department
  • Strategic plans are not static documents—you should update your plan annually, noting the progress in achieving the benchmarks the department has set.

Mentor Faculty at all Stages of their Career and Generate Departmental Collegiality

Each college and department has its own approach to mentoring faculty, but department chairs serve as a key resource for ensuring that mentoring is, in fact, taking place. Within this general area of care and concern of departmental faculty members, as yet untenured faculty members have a special place;  it is crucial that the department chair provide support and resources to new and untenured faculty.

Tenured faculty members need your attention too, perhaps not in the same or as concentrated a way as untenured faculty, but they will also benefit from encouragement, support, and attentive listening. The vitality of a department and the college and university depends on the continued energy, productivity, and intellectual edge of all faculty.

Please refer to “Supporting New Tenure Faculty,” “Mentoring New Tenure Faculty,” “Protecting and Integrating Tenure Track Faculty,” and “Mentoring Mid Career Faculty” and "Relationship with and Role of NTT Faculty" sections of this handbook for detailed suggestions on how you can mentor untenured and mid career faculty.

Act as a Liaison between the Department and the Dean

  • Your college Dean will consult with you on any issues facing your department, and, in turn, the Dean's office should be kept informed of problems, real or potential.
  • You are the primary representative of the department, a spokesperson, and an advocate for the department. You are also the person who relates back to the department the perspective and concerns of the Dean.
  • If there is a conflict between what the department collectively agrees are its needs and what is presented by the Dean as the college's needs, the chair serves as the intermediary, conveying the department's perspective to the Dean, and the Dean's perspective to the department. If an issue is particularly contentious, the Dean may meet with the whole department. Associate deans are also available to meet with chairs.
  • Tell the Dean's Office about departmental accomplishments, including those of students and faculty. Departmental accomplishments are an important factor in budget allocations and approval of faculty lines, and departmental prestige, both within the university and nationally in the field, is based upon faculty and student achievements.  Construct an annual end-of-year report of departmental accomplishments for the Dean that you should share with your department. 

Examples of some of the issues that routinely call for the chair to consult with the Dean (for more details, see sections on these issues):

  1. definition of positions in the department (when change is being considered)
  2. searches (various aspects, from approval of the search  to candidate choice)
  3. significant curriculum change  or proposed new initiatives
  4. faculty workload issues
  5. faculty development
  6. course scheduling
  7. some course logistics (e.g., over- or under-enrollment, )
  8. departmental contribution to interdisciplinary programs
  9. departmental advising systems
  10. student learning outcomes
  11. program assessment
  12. faculty evaluation and review
  13. personnel issues and conflicts
  14. space needs

Serve as the Face of the Department

  • A Chair must be accessible -- to students, faculty, and staff, both in person and on email. This means that chairs will need to be in the office, with the door open. Certain times of the term are especially important (e.g., at the start of each semester, during the add-drop period, advising and registration weeks each semester, during course withdrawal deadlines, and during the weeks following the last day of classes until grades are due).  (Note:  The  period before grades are due is when faculty members may seek your counsel or intervention around instances of plagiarism and ask for advice on the process.)
  • Plagiarism is an academic matter, and therefore it involves the faculty member, the department chair, the college dean, and the director of undergraduate studies, or, in the case of graduate students, the graduate dean. See a detailed explanation about the sequence of steps in reporting and responding to a case of plagiarism, consult the procedures. Student Affairs holds the permanent record on both misconduct and plagiarism.
  • The Division of Student Affairs is an important resource in guiding faculty members to respond to questions of non-academic student misconduct, including disruptive behavior in the classroom. The Associate Dean of Students is available for consultation.
  • It is important that a knowledgeable representative from the department be present on significant recruitment days, such as the Open House in October and Welcome Day in April. Make sure that your department is visible, and relevant literature about your department is attractively displayed on the tables provided. You might consider having a group of faculty members staff the tables in manageable shifts.   
  • Timely answering of e-mail will be appreciated by all the people turning to you with questions. Much of this communication stems from the chair's role as point person for communication to and from the Registrar's Office, other departments, and the Office of the Provost.
  • The department chair’s responsibilities extend into the summer and winter sessions. You may want to consult the Red Book, Article III (3.5) for the official responsibilities of the department chair.

Interact with Graduate Program Directors

Depending on whether your department has one or more graduate program or is in a primarily graduate-only college (e.g. College of Education and Human Development and McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies), there may be  more than one graduate program director (GPD) who coordinates all activities related to program recruitment, curriculum, and course assignment and scheduling.

GPDs have dual reporting lines. Because a graduate program resides within a department and is an integral aspect of a department’s overall academic offerings, the GPD reports to the department chair. However, he/she is also accountable to the Dean of Graduate Studies, who ensures program quality and consistency of policies and implementation across all graduate programs on campus.