Office for Faculty Development

Department Cultures and Chair Styles

Departmental cultures can be perceived by department members as falling anywhere along the spectrum of being enriching and fulfilling, at one end, and dysfunctional and debilitating, at the other.  Intermediate points of the spectrum might be marked as efficient and utilitarian, or minimally functional. You might inherit a department with a rich and supportive culture or one that requires serious repair to undo years of damage. In all cases, it is imperative that you begin your term as chair by speaking with each faculty member to discuss what they both appreciate and find problematic about the department. You might also solicit ideas from them about how they would like to see camaraderie maintained and/or built.

Factors that contribute to department culture

  • department size and nature (undergrad only, UG/grad, grad only, number of majors and/or programs)
  • proportion of tenured to untenured faculty
  • number of  senior faculty
  • number of non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty
  • expectations people have about time commitments (e.g., time spent in one's office, departmental research, teaching and service cultures, attendance at departmentally sponsored events, departmental socializing off campus)
  • incorporation of student input into departmental decisions
  • a tradition of hierarchy or egalitarianism
  • degree of delegation and how much is done by the chair
  • reliance on collective  (or independent) decision-making
  • degree to which junior faculty or NTTs are included in decision-making

As department chair, you will have a significant impact on the life of the department. Consider whether you align with old patterns, or whether your style will necessitate adjustment to a new way of doing things for your faculty members.

Factors that contribute to the style of a department chair 

  • The balance between exercising control over all aspects of the department and delegating tasks to competent colleagues.
  • The amount you interact face-to-face versus with e-mail communications
  • The use of a hierarchical or democratic model
  • The degree that you are approachable for professional and/or personal problems
  • The degree that you are comfortable with numbers and attuned to data (e.g., budgets, enrollment information)

Attributes of department culture that one should strive to cultivate in all departments

  • collegial
  • functional
  • supportive
  • open-minded
  • communicative
  • cooperative
  • empathetic