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Department Chair Online Resource Center Roles and Responsibilities of Department Chairs Irene W. D. Hecht, Mary Lou Higgerson, Walter H . Gmelch, Allan Tucker. “Roles and Responsibilities of Department Chairs.” The Department Chair as Academic Leader (Phoenix, AZ: ACE Oryx Press , 1999). Chapter 2. ROLES, CONTEXT, AND TRANSFORMATIONS The Role of the Department Chair The changing context of higher education described in the previous chapter sets the stage for our review of the department chair’s roles and responsibilities. As front-line managers, department chairs serve more than one constituency, a fact that requires department chairs to assume multiple roles. Chairs are the primary spokespersons for department faculty, staff, and students. At the same time, institutions of higher education have an increasing reliance upon department chairs to implement and carry out campus policy and the mission of the institution for the central administration. Chairs represent the central administration to department members at the same time that they articulate the needs of the department members to the administration. Consequently, department chairs are the essential link between the administration and department members. When chairs fulfill their role effectively, there is good communication between the administration and faculty. When chairs do not succeed in this task, there is often a lack of trust between the administration and the faculty because neither constituency understands either the needs or perspectives of the other. Department chairs must do more than forward information between the administration and department members. Chairs must interpret and present information and arguments that accurately reflect the intent of each constituency to the other for the overall purpose of advancing the institutional mission by connecting department objectives with that broader mission. At one time, the chair position was reserved for the most prestigious scholars within the discipline. These chairs presided over departments in an almost ceremonial manner, and did not wrestle with budget cuts, declining enrollments, productivity reports, accountability measures, fund raising, or changing technology. While many institutions still stipulate that department chairs have a record of scholarship and publication, all institutions expect chairs to be more than a role model or figurehead. Department faculty seek a strong advocate, a consensus builder, a budget wizard, and a superb manager. Academic deans and provosts seek department chairs who have superb managerial and communication skills, and are able to implement university policies and directives. One distinctive characteristic of the chair’s role is its paradoxical nature. Department chairs are leaders, yet are seldom given the scepter of undisputed authority. Department chairs are first among equals, but any strong coalition of those equals can severely restrict the chairs’ ability to lead. Deans
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Irene W. D. Hecht, Mary Lou Higgerson, Walter H . Gmelch, Allan Tucker. “Roles and Responsibilities of Department
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