Spring Survey of Department and Division Chairs Shows Diversity in Appointment and Compensation Practices

Policies and procedures for the appointment, terms, and compensation of department and division chairs vary significantly among CIC institutions. This spring, CIC again surveyed chairs at member institutions to aid in planning the next round of Workshops for Department and Division Chairs. The aggregate survey results, based on more than 1,000 responses, also may help CAOs and chairs understand and shape the role on campus. Compared with the results of a larger and longer-term study reported by Robert E. Cipriano and Richard Ricardi in 2012 and of CIC’s surveys from 2010 to 2012, the workload for chairs continues to rise, job satisfaction is still high but has declined slightly, and the demographic makeup of chairs includes more women.

Motivation and Satisfaction

When asked why they serve, most chairs (70 percent in 2016) said they want to shape the department’s or division’s direction, down from 86 percent reported in 2012 (Cipriano and Ricardi). Fewer chairs (66 percent in 2016) also said they serve to make a difference (down from 86 percent in 2012). Only 2 and 7 percent said they are motivated by power or money, respectively, in 2016. Thirty-seven percent said they are chairs because no one else would take the job, the same as in 2012, and 15 percent said they fill the role to advance their careers. Several respondents made comments such as, “I like doing it; either that or I’m crazy.”
Most chairs (80 percent) reported being satisfied, very satisfied, or extremely satisfied with being a chair, although that is lower than the 90 percent satisfaction rate reported by Cipriano and Riccardi in 2012. Comments from the 2016 survey suggest that the decline may be due to both workload and compensation issues. Two-thirds of respondents reported that their workload had increased over the last two to five years, about the same proportion of chairs who reported an increase in workload in the 2010–2012 CIC survey of chairs.


CIC institutions compensate chairs in widely different ways. Of the respondents, 19 percent had no reassignment of teaching load for chair duties, 35 percent had either one-fourth or one-third of their teaching load reassigned, and 18 percent had more than half of their load reassigned. Sixty percent of the respondents received additional pay for chair duties, a small increase over the proportion of chairs reporting additional pay in the 2010–2012 CIC survey. The amount of pay varied from under $100 to an additional month or two of salary.


Although their level and type of compensation varies, chairs across CIC institutions share similar duties, including overseeing the departmental or division budget, class schedules, assessment plans, and strategic planning as well as student and faculty issues. Many institutions do not codify expectations of a chair’s responsibilities, however. Only three-quarters of the respondents received any kind of written description of their responsibilities, with 55 percent reporting that the description was part of the faculty handbook and 20 percent stating it was in a detailed chairs’ handbook.

Appointments and Terms

As with compensation, appointment practices vary widely across institutions. Many respondents (45 percent) were appointed by the CAO or dean after consultation with department members; 22 percent were elected by the department and approved by the CAO or dean; 17 percent were appointed by the CAO or dean with no consultation with the department; and 6 percent were elected by the department with no input from the CAO or dean.
Forty-one percent of respondents had no defined terms or term limits, down from 79 percent reported by Cipriano and Riccardi in 2012; 25 percent had three-year renewable terms (most chairs served six years); 5 percent held finite terms of longer than three years (most chairs served two terms); and 15 percent had three-year terms as part of regular rotations.

Pie chart of basis of appointments for department chairs
Source: 2016 CIC Survey of Department and Division Chairs


Skills and Abilities Needed by Chairs

Survey respondents reported that the top six skills or traits needed by chairs are so-called soft skills: clear communication, efficient organization, and the ability to make decisions, resolve interpersonal conflicts, solve problems, and demonstrate character and integrity.


Fifty percent of the respondents to CIC’s 2016 survey were women and 45 percent were men (5 percent did not report their sex), a significant difference from the 2012 Cipriano and Riccardi study in which 56 percent were men.
The length of time chairs had already served widely diverged. Fifteen percent of respondents had been chair for one year or less; 13 percent for two years; 13 percent for three years; 22 percent for four to six years; 18 percent for six to ten years; and 17 percent for more than ten years.
Indicative of the increasing recognition of the key role that chairs play on campus, 59 percent of respondents reported having taken part in at least one professional development activity specifically aimed at the responsibilities of a department or division chair. That is dramatically higher than the 5 percent of chairs who reported any chair training in the 2012 Cipriano and Riccardi study, and may reflect differences among faculty development programs at smaller private colleges and universities versus those at very large institutions.

Pie chart of length of service as department chairs
Source: 2016 CIC Survey of Department and Division Chairs

About the Survey

CIC conducted the current survey in spring 2016. CIC emailed a survey link to department and division chairs in the CIC database who were serving member institutions. CIC also emailed chief academic officers at member institutions and requested that they forward the survey link to chairs on their campuses. A total of 1,083 responses were collected. CIC staff previously surveyed department and division chairs who attended the CIC Workshops for Department and Division chairs in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Results from those three years were aggregated, with a total of 988 responses. Results from these two data sets were compared with the 2008–2011 national survey of chairs from all sectors of higher education conducted by Robert Cipriano and Richard Riccardi and published in The Department Chair in 2010 and 2012. Analysis of the qualitative data from the survey is in progress, and CIC plans to share findings later this year.