Record Number of Department and Division Chairs Participate in 2017 Workshops

Department and division chairs and other academic administrators discussed how to support colleagues, hold difficult conversations, and advocate for their departments from an institutional perspective during four workshops across the country this spring. Led by experienced chief academic officers, department chairs, and attorneys specializing in higher education, CIC’s 2017 Workshops for Department and Division Chairs focused on “Strategic Leadership for Challenging Times.” A record 378 department and division chairs—from colleges in 41 states plus Nigeria—participated in the meetings, which took place in March through May in Savannah, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Kansas City, Missouri; and Phoenix, Arizona. Academic Search, Inc. provided generous support for the workshops.

This year, the program included separate sections—for newer chairs and for experienced chairs and deans—on serving as the department or division chair, understanding the department or division budget, using data effectively, and becoming a leader on campus.

Two photos of participants discussing workshop topics while seated at roundtables
Participants of the Savannah, Georgia (left), and Baltimore, Maryland (right), Workshops for Department and Division Chairs practiced strategies for handling difficult conversations.

The workshops were framed by sessions that explored the typical job description of a chair and institutional leadership opportunities available for chairs. Kate O’Connell, provost and dean of the college for Illinois College, opened the Baltimore workshop by pointing out the most common elements in chair job descriptions and areas where major differences among institutions are found. She discussed collaboration, collegiality, and leadership as key job requirements as well as different models for being a chair. In the Savannah workshop, Mickey McDonald, provost of Kalamazoo College (MI), elaborated on the joys that come from serving as chair and asked participants to think about operating within models of adaptive leadership, which involves taking on the gradual but meaningful process of adaptation, diagnosing the essential from the expendable, and challenging the status quo.

In the Baltimore workshop session on budgets, Mark Braun, professor of communication studies at Gustavus Adolphus College (MN), emphasized the importance of careful stewardship of financial resources. He explained that chairs should spend what is needed for excellent programming while always remembering that the sources of most funding are payments and gifts from students and their families. Bill Deeds, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Morningside College (IA), began the session in Kansas City on using data effectively by asking participants, “What data will be most useful to you? How can you use data for positive change? How do you tell the best story?”

Natasha Baker stands with participants seated at a roundtable
At the Phoenix, Arizona, workshop, chairs questioned attorney Natasha Baker (standing) about the details of a case study on faculty evaluation.

Led in Phoenix by Chad Berry, academic vice president and dean of the faculty at Berea College (KY), a session on handling difficult conversations with colleagues helped participants practice strategies for productive conversations through role play. Berry recommended early action (“avoiding or ignoring problems rarely makes them go away”), thorough preparation for the conversation, documenting what took place, and determining what issues might lie behind problematic behavior.

Each of the workshops included sessions on legal issues and featured an attorney who discussed best practices in faculty hiring and evaluation. All of the attorneys strongly suggested developing materials for every search committee, taking great care with the job description (including a list of critical job functions), using a standardized process for screening applicants, collecting a signed application, using a standard script for interviewing candidates, and always checking references. In the evaluation process, all of the presenters discussed the importance of following institutional processes for evaluation, focusing on critical job functions (ideally aligned with the job description), and providing timely feedback. The most effective evaluations will motivate, inspire, and encourage. They also should be candid, thorough, timely, accurate, and objective, the presenters emphasized.

Participants discuss workhsop topic seated at a roundtable
In Phoenix, participants compared their own evaluation processes and policies with the best practices presented in the workshop.

At each workshop, an experienced chair led a session on building and maintaining a collegial department. Kevin Reilly, dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professional Studies at Ferrum College (VA), reminded participants in Baltimore that all faculty members want to be heard and to have their work valued. All presenters emphasized the importance of clear communication and the ability to facilitate the work of other faculty and staff members as key to success as chair.

“The workshop was extremely helpful in a variety of ways. I learned from the discussions, role-play exercises, and networking. It was a well-run and thoughtfully organized workshop,” remarked Phoenix workshop participant William Gibbons, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts and associate professor of musicology at Texas Christian University.

Workshop materials are available on the CIC website. CIC will announce the 2018 Workshops for Department and Division Chairs this fall.