The chair has responsibility for leading and supervising the academic department. The chair is responsible for communicating to the faculty and staff and then facilitating the implementation of all College and University policies and procedures. The chair also represents and advocates to the College and the University their unit’s interests and needs. Although periodically reviewed by the faculty, the department chair is appointed by the dean of the College, normally for a renewable five-year term, and is the final authority within the department for daily operations, including personnel issues, curriculum development, scheduling, finances, and the use of facilities and resources.
As part of the University’s chain of command and responsibilities, chairs are expected to develop effective communication patterns and governance procedures within their unit (e.g., monthly department meetings with an agenda and minutes copied to the dean; a committee structure for seeking input, representation, and collective decision making within the unit; the creation and submission of an annual report and a five-year plan, etc.) and to be the unit’s representative to the College—usually communicating first with either their divisional associate dean or the associate dean/Clark Hall staff member responsible for a specific procedure (see the College of Arts and Sciences contact list).
The divisional associate dean is a chair’s primary advocate within the College. Chairs should use good judgment to determine which of the unit’s various initiatives, goals, and challenges is made known to their divisional associate dean. Chairs are free to communicate directly with the dean and with others in the administrative structure, though you are required to alert the Dean’s Office if contacting those above the dean in the University’s administrative structure. Chairs should defer to their divisional associate dean regarding when it is proper to inform the dean of some developments. In other words, use your divisional dean as a buffer, sounding board, and advocate.
At the annual review meeting with the dean and divisional associate dean, the chair must be prepared to discuss, in detail, the credit-hour production of the unit and the teaching assignments (i.e., FTEs) of its faculty, the department’s research productivity, personnel issues, budget, and other matters. This meeting is very important. Your divisional associate dean will brief and prepare you prior to this annual review meeting.
Specific Areas of Responsibility
The responsibilities of the department chair can be further divided into the following areas: academic program, budgets and accounts, personnel, resources and facilities, students, and professionalism.
The chair is responsible for developing and implementing (with faculty input) all goals, plans, and strategies for the maintenance and development of the department’s academic program(s). This includes oversight of the content and structure of the undergraduate and/or graduate curriculum and the pedagogical integrity of individual courses (and their syllabi), all new course proposals, the admission of students, the awarding of scholarships, the development of a schedule of classes, and ensuring that the unit’s goals and measures are properly reported each year on the WEAVE site. Even if a unit has faculty committees that take on many of these tasks, it is the chair who constitutes the committee, appoints the committee chair, gives the committee its charge and timetable, receives the committee’s report, and decides whether, and how, to implement the committee’s recommendations. The chair is therefore ultimately responsible regardless of which committee oversees which aspect of departmental life.
As stated in all letters of appointment (a copy of which should be in each faculty member’s personnel file, and in the case of tenure-track faculty, also in their retention dossier), the chair is responsible for assigning all teaching duties and coordinating, with faculty input, all teaching schedules for tenured and tenure-track faculty, full-time temporary instructors (FTTI), part-time temporary instructors (PTTI), and, when applicable, graduate teaching assistants (GTA). The chair is also expected to develop a sound working relationship with the College’s Office of Student Services when it comes time to plan course offerings, submit new course proposals, and manage the enrollment of students for the upcoming semester’s courses.
Budgets and Accounts
The chair must be proactive in managing all departmental budgets in a fiscally responsible manner. Because all financial matters pertaining to the unit must be approved by the chair, he or she must be constantly aware of the status of the operating budget, gift accounts, endowment accounts, grant accounts, and know what funds will remain at the end of the fiscal year. The chair must also be aware of all relevant University financial policies (e.g., reimbursable expenditures and acceptable uses of the Purchase Order Card [P-card], etc.).
The chair should also foster a positive working relationship with the College’s director of financial affairs, the College’s director of development, and be acquainted with all relevant procedures of the Accounts Payable Office.
Hiring is one of the most important duties that a chair performs, so due diligence to both legal requirements and proper personnel selection are critical. Do not hesitate to contact other Arts and Sciences chairs or your divisional associate dean for advice. The chair signs off on all hiring within the department (and therefore is ultimately responsible for who is hired). The degree to which the chair is an active participant in the hiring of each employee (particularly student employees) may vary according to the position in question and size of the department. With new faculty hires, the standard practice is for the chair to appoint members of the search committee and to appoint a chair of the search committee. The department chair is also responsible for providing the committee chair and committee members with clear instructions on their duties and their deadline (i.e., when they must report their recommendations to the department chair). In some cases, the chair may wish to act as the chair of the search committee.
Hiring faculty, staff, and students is done through the online employment management systems jobs.ua.edu. All applications for positions take place through this online system and search committees can access the system to examine application materials.
In some cases, a waiver can be granted (such as in the hiring of PTTIs) such that a search does not need to be advertised. Commonly in this situation applicants in a pre-existing online hiring pool can be considered and hired for a position. For example, a department may have an abrupt resignation or medical situation where a replacement must be hired on very short notice. Work with your divisional associate dean. Such vacancies can often be filled quickly.
The chair ensures that each employee, whether staff or faculty member, is brought onto and taken off of the payroll in a proper fashion (achieved through the PA form) and that all personnel files are up-to-date, kept in a secure location, and contain all professionally relevant materials that relate to the employee’s appointment to, and performance within, the unit.
When the University allocates funds for salary raises, chairs make raise recommendations to the Dean’s Office for each faculty and staff member in his/her unit. Because raises at the University of Alabama are merit-based (apart from separate requests to address issues of equity or particularly meritorious accomplishments), chairs’ recommendations are based on their annual FAR assessment of each faculty member. The dean ultimately makes decisions about faculty and staff salaries and raises, but relies heavily on a chair’s recommendations and on the information logged in the FAR and STAR systems.
The chair provides routine feedback to faculty, both formally and informally, concerning a faculty member’s annual performance in terms of research, teaching, and service. All faculty, regardless of tenure status, must complete an annual Faculty Activity Report. Tenure-track faculty must also receive a formal evaluation of their retention dossier as part of their annual tenure and promotion process.
Annually (usually at the completion of the Spring semester), chairs use the Human Resources evaluation form to conduct a performance review of their unit’s staff members. The results of this review are shared with the Dean’s Office and then filed in the staff member’s personnel file in Human Resources. The results of this review are used in making salary increase recommendations for staff members, when funds for such increases are allocated by the University, and assist future supervisors at the University who may consider hiring the staff member should he or she wish to change positions.
Any potential legal issue should be discussed immediately and confidentially with the appropriate member of the Dean’s Office (usually your divisional associate dean). This includes faculty, staff, and student behavioral issues, as well as contracts and financial arrangements. The University’s Office of Council is available for help and legal advice to the Dean’s Office and departments. If a legal issue arises that seems to require the attention of the Office of Counsel, notify your divisional associate dean first. The chair should be prepared to defer to the associate dean who can sometimes act more effectively on behalf of the department with the Office of Counsel.
Although chairs work to establish friendly, collegial, and professional relations among all faculty, staff, and students within their respective units, they are advised also to take seriously that personnel (both faculty and staff) and student matters can (sometimes surprisingly quickly) become confrontational and, in some cases, result in formal complaints or legal proceedings where past patterns of conduct need to be documented fairly and in detail. Chairs must therefore use their best judgment, as events occur, concerning when and what to document in writing, in a timely fashion, and file in a secure location. They must also exercise sound judgment concerning when incidents require action beyond the chair, initially involving confidential consultation with his or her divisional associate dean and, possibly, the University’s Office of Counsel.
Written documentation of behavior or events must be descriptive (i.e., non-evaluative), documenting observable behaviors rather than speculating on feelings, motives, or intentions. While chairs may wish to keep notes, they must be aware that some personnel issues likely require intervention within the policies of the University of Alabama; to that end, and with the input of the divisional associate dean (who may seek Counsel’s advice), documented personnel issues can result in a memo/meeting with the person involved, which outlines the issue, the necessary corrective, and the consequences should the issues not be resolved and corrected.
If you have any questions about worrisome behavior, legal issues, or documentation of either of these, work with your divisional associate dean.
The College of Arts and Sciences follows The University of Alabama Harassment Policy as outlined in Appendix 1 of the Faculty Handbook. It is important to understand that sexual harassment is not the only type of workplace harassment. Harassment can be understood as behaviors that contribute to the creation of an unsafe or threatening workplace (e.g., bullying). Harassment complaints are made directly to the designated harassment resource person for the College (distinguished from the College’s resource person for Human Resources Conflict Resolutions). Chairs can play an advisory role in helping steer faculty and staff toward the proper resource person in the College.
Chairs must ensure that their faculty and staff understand that if learn of complaints of harassment in the workplace (which includes the classroom and on campus generally), it is their legal responsibility to alert their immediate supervisor of the possible complaint (the supervisor, of course, must then alert the College’s harassment resource person). Failing to do so can result in the third party being liable for failing to act responsibly to help identify and, if identified, constructively address workplace harassment.
The Dean’s Office memo on harassment and the harassment awareness tutorial can be found on the Faculty/Staff section of the Arts and Sciences website. Find the name and contact information for the current A &S Harassment Resource Person, on the College of Arts and Sciences Contact List.
Resources and Facilities
The chair must ensure that the unit’s resources and facilities are effectively used and managed by the unit. In clearly identifying priorities and needs within the department, the chair is responsible for advocating on behalf of the unit to acquire new resources and facilities and to work to make faculty aware of resources (both internal and external) that can facilitate their work.
An example of an external resource that chairs might want to share with students and faculty are the virtual library resource sites created by the library for each department. A good example is: http://guides.lib.ua.edu/criminaljustice.
The chair is concerned with the educational experience of all students taking courses (or working) in his or her department. To this end, the department chair provides guidance and structure regarding the quality of departmental academic instruction. The chair is also responsible for creating a plan for student advising (such as appointing an undergraduate director and/or graduate director and deciding how advisees will be mentored throughout their degree) and following student misconduct and grievance policies and procedures within the department, the College, and the University. Understanding the assistance that the Arts and Sciences Student Services Center can offer is also crucial and includes issues involving academic bankruptcy or academic second opportunity.
The chair oversees department efforts to maintain and improve high quality student learning. This includes mentoring and evaluating faculty interactions with students as well as providing training for graduate assistants. The chair must also be knowledgeable of College and University initiatives that enhance student learning (e.g., Diversity, the Learner-Centered Initiative, Learning Communities, etc.), and must work to coordinate department initiatives with campus-wide priorities.
Consistent with the chair’s active concern with the educational experience of all students taking courses in his/her department, the chair is expected to actively participate in and/or oversee the following:
- Advising of students
- Assistance with registration
- Regular attendance by the chair at commencements and convocations
- Regular participation in recruiting activities (e.g., University Day)
- Regular participation in Department, College and University committees
The chair must coordinate all advising activities, deciding whether to appoint one or more faculty to carry out this role, distributing it to all faculty members, or leaving the coordination of advising to an undergraduate director whom the chair appoints. (Such appointments ought to be reflected in the faculty member’s FTE.)
All undergraduate students in Arts and Sciences have two advisors–a professor who acts as the department advisor (advising students concerning the major degree requirements) and a Student Services staff member who is the student’s College advisor (advising students on their progress through the core curriculum and carrying out degree audits in preparation for the student’s graduation). Although department advisors do not have to know the details of the core curriculum’s requirements (knowing that the student’s College advisor can assist with that), they will benefit the students whom they advise if they are familiar with it.
As departmental leader, the chair sets the tone of professionalism and collegiality in the department. This includes dealing fairly and openly with faculty, staff, and students. Toward this end, the chair must be familiar with all relevant policies and procedures in the Faculty and Staff Handbooks, as well as with all relevant laws that pertain to students and personnel (e.g., ADA and FERPA). The chair must also be prepared with proper documentation in the advent of legal issues pertaining to such matters as student or personnel behavior.
Among other things, establishing a professional workplace means ensuring that the department’s main office is staffed from 8:00am until 4:45pm daily* and that people who arrive at the main office are promptly greeted and asked if they require assistance. Main office phones should be answered in a professional manner and outgoing voicemail greetings should identify the unit’s name. Respond promptly to messages. [*Closing for lunch is understandable in small units that lack sufficient staff members, though student workers/work-study students can be of assistance in scheduling main office staffing.]
If student workers are employed in the unit, the chair should consider ways to professionalize these students so that they represent the unit properly (perhaps developing guidelines, a student worker handbook, etc.). If needed, a template for a confidentiality agreement (given that staff and students working in the main office sometimes have access to private information) is available on the HR site. A link appears in the Forms section of the Chairs website.