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Teaching & Learning Resources at Camosun: Resources for chairs



This collection of resources is designed to support chairs and program leaders to navigate the complexities of their roles. The kinds of roles that chairs and program leaders take on vary widely across the college and depend on a number of factors, including size of departments, release time, CCFA or BCGEU membership, applied versus academic focus, and teaching versus non-teaching departments. This is a general resource that covers common elements across departments, and is intended to be augmented with department specific processes, as well as linked to more detailed information.


What is your role as chair?

Department chairs are leaders among faculty peers. At times they act as coordinators, planners, consultants, advocates, and conduits of information. They oversee a number of key departmental functions, and play a significant role in setting the tone of their departmental work environment. While chairs are in a leadership role, they are still members of the faculty body, which distinguishes them from exempt management positions (such as deans and associate deans). Talk to your dean, associate dean, union representative, and HR consultant to help get clarity about what is expected of you.

The college’s chair job description for both CCFA and BCGEU provides a general overview of the role:

“The chair is a leader among faculty peers and a key member of the school leadership team. Under the direction of the dean/director, the chair is responsible for the educational leadership and operation of a department. As such, the chair maintains academic excellence in the department and fosters the highest possible standards of teaching, scholarship, service, and student advising. The chair also inspires a vision, focus and direction to ensure the quality of the program(s) and leads the faculty in matters of curriculum, planning, assessment, and student affairs. The chair coordinates and supports the personal and professional talents of faculty members and ensures they are functioning as an effective team.” (From HR chair job description, December 2016.)

Thoughts on the chair role from the literature

Adapted from: The Department Chair Primer: Leading and Managing Academic Departments, by Don Chu (2012), Anker Publishing, Bolton Mass.)

  1. You officially represent your department. Be aware of what you say and how you say it.
  2. You are there to help protect the rights of faculty, but you also need to remind them to fulfill legal and ethical duties.  Good chairs take both of these jobs equally seriously.
  3. You provide educational leadership to the school and the college – not just to your department.  You will get a perspective that faculty members don’t have, and you’ll be better able to influence the direction the institution takes.  Represent your department’s viewpoint, while at the same time maintaining a college-wide perspective.
  4. You must maintain confidentiality. You will suddenly have access to more personal information about department members’ health, income, work history, etc.  Keep it confidential. 
  5. Be credible; it is the chair’s most valuable asset. Check facts – especially when emotions are running high. It’s okay to defer a decision or discussion until you know the facts. Never be afraid to say "I don't know but I'll find out", “I made a mistake”, or “I’m sorry”.
  6. Give undivided attention to the person you are dealing with. Be honest at the outset about how much time you have to give the person, but then give it fully.
  7. Maximize the talents of the faculty. Help faculty connect with time, money, training, facilities and resources that will enable them to be better instructors.
  8. See that resources are fully utilized. You should be able to justify resource decisions according to how they move your department toward strategic objectives.
  9. Not every change is a problem. Nay-sayers seldom influence the direction of change, and often miss opportunities.  Look for the opportunities and new connections that change provides.
  10. Every detail is important to someone. Details are important for students or faculty in ways that you may not understand.  Be humble enough to ask politely how information will be used and when it is needed rather than assume it’s a thoughtless request.
  11. You are not faculty’s boss, and you are everyone’s servant. Some chairs have support staff who report to them, but when it comes to faculty, you are not their boss.  It’s your job to help them and represent them.  You’ll get along better with your department if everyone remembers this.
  12. You are not alone. Your dean is the strategic and operational leader of the school and a key support for you on most issues. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them.  There are also chairs in other departments who are now your colleagues – they understand the challenges you face.

A note about "non-teaching" chairs and program/team leaders

The focus of these resources is primarily on chairs within academic departments, and less on chairs within non-teaching (sometimes referred to as non-academic) departments. These two types of chair roles can be quite distinct from each other. “Non-teaching” can be a misleading term, as the nature of the work in these departments can also include elements of teaching. However, their work is primarily outside of the regular classroom. Faculty chairs typically exist within non-teaching work units such as: Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL), Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), Counselling, Library, Assessment, Learning Skills, where there is a program coordinator, but no specific chair role, Camosun Innovates, where there are program leaders, but not a chair role. These faculty leaders play unique roles across diverse settings, and job duties may vary more widely based on the distinctive departmental features.  Sometimes being in a leadership role, particularly when you are not in a regular academic department, can feel isolating. Ensure you are reaching out for support when needed.

The focus of these resources is also primarily on chairs as opposed to program leaders. (NOTE: In “non-teaching” departments, program leaders may go by other names, such as team leader or coordinator.) The role of program leader varies and can be based on historical expectations, program size, and norms within your department. However, since program leaders often take on various tasks intended to “assist” with chair and other administrative duties, sections of this resource will also be of interest and value to program leaders.

Ongoing feedback and input for chair resources

If you have feedback on the resources for chairs please contact Martha McAlister in CETL.  

What does your collective agreement say about the chair role?

Most chairs are faculty members of the Camosun College Faculty Association (CCFA), with the exception of those in Trades, Certified Dental Assistant, and Continuing Care programs, who are faculty members of the British Columbia Government and Services Employees’ Union (BCGEU). Your collective agreement is a great resource and important reference for a number of topics related to the chair role.  NOTE: This document is not intended to conflict in any way with your collective agreement, which always prevails.

Camosun College Strategic Plan

Overall, the college’s strategic plan is the big picture framework for all we do at Camosun. Our vision is to inspire life-changing learning, and it is worthwhile keeping this in mind in all you do. Get to know some of the key initiatives and think about how your work fits into these larger goals.

What other chairs say about the job

 “Connect with the school admin office employees face to face as much as possible in the beginning to build comfortable relationships. These folks are the largest support for information regarding everyday department operations and friendly faces outside the department.” Carmen deGoey, Department Chair, Electrical Trades Training

“I believe in building trust relationships with my team because when there is trust and support of one another, I know we can weather any storm together and still be okay.”                          ;

Mandy Hayre, Department Chair, Dental

“I have found that many of the struggles stem from having responsibility and accountability without the necessary authority.  When you realize these situations, you can find balance.”

Patrick Montgomery, Department Chair, Mathematics and Statistics