Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NISOD 2008 - What Does It take To Become A Successful Chair?

This presentation was done by Dr. Jim Hammons of the University of Arkansas. Dr. Hammons is the "godfather' of what has now become the Chair Academy, and has many years of research and practice dealing with chairs.

I've been an academic chair for about nine months now and was interested in attending this session to see if I was on track and if there were any tips and hints that would make me more effective in my job. The presentation started with a definition of what a successful academic chair is:

"A successful chair is one who has the ability to take an ill-defined job that none of your colleagues would consider taking and perform it at a level acceptable to your faculty and your boss with no orientation or training and without being given the time, information, or other institutional support necessary to do so" - Hammons 1991

While this definition received much laughter, there is a certain grain of truth to it in that the chair's job is busy and in many cases looking in both directions - teaching and learning with faculty and administratively "up" with the larger College perspective. My own experience is that I have had the support of faculty, administration and my institution in doing my job, and i was very fortunate in that I was mentored for several months by my predecessor - an invaluable experience and one that I would recommend as the norm for anyone entering a chair's position.

I am a non-teaching chair and this presentation was focussed on the US college model where most chairs are still in the classroom. I think being a non-teaching chair, and having come from the ranks of faculty, is a distinct advantage. I understand the issues faculty face and I have the time to deal with them (well some days I do... :-)). The biggest thing about being a chair, and one that was emphasized during this presentation is that a chair has such a wise variety of roles that you cannot be expert in them all. There is a need for development opportunities for chairs.

Dr Hammons included a couple of instruments in his presentation handout, one dealing with institutional support factors influencing chairperson performance, and the other one a self-testing instrument for chairs on how do you rate your skills? He suggested that the second one be filled out by a chair and also be their faculty - I think that this is a great idea and will try it with my faculty.

What I got from this presentation is that chairs no matter where they are are very busy people. Most importantly I got some perspective on my own position as an academic chair - I like our system of non-teaching chairs and the broad scope of work that we do. I am an administrator, but I am also a leader and I must remember that as I do my job. There is a need for formal training for chairs, to help all of us be as good as we can be at our principal task - supporting learner success...

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