To the Editor:
Last month’s installment of “Ask the Chair” (“Is On-the-Job Training Enough?” The Chronicle, December 14) was, as usual, packed with good advice. I commend the chair-to-be who posed the question for their thoughtful and responsible mindset.
Learning skill-related information, like budget systems, is of course essential to being effective as a chair. I’d add that it is at least as important to consider how one’s relationships with others on campus will change.
Many commentators have noted the relational dynamic of this transition for faculty (e.g., Carolyn Dever’s video “Beyond the Dark Side,” The Chronicle, May 13, 2021). Aspiring leaders would do well to reflect on what this transition means for their own relationships with colleagues, and how they want to handle it. Appointment as chair doesn’t mean valued friendships must end, but the reality is that they will be affected. Both the friendship and the chair’s effectiveness could suffer when the chair makes a decision or implements a mandate that a friend disagrees with.
Another kind of relationship to start thinking about as a chair-to-be is that with the dean and the dean’s office staff. This might extend to the provost and their staff as well. “Chair buddies” (Detmar’s phrase) will be helpful sources of information here. At many institutions, there are seasoned administrators who are recognized as the informal “chair whisperers” of the campus. Find out who they are and get to know them better.
Also remember that you needn’t limit your group of “chair buddies” to your own campus. Folks at other institutions can provide a fresh perspective, independent of the political dynamics on your own campus (one of the benefits of boot camps and other off-campus professional development programs). Many disciplinary associations sponsor chair list-serves and include programming at annual conferences to support chairs. These can be less expensive alternatives to boot camps and the like, with similar benefits.
Salvatore J. Catanzaro
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Illinois State University