What?!? This is how a chair should act?

from the CHE:

The job of a department chair is one of the most demanding on the campus. Chairs serve as a buffer between the faculty and the administration. The essence of the role is to protect and support the department’s faculty, both the full-timers and the adjuncts.

A lot of the chair’s work involves clearing obstacles that prevent people from thriving. The more that faculty members were unencumbered, I found, the better they were able to teach, do service work, and be productive researchers. If they needed something to help them succeed, like more space, or money, or time, I would do my best to get those things for them, and that became a major source of my own job satisfaction.

Complaints about tenure discrimination, harassment, bullying, unfair allocations of resources may mention the at least unhelpful chair. I myself will never forget the (fortunately distant) chair who said of a dean, “The dean is my boss; I must do what he says.” So I’m wondering, are there chairs like the above in philosophy? Can we use them? I mean at least get a sense of who they are and whether they like help in areas where we (broadly understood to include the CSW and others) have expertise?

I’ve been wondering about civility in our part of the academy (search under “mobbing” if you are curious). Perhaps we could get some people who’d be prepared to have role in a civility project.

9 thoughts on “What?!? This is how a chair should act?

  1. Are there chairs like that in philosophy? Hell, our former chair, as we later discovered, saved up money from the departmental budget every year and kicked it back to the general fund. I repeatedly asked him why we couldn’t have speakers or other programs for our department, and he repeatedly told me that the money wasn’t there.

  2. Harriet,
    In almost every other context, I’d ask what made you so sure he was kicking _all_ of the (“extra”) money back to the general fund. Even here, I’d wonder what sort of side or special deal was going on. (It _could_ be that there was a side deal that was generally beneficial- some special dispensation to the department- but without more details, it’s not obviously reasonable to expect that.) (Of course, on the other hand, I think it’s never safe to bet against the idea that, in practical matters, many philosophers are just a bit thick, and not really applying the same level of thinking that they would in their official work.)

  3. I know about this because the wife of a former member of our department worked in the accounting office and found out about it. Whatever side deals were going on they didn’t benefit us.

  4. I’m a member of a lower-tier institution in a major university system–the University of Wisconsin–and I have to say that every single Philosophy Chair in my memory has been a stalwart advocate of faculty and lecturers, transparent as to budget, and generally just good colleagues. But then again, our bottom-feeding in the System probably encourages the Musketeer mentality rather than the kicking-those-beneath-you-ladder-climbing that leads to higher perches in the more lucrative ivory towers. In that respect my career in my department has been a blessed one, even if as a full professor I make what some R1 assistants do.

  5. Jeez, I sure hope that I’m like the above. I thought we all tried to chair our departments this way. I suppose I could be completely delusional and actually failing at the sort of chairing described in the excerpt, but I assumed that this is exactly what I should be doing, and in my experience, my past chairs were excellent role-models of this.

  6. My chair is definitely of the “the dean is my boss; I must do what he says” variety. And anyone who offers alternative views — e.g., who doesn’t think “efficiency” should be the main goal of classrom teaching — is seen and treated as irrational and unreasonable. You mean there are chairs that are not like that? Must be nice.

  7. My chair is an awesome advocate for our department and an incredibly efficient, fair, open-minded colleague and I kind of worship him just a bit.

  8. I’ll give the names of my current chair and the chair before her if it involves lots of praise being sent their way. They are amazing advocates who protect us without alienating the dean.

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