Tuesday, July 25, 2017
When Nobody Steps Up
One thing that did NOT work was imposed on us much earlier—not being allowed to hire any junior faculty until we had hired a senior faculty member to be chair. We were only given enough resources for a junior hire, so essentially we had a 4-5 year hiring freeze, at a time when me most needed to grow the faculty. We would have been much better off growing our own chair from a junior hire—it would not have taken any longer and would have let the department keep up with the student enrollment. (Shortly after we managed finally to hire a chair, the great recession started and we couldn't hire needed junior faculty for other reasons—we've been playing catch-up ever since.)
That said, we definitely use the chair role as a place to groom (including travel to conferences or accreditation meetings or things like the Chair Academy) and develop experience so there will be a pool of internal candidates for the next opening at the dean level so we don't have to go outside simply because there are no suitable internal candidates at all. Those people are still in the classroom at least half time, but know what is going on at the next level up. We also follow the practice of splitting the supervisory role of the Dean for a large department like ours, much as Dean Reed described, and much like the do at large university departments that have as many as three: a chair and an undergrad chair (for the undergrad majors and service courses) and a grad chair (supervising grad student adjuncts and research assistants and the PhD program).
And, yes, we have had times when it was a challenge to get someone to step up when someone insisted on steping down. That was really a matter of time, because all of the not-retiring-soon candidates had less than a decade of experience and we had NOT done a good job of getting younger faculty into the chair positions until it was almost too late for all the reasons you list, but mostly status-quo laziness. The senior people were doing a great job.
But I probably wasn't the most obvious choice - I'm relatively junior (I'm not in the North American system so tenure, tenure-track doesn't apply in the same way, but chairs are usually a level or more above where I am currently); I'm part time and not interested in going to full time; there was a more senior male colleague who was making a show of being willing to step up in an act of self-sacrifice for the team.
Our dean made this time to speak with a number of staff about who they felt would be a good chair, to talk with me about what the role entailed and what support I would have so that I was willing to take the risk, and simply look beyond the obvious candidates.
The alternative presented to us was that the administration would step in as 'chair' and assign each of us tasks that we wouldn't be able to refuse. Tired of the drama and wanting to move forward more positively for future negotiations, I decided to offer myself to my colleagues as chair, despite not having tenure. This condition was accepted by the administration, and my colleagues supported me, some more reluctantly than others. They wanted to keep fighting for more course release hours even though the union did everything it could to support us.
I'm now a couple of weeks away from starting this new position and am hoping for the best -- that the administration will see our good will, that our new department can work together as a team, and that I can handle my new responsibilities along with my teaching.
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