New Chair Mentoring Conversations: An Overview

The Faculty Center held round tables for new Department and Program Chairs on September 20 and 22, 2021 and September 20, 2023. Experienced Chair panel members spoke about the operational and relational aspects of the Chair responsibility. New Chairs asked questions and provided insight from their perspectives.



• Responsibilities that require the most time: Scheduling, RTP, DSI

• Make to-do lists. A spreadsheet of tasks from the Dean is helpful because often jobs require waiting for input / completion of some aspects by others. Ask, “when is the ball in my court?”

• Take notes – don’t rely on your memory.

• Send one condensed email digest per week, not 6.

• It is especially helpful when the Chairs maintain a folder of templates (examples) of letters, reports, anything you do, as well as a list of responsibilities and names of people to go to for particular reasons.

• Create an academic year-long timeline of deadlines from the Provost’s office as well as events and tasks that come up every year.

• Give yourself time to deliberate and gather information, recheck policies. Do not make snap decisions with respect to student or faculty issues.

• Don’t ask the Dean for the solution. Figure it out. But don’t be afraid to ask if you need.

• Sometimes do ask Deans to hold the line as far as policies so you don’t have to be bad cop. (Some can help with math/budgets).


• For maximum transparency, explain to faculty what you are doing and why you are doing it this way. Explain how faculty members will be ranked in cases where this is required (e.g. sabbatical applications).

• Provide formative feedback whenever possible.

• Bring projects ready to work on to the faculty. Do not start from scratch with them and waste people’s time.

• Respond to email within 24 hours so faculty know you are paying attention.

• Let the ineffectual adjuncts go. Find better adjuncts then support them.

• FERPA does not allow faculty, Chairs, or Deans to discuss with parents how students are doing academically unless the student fills out the paper work. Faculty, Chairs, Deans can discuss rules and policies. Only HRDI and VP Student Affairs can discuss

performance. “I wish I could say yes, but you are going to have to speak with the Student Affairs office.”

• Be clear about limitations.

• When you have to advocate for your faculty, but you don’t agree with the request or it is not possible to meet, offer another carrot. Or put issue on the agenda for department.

• Often a “fairness & equity” perspective helps diffuse the situation.

• Advocate on behalf of the entire department.


• Maintain an offline, research day. Cut down your amount of time devoted to all the tasks and make sure you do what keeps you afloat emotionally.


• Suddenly, you are in a new role, relative to your colleagues. There is a shift in the power dynamic due to this new level of authority.

• Each Chair will have closer relationships with some than with others. It’s important to be aware of this and compensate when necessary to make treatment equitable. Put aside preference for certain colleagues. Be aware of being perceived to align with certain friends/colleagues.

• Show appreciation for faculty work in all aspects. Write thank you notes; document

achievements (newsletters; letters for personnel files). Solicit good news.

• Think of the department as a team. Be sure the team goals are clear.

• Canvas ahead of time so you know what views will come up at Dept. meeting.

• Make an effort to check in with all faculty including adjuncts – meet them and establish a relationship. Complete a listening tour at the start of your Chair service – include staff.

• Be physically present, walk hallways, keep door open.

• Visit faculty in their offices to see them in context and diminish the sense of hierarchy.

• Ask former Chair for insider info on which faculty members need support.

• Be aware of faculty isolation and the pressures of being evaluated and judged by colleagues and students.

• Be sure all voices are included in the conversation, even if this means soliciting written comments when appropriate. If the most vocal members are always speaking that doesn’t mean the conversation has included all perspectives.

• When a faculty member comes to you demoralized, listen carefully, validate, if appropriate, brainstorm ways around roadblock or offer broader perspective about the situation or institution. Assure you are keeping confidence. If a faculty member is isolated, ask trusted colleague to invite them to coffee or walk off campus. Ask, “what would you like me to do about it?” Sometimes they just need to talk.

• Maintain a clear, working relationship with administration (transparent about limitations) rather than adversarial.

• Write a reflection email at end of semester in which each faculty member is acknowledged.

Suggested Goals for Chairs

• “Leader’s job is to create the conditions for others to succeed.”

• Better communication with students

• Mentor early career faculty through the RTP process

• Make the amount of departmental service equitable.

• Create a culture of sharing the burden of administrative tasks and service.

• “Make things better for people” (Glenn Geher)

• Make the job for faculty as easy as possible.

Observations / Questions

• If all faculty members were required to take a turn as Chair, all would be invested in collaborative decision making.

• Most departments meet once per month, some twice.

• If faculty do not step into their leadership roles, we end up with messes.

• What is the nature of confidentiality of personnel files held in Chairs’ offices? Chairs should not have access to all personnel records including histories of ancient feuds or conflicts. What materials are kept in HRDI vs. Chair offices?

• How does a Chair reprimand someone? Where are the supports for Chairs in personnel matters?

• How to balance the policy and the human?

• Change is positive – how can we bring up new ideas in a useful way?

Chair development is multi-faceted (Shala Mills)

• Chairs need to know processes and procedures specific to their campus, school, and department. These may be budgetary, course scheduling, appointments and contracts, assessment, and evaluation, etc.

• Chairs need to know how to support, mentor, and evaluate faculty.

• Chairs need to be able to articulate a vision for the department’s future and provide leadership toward making progress on that vision.

• Chairs need to provide clear and accurate information, serving as a conduit for messaging from the Dean, Associate Deans, and other administrators as well as information from the faculty to administrators.

• Chairs need to resolve problems and manage risk.

• There are good things about a rotating chair model, but there are also challenges associated with a rotating chair model, because about the time someone develops the knowledge and skill to be an effective chair, they step out of the role and someone new

steps in.

Questions for 1 – on – 1 with faculty (Kiersten Greene)


How’s it going? What do you love? What do you loathe?


What are your short- and long-term research goals?

What are you working on?


How has committee/service work been going?


What is working well? What’s not? What else would you like to talk about?

Additional Resources:

Ginger Jurecka Blake’s Manager’s Toolkit training.

SUNY SAIL institute offers a 2-day leadership training (Vicki did this).

The Wiley publication, The Department Chair, might be of interest/value.



Additional Recommendations:

Summer training for new Chairs would help, but we are not paid then.

It would help to have an academic year-long timeline of tasks and deadlines from the Provost’s

office by mid August of each year.