New Chair Mentoring: An Overview

In response to a request by a new department Chair, the Faculty Center held two round tables for new Department and Program Chairs on September 20 and 22, 2021. 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. If you have comments or suggestions for this evolving resource, please email (


  • 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.
  • It is especially helpful when the Chairs maintain a folder of templates (examples) of letters and reports, as well as a list of responsibilities and names of people to go to for particular reasons.
  • 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)
  • It would help to have an academic year-long timeline of tasks and deadlines from the Provost’s office.
  • Bring projects ready to work on to the faculty. Do not start from scratch with them and waste people’s time.
  • Send one condensed email digest per week, not 6. Respond to email within 24 hours so faculty know you are paying attention.
  • Don’t ask the Dean for the solution. Figure it out.
  • Let the ineffectual adjuncts go. Find better adjuncts then support
  • Give yourself time to deliberate and gather information, recheck policies. Do not make snap decisions with respect to student or faculty issues.
  • Take Ginger Jurecka Blake’s Manager’s Toolkit


  • Show appreciation for faculty work in all aspects. Write thank you notes; document achievements (newsletters; letters for personnel files).
  • 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.
  • Think of the department as a team. Be sure the team goals are clear.
  • Be aware of faculty isolation and the pressures of being evaluated and judged by colleagues and students.
  • Make an effort to check in with all faculty including adjuncts – meet them and establish a relationship. Deep listening tour at the start of your Chair service – include staff.
  • 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 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.


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 more 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?

From Assistant Provost Shala Mills

Chair development is multi-faceted.

  • 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. (Shala Mills)

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?