Department chairs and school directors may have the most difficult job in the University. Chairs report to the Dean of the College and the department faculty, staff and students, in turn, report to the chair. As a result, chairs often act as conduits for information and directives between these two groups and are caught in the middle when one side fails to appreciate that information or directive. Unlike more senior administrators, department chairs have to live in close proximity to the faculty whom they supervise and often return to the faculty after their service as chair. As a result, they can suffer retribution for unpopular decisions. In addition, as will be seen in the sections below about the duties and responsibilities of chairs, the job of a department chair is complex and demanding, requiring the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, etc. Nevertheless, the job of department chair has its rewards. The department chair has the most important impact on the daily lives of faculty members of any administrator in the University. A good chair can improve both the morale and productivity of his or her department. In the process, the chair will learn an enormous amount and develop sophisticated interpersonal skills. As a result, chairs may become good candidates for higher administrative positions.
Because of the importance of the job of department chair to the University, the University provides many resources to help chairs in the performance of their jobs. This website will provide both a list of the duties of department chairs and school directors and a list of tools available to chairs to help with the performance of these duties.
Faculty Manual Description
The Washington State University Faculty Manual (I.A.3.a) provides the following description of the duties of chairs of departments and directors of schools and programs.
Subject to the approval of the Dean of the college, a department chair or school director is responsible for organizing and supervising the courses of instruction offered by the department, distributing the teaching and research load, caring for the equipment and facilities assigned to or in the custody of the department, allocating and supervising department funds.
When a department or school has teaching and/or research programs at sites remote from the location of the headquarters of the department or school, some of the responsibilities rest with or are shared with the Campus Dean or Director of the remote station. Such shared responsibilities include care for equipment and facilities, supervision of funds, and day-to-day supervision of teaching and research activities.
The department Chair makes recommendations to the Dean for appointments, promotions, and salaries of members of the department, and transacts official department business with Deans, other administrators, and students. In the case of faculty at remote units, the department Chair shares information and coordinates recommendations with the Campus Dean or Director.
A department Chair is expected to provide leadership in the formation of departmental policies and to hold meetings with all available members of the faculty on matters of policy. Except as limited by applicable general regulations and policies or as otherwise directed by the Dean or by the Provost and Academic Vice President, it is the department Chair’s responsibility to execute the policies determined by this procedure. When this is not done, he or she should notify the administrative superior and the members of the faculty of the action being taken and the reasons therefor. However, department Chairs must have sufficient latitude to permit the making and the execution of day-to-day operating decisions and the exercise of leadership responsibilities.