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Do as I Do: Modeling Scholarly Leadership as Chair4

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The challenges of leading highly educated, talented, and independent academics are enormous. If research is a priority for you and your department, the actions and work of the department should reflect agreement and consensus for achieving excellence in scholarship. 



The posting below looks at ways department chairs can encourage faculty research and scholarship. It is by Jackie L . Booth and Susan Adragna (see end of posting for further information). The article is from The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Summer 2013, Vol. 24, No. 1. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066 ( or see:


Rick Reis

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Do as I Do: Modeling Scholarly Leadership as Chair


Leading an academic department carries with it unique challenges that differ from leadership roles in other arenas, such as business or industry. For example, department chairs serve more than one set of constituents as they are tasked to implement institutional mission and policy to faculty while representing faculty needs to the administration. In the past, department chairs were selected or appointed based on academic reputation or scholarship.Today's chair may have been asked to fill the role because no one else would do it or because he or she has demonstrated leadership in meetings or committee work. The tasks of department chairs vary considerably but can include making and evaluating budget decisions, leading the processes of hiring and promotion, studying data to create plans to boost enrollment and retention, and pursuing faculty consensus building and development, among others. This work often prohibits the chair from continuing personal scholarly interests, making it difficult to set an example or motivate others to pursue research and publication.

                                                             Scholarly Leadership

Understanding the tradeoffs associated with department chair duties and the probable eventual return to regular faculty status, chairs must evaluate the importance of maintaining some degree of scholarship and solidifying commitments to research that make sense in terms of time and productivity. The price of leading a department can be steep in regard to continued scholarship without a realistic plan in place. Honestly evaluating the contributions that can be made with administrative demands is key to managing stress and maintaining some semblance of balance. That personal appraisal includes evaluation of your own research skills and work habits related to research and publication activities. Self-assessment coupled with a cost-benefit analysis in decisions about scholarly work may be a critical first step in setting realistic goals about where and how to expend time and energy. From there, chairs must decide how to share the process and support the vision for the department in terms of scholarly activities.

Finding ways to collaborate with others on scholarly activities, both inside and outside the department, should be a priority. Again, expressing personal balance issues to colleagues helps demonstrate your understanding of the same dilemmas faculty face when they feel overwhelmed by the demands of teaching, service, and scholarship.

With an articulated personal plan and commitment to scholarship in place, the next step for the department chair is to focus on the rest of the faculty. Some effective strategies include:

* Differentiating work with faculty. With new faculty, in particular, there will be many questions about what is expected, as well as a tendency to set unrealistic goals about research and publication. For faculty who began with a strong background and continue to add to their professional activities, finding ways to recognize them to the dean and others in the department can demonstrate attention and support.

For others who cannot seem to get on track with scholarly work due to content specific, skill-specific, or time-management issues, motivating them may require varying approaches. For example, if a faculty member is dealing with escalating family or personal problems, the chair must determine which university or community resources may help and also whether this is a situation that has a definite time period after which more pointed counseling about expectations is needed. If the problem is that the faculty member has limited output with no completed or published articles, or is working on obscure topics that hold little chance of being embraced by the academic community, you must set up an individual, frank discussion about possible career consequences with follow-up assistance with resources, including a mentor, to support success.

* Building workable partnerships. Pairing new faculty with veterans can provide benefits to both in sharing ideas and resources in addition to exchanging perspectives. As chair, your encounters with others in the college or university may be a rich source of collaboration between your faculty and those from other departments. Knowing the strengths and experiences of your own faculty in research and publication provides you with opportunities to connect them to others within the institution. It may also be useful to carefully select a committee within your department to develop a process for presenting options and facilitating collaboration as well as harnessing resources for support.

* Making accountability part of the plan. Whatever the pairing, the department chair can facilitate the success of these groups by leading discussions about the power dynamics of groups, the need for setting realistic expectations, time commitments, an agreement of the type and rigor of peer review, and the necessity of each group or pair to develop a means of assessing frequently their relationship and the outcomes produced. Create a method for keeping track of the partnerships, collaborations, and discussions about research activities for both formal and informal progress reviews.

* Evaluating resources. Many universities, particularly large, public universities, have well-supported, institution-wide research centers that offer assistance and resources for all faculty and students. However, some departments, including those with established institutional centers, have found success in developing an in-house department research center specifically devoted to their faculty. Assess the resources available to your faculty and ensure that information about accessing them is available to everyone. Develop a reporting system to ensure that resources expended for these efforts are successful in producing expected results.

                                                   Effective Departmental Communication

Success for these strategies is dependent on effective departmental communication. Verbal and written communication has the potential to influence the emphasis on quality scholarship. How much time in department meetings is focused on issues related to research and publication?

How often do email messages underscore faculty opportunities or accomplishments in scholarship? If the expectation is that scholarly activity is important, then related messages should be obvious throughout all communication, including informal discussions among faculty. Although you cannot possibly control or set the agenda for all faculty communication, you can ensure that research and publication are discussed in all appropriate meetings and situations. If the message to faculty is hidden or submerged, there is room for doubt about its importance.

Finding innovative ways to discuss aspects of scholarship without appearing unrealistic or outlandish requires a delicate balancing act. Again, if the department chair is not fully committed to scholarship, this can backfire. Frank discussions about work-life balance underscored by careful assignments of teaching and committee work demonstrate that finding time and energy to devote to scholarly activities is important to you in supporting and promoting your faculty.

If your goal is to improve the level of research and scholarship in your department, your ability to clearly communicate this goal and to gain

faculty support of it depends on good communication. Considering the consequences of ineffective communication and the rewards of effective communication, time spent periodically reflecting on and evaluating this leadership characteristic can be worthwhile as a technique to emphasize research quality and output.


The challenges of leading highly educated, talented, and independent academics are enormous. If research is a priority for you and your department, the actions and work of the department should reflect agreement and consensus for achieving excellence in scholarship.


This article is based on a presentation at the 30th annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, February 6-8, 2013, San Antonio, Texas.

Jackie L. Booth is chair of education, Master's Degree Programs, and Susan Adragna is chair of education, Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership, both at Keiser University. Email:,