The Complexities of a Department

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Department Chair Online Resource Center


American Council on Education

Publication Date



It would be difficult to live through a day on any campus without the word “department” coming into the conversation. It is a word whose meaning we assume is obvious and about which we agree. In reality, any department is a complex entity, a fact that is apparent to any chair within days of assuming that leadership designation. A department is a social body and it is a professional group. It is the campus home of faculty, students, and staff, with each group having subunits that further complicate the human dynamics of the department. At the institutional level, departments deliver the “product” that defines the rationale for the existence of the institution. Those public functions are basically teaching and research. The department is an important budget unit for the institution. It is the basic organizational unit of our colleges and universities. Not long ago (within the professional lifetime of current mature faculty members), the chair’s main focus of interest and sense of responsibility was to faculty colleagues in the department. Furthermore, that relationship was often conceived of as relating primarily to each individual. Thus, the chair would seek to meet the professional needs and preferences of colleagues largely on a one-by-one basis. As a result, department meetings could then devolve into bargaining sessions at which each faculty member could carve out his or her own niche.


Originally published by the American Council on Education. Publisher's PDF available through remote link.