The Chair as Faculty Member or Middle Manager

We are currently engaged in contract negotiations at my institution, and one of the administration’s demands is that chairs be removed from the bargaining unit.  I wonder how other colleges/universities handle this question: is it better to have chairs included in the faculty union, or for them to form their own?  What are the pros and cons?–Bargaining Chair

Dear Professor Bargaining,

I’m strongly opposed to chairs not being in the same bargaining unit as the rest of the faculty. Removing chairs from the same unit as the rest of the faculty can often be a divide-and-conquer situation, and lead chairs to see themselves as middle managers rather than advocates for their colleagues. In most institutions, chairs still teach, although with a reduced load, so they are clearly still part of the faculty. Even if that isn’t true of yours, it’s crucial that you be covered by the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of the faculty, not least if you want to maintain some kind of research activity over the summers. Once you leave the faculty, it’s likely that you’ll be put on a 12 month rather than 9 month contract, which virtually forecloses time set aside for research and writing.

The selection of chairs happens differently at different institutions.  At some, administrators ask for nominations and then choose the chair. At others, the chair is elected by the rest of the department. Whatever the process, more often than not chairs are still members of the faculty (at some places, departments have heads, who tend to be only administrators, but this is a much more unusual situation). To my mind, this protects the integrity of the chair in relation to the department and minimizes, as much as possible, the inevitable divide between chair and the rest of the faculty.  It also makes clear where the chair’s primary loyalty lies: faculty colleagues.

I’d be interested in what readers think of this: I know some chairs feel less strongly than I do about this. Please feel free to comment below.

The Chair