Like many (all?) chairs nationwide, I’ve been facing a host of pressures regarding COVID matters, ranging from institutional demands for hybrid and F2F teaching to faculty feeling pressures about their scholarship, service obligations, and work-life balance. All of these are magnifying a question I’ve long struggled with as chair—how do I faithfully discharge my obligations to both my college administration and my departmental faculty, and how do I balance what seem to be their increasingly competing interests (if not demands) and do so without losing my integrity? Our faculty and campus are certainly not as divided as some I’ve read about, but that’s in part because we generally trust each other’s basic decency and intentions. Like so many other things, that trust is starting to come under some strain, which only seems to intensify the importance of my managing the chair’s intermediary role. But how do I do that without being seen—by either side—as two-faced or insufficiently understanding and supportive?
I am a chair at an institution in distress; we are experiencing line terminations of junior faculty and other budgetary cuts. The line cuts have been particularly challenging for many reasons, not least the hope that was dangled in the announcement that the lines could be restored if other cuts seem sufficient, which has made it very hard to organize. The junior faculty, extremely creative, amazing teachers with excellent publication records, feel unsupported by senior faculty, even shunned to a certain degree, and also sometimes feel cut out of decisions. Senior faculty feel like they are uncertain what to do: they are unsure how to fight back, and are uncomfortable doing planning for next year that may likely involve planning to not have the junior faculty present. Some are themselves in fight/flight/freeze mode. The sense of “business as normal” can be excruciating when business is not, in fact, normal. How ought a chair best navigate these challenging waters?
What’s a way to boost majors and credit hours, bring increased attention to the English department, and excite faculty? A celebration called “English Week” brings all these benefits and more,…
Part of what one learns from being chair is the inescapably material character of academic life, how the academic fabric is woven in our workplaces. It is a good thing to keep the economic underpinnings of the enterprise front and center for colleagues, helping them to balance their idealism against the many competing, often economic, priorities that departmental discussion and decision-making need to take into account.