TITLE: SIGCSE Day 0: Department Heads Workshop
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 01, 2006 11:15 PM
begins tomorrow, but I arrived early for a pre-conference
workshop. Back when I was appointed department head, my
dean offered to send me to a workshop for new department
chairs. I looked at the three-day schedule, the timing
of it, and the cost, and decided that I could use the
college's money and my time better in other ways. But
then I learned about a workshop for heads at SIGCSE,
which I was planning to attend anyway. This workshop
lasted only one day and was organized by CS professors,
which sounded better to me than three days talking about
administration with folks in departments from all over
campus. The dean was game to cover part of my expenses,
so it worked out for everyone.
The day started with a cautionary tone. Time spent as
a department head carries professional risk. Department
heads don't do as much research as a regular faculty
member, and they don't develop as many courses. The
result is that they create little or no "portable wealth"
in the academic marketplace. The result can be limited
mobility and reduced opportunity for professional
development at the home university.
It's worse yet. Department heads have precious few
rights, less power than some people think, and lots of
tasks that pull them away from research and teaching,
which are the reasons most of us became CS academics.
Why would anyone take the job?
Like many of my colleagues at the workshop, I became
head as part of a larger set of circumstances than
just that I wanted to be head. But after a semester
and a half, I know that my reasons for thinking that
the job was worth my doing for a few years were right
on mark. So I was not discouraged by the gallows
humor with which we opened the day.
I won't give you a long, blow-by-blow summary of the
day. We talked about all of the big issues that
heads seem to face, wherever and whenever they are
head: dealing with faculty, dealing with students,
finding and allocating resources, managing lab
facilities, monitoring legal issues, and "the
leadership thing". We wrote down all of the items
that would be part of an honest job description
(something many of us don't explicitly have!), and
it filled many pages of flipchart paper.
Here are some of the nuggets that will stay with
me, and some of the things that I want to work on
soon as a result of the discussion today:
That last hint gives rise to a new item on my will-do-soon
list. I plan to conduct a survey of teaching assignments
across the departments of my college to see what the
real load on other professors really is. I
suspect that many math professors engaged in research
don't really teach six sections a year, and that many
biology and chemistry professors have loads laden with
lab courses that do not equate to a CS professor teaching
a regular course -- one that likely needs to be updated
regularly in order to be of real use to our students.
This is something we've talked about in our department
for many years, but now that I am head I do not have
to settle for talk. Besides, the CS faculty deserve
an equitable work load, and it's my job to ensure that
they get one.
One thing I learned today is that, compared to many heads,
I have a pretty good life. The other heads in my college
have always been helpful to me in learning my job and
offering advice. My dean is a good person, supportive
of our department, and he helps me when he can. My
colleagues in CS are, despite everything else, good
people who want to do a good job. And they all seem
genuinely interested in me doing a job, and they help
me when they can. It's worth getting out in the world
every once in a while if only to be reminded how good
my life really is.
One day was perfect for this kind of workshop. It was
long enough to make my mind race with ideas and possibilities,
to give me a little burst of energy, but not so long as
to become boring or indulgent.
Next up: SIGCSE proper, with some sessions on the future
of computing and others on CS topics of particular
interest, like compilers. Oh, and a reception at
Minute Maid Park.
Too bad the
are still at spring training!
- Many administrators are prone to put out fires
at expense of the longer-range tasks. But
managing long-range issues properly can make for
fewer fires. Schedule
to handle those little things, rather than reacting
to every one as it comes in or letting them accumulate
into a spirit-sapping mountain of to-dos.
- The department head is responsible for making sure
that faculty and staff know the boundaries of
behavior defined by law and university policy.
Do not assume that faculty, especially junior
faculty but also senior personnel.
- If you don't have time to do something, say 'no'.
- If you are asked to do something you know is wrong,
say 'no- -- emphatically.
- Always hire people who are better than you.
- Praise excellence.
- Problems don't go away; they only get worse.
- If someone is irreplaceable, then replace them.
- If you think you are irreplaceable, quit.
- Truth is important, whether you are working with
students, faculty, or other administrators. Tell
people when they need to improve, and help them.
Tell people when they are doing well.
- New faculty are more important than the department
head. [ To which I add: Old faculty are more
important than the department head. ]
- The head succeeds when others get the credit for
accomplishments, even for those achieved with the
- Remember that your decisions affect the future of
the department for many years. [ To which I add:
My decisions as head affect people in many
ways, for years to come. ]
- One of the essential tasks of the department head is
to fight for equity for faculty and students.