TITLE: SIGCSE Day 0: Department Heads Workshop AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 01, 2006 11:15 PM DESC: ----- BODY: SIGCSE 2006 logo SIGCSE 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 Astros are still at spring training! -----