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Chairs' Corner

What is the Chairs' Corner?

Winter 2017 Chairs' Forum Registration  CETL has planned three forum dates for chairs and program directors on the following topics. Click on the titles below to register for the sessions that are of interest to you. Forums take place 12-1:30 p.m. Lunch provided. Click here to view the new flyer. Click on the Handbooks and Documents tab for past forum resources.

Mentoring Resources Available  The December Chairs' Forum on mentoring included valuable resources on how to mentor faculty. View the resources here: workshop mentoring guide, promotion and review guide and mentoring program info from Sociology et al. Department, and study results on chair training (IHE, 12/1/2016).

Chair Fellow

Life Course Events: The Chair's Role

Jay Meehan | November 22, 2016
We always hear people say “it’s the little things that can make a big difference.” For the most part, chairs and program directors are not structurally in a position to make “big things” happen during their tenure. So, paying attention to the little things and opportunities that can help those around you—students, administrative/clerical staff, faculty colleagues and administration—is one of the few ways of using what little power you may have to soften this bureaucratic structure called Oakland University. 
I learned this lesson very young in life, having grown up in a juvenile detention home—a three-story structure in Bridgeport, CT where the juvenile inmates were locked in their rooms (cells with bars/security screen) 22 hours a day, with our family as the jailers living on the bottom floor. Softening the bureaucracy was necessary for both the inmates and their keepers to retain any semblance of humanity and dignity—stick with me here.
Life Course Events: Family and the Chair’s Role
Several weeks ago, I was sitting in my office and could hear sounds of a very young baby on the fifth floor of Varner. I sought out where this delightful sound was coming from—one of our advisers was meeting with a male student, a very proud father who had to bring his daughter to his advising session. At first, the student was apologetic, thinking he had disturbed the floor. Nonsense! My first boss at the Center for Criminal Justice at Boston University supported me bringing my infant son to work, replete with a bassinet in my office so my wife could take her graduate seminars two afternoons a week.  I spent time talking to the student about his career—and of course fawning over the child (as grandpas like me love to do). But I was not alone, several other colleagues also emerged from their offices to say hello—yep—you can tell “family friendly” when you see it.
Coincidentally, down the hall, another colleague had her four-year-old son in her office—quietly playing with some toys while Mom was cranking away on a report. Dad (also an OU employee) was in a big meeting on campus and a daycare “swap” for 2-3 hours was needed as Dad’s unit was not, shall we say, “family-friendly” like our department.
Preparing for Baby Arrivals  During my time as chair, we had 12 births among our faculty and staff (a little more than one a year). In this count, I include a male colleague whose class schedule and service load was rearranged to accommodate his family’s needs. When you think about pregnancy and birth in terms of the chair role, it requires some important and strategic bureaucratic work: faculty leaves are different from staff leaves—with the former the AAUP contract and Academic HR need to be consulted, whereas the latter is handled by HR ( note here too, the CT contract should be consulted).
Discussions with your faculty member need to center around such matters as tenure clock decisions, how to structure an administrative assignment for the faculty member to reduce the teaching load during the semester of birth, and how you can assist with arranging collegial coverage when your unit’s new baby arrives (did you catch that?—your unit’s) or if necessary, securing funding to hire a part-time person or arrange for faculty overload to cover classes. Strategize and advocate with your dean’s office and HR. Plan with your faculty who will be supporting this effort with their collegial coverage. We found too that students are very responsive and supportive of the faculty member when there is a clear plan for how the class will proceed after birth. Imagine that!
Also, don’t forget about the scheduling of future classes. Eight AM classes or night classes may be out of the picture for this colleague upon their return. How can you encourage and support faculty colleagues who may have to re-adjust their “preferred” time slots or courses to support the unit’s new addition? I emphasize this idea that it is the “unit’s” responsibility because it is precisely at these times that the nebulous term “collegiality” should and can be translated into a series of practices that communicates to your faculty member and to ALL that we are, indeed “family-friendly.”
Setting the Tone for Support   Again, this starts with the little things that can make a big difference. I recall the first time a faculty member sheepishly told me they were pregnant. I was elated for the couple and after all the hugs and congratulations they confided that they had been fearful of my reaction. WOW! Consider when you get news like this how you will react, because it will happen to you at some point and your colleague should not feel or be made to feel “apologetic.” Another colleague, who came to Oakland from “Big-Time U” immediately commented on the fact that faculty had pictures of children in their offices and their child’s art work on their walls and doors—all of which was informally sanctioned by their male colleagues at “Big-Time U” a.k.a. “Small-Mind U” in my view. As a faculty member and especially as chair, if a child was brought to an advising session or student meeting, I provided paper and coloring markers for them to draw AND had them hang their pictures on my wall and door—I still have a couple hanging on my door to this day.
Being a Strategist and Advocate   Chairs play an important role as both strategists and advocates for their faculty. And these efforts are critical to recruitment and retention of faculty. The many issues impacting our female colleagues are outlined in 2013 Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) faculty climate survey: “Family-related concerns …included the difficulties in combining motherhood and a career, issues of timing and pregnancy, and the lack of adequate day care available to faculty members.”  The WISE report (link provided here) contains an in-depth analysis and some important recommendations that I would encourage you to read. Better yet, come to Kathy Moore’s Chairs' Forum on Monday, December 5 from 12-1:30 p.m. to learn more about “Mentoring Faculty” which is based upon her team’s excellent work on the WISE NSF grant. If you haven’t already signed up for Kathy’s workshop, please do so here:
Beyond the Little Things: Structural Changes that Can Make a Difference
My two grandchildren are breast-fed by their working mother. Their local office (70+ employees) has a lactation room which provides a comfortable, clean and private place to pump breast milk. The research is clear that not having such spaces results in lower percentages of breast-feeding and sticking to it (which has clear health advantages for children).  Most large corporations have lactation rooms and many (e.g., Citibank) provide industrial-grade medical pumps for mothers to use.
Search OU’s website for lactation rooms and what do you get? Zero results. Search the University of Michigan website and what do you get? Just over 50 lactation room sites across campus, with 1-4 star ratings of each site using national standards. As I understand the situation at Oakland, lactations rooms are in the women's bathrooms--which are not recommended by national standards--one in the Oakland Center and one in North Foundation Hall. Can we do better than this for the well-being of the women of OU and their young infants?
Daycare and the Lowry Center  I also found as chair that faculty and staff who availed themselves of the Lowry Center were very happy to have this resource on campus. However, what has always surprised me is that the Lowry Center is NOT a faculty staff-benefit, i.e., cost of care supported in some significant way by the university for their employees. And what about the needs of our students? Over the course of this semester, two (very conscientious) student-moms in one of my classes had their daycare plans unexpectedly disrupted and they needed to miss class because there was no daycare option that could accommodate such emergency. Their dilemma was the need for occasional care for their children. Again, as I understand it that is not possible with Lowry in part because they have to be self-supporting (which likely precludes such models) as opposed to having university support that allows them to better serve the variety of needs in our Oakland “family.”
When we think about retention and graduation rates and about that population of non-traditional students who are going to school and raising children—are we effectively serving the needs of this group? One wonders too how staff and faculty could benefit from an emergency Lowry option—think of my colleague (and her Oakland husband) above with their child in the office for two hours. What if our unit did not have a “family-friendly” culture where a colleague felt comfortable having their child in the office for an extended period of time? What choices would they have? One or the other would have had to give up “work” that afternoon, and the research indicates there is little doubt who the likely “choice” would have been.
So, we need not restrict ourselves to doing the little things that can make a big difference. There are some big things we can and should advocate for on behalf of our faculty colleagues, staff and students. 

Planning Your Exit Strategy

Jay Meehan  |  October 14, 2016
My mother had some very endearing qualities. Into her 90’s she enjoyed discussions about politics, was very connected to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she relished her vodka martini “up” (no ice) and definitely “skip the garbage” (i.e., the olives). She also had an interesting way of welcoming visitors saying “now that you’ve arrived, when are you leaving?” Which leads me to this month’s tip.
Planning Your Exit Strategy 
One of the roles for the chair fellow envisioned by the CETL Advisory Committee of Chairsand Program Directors is to provide support and mentoring for new chairs and program directors.  However, I was struck by a recent mentoring session which focused on developing a “seasoned” chair/program director’s “exit strategy.” In other words, after a number of years leading a department, how does one plan for their transition from department/program leader to faculty member?
Look at your Chair or Program Director selection procedures.  By contract, under Article VII, 35 (p.8) of the 2015-2020 Agreement, each academic unit must have procedures for making chairperson recommendations to the dean. So, for chairs (in both “Big D” and “Little d” departments) there is a process to consult and to keep in mind as you and your department/unit plan for succession. For program directors there may be a process in place, depending upon the contract letter you signed before assuming the position. The key point here is that your unit’s procedures may require you to declare your intent to step down which triggers the selection process. If you are program director, a position that is not subject to the Agreement, you may want to ask your dean if there are procedures that office utilizes to pick your successor. (The role of chairs and program directors from a contractual perspective is a separate issue I will discuss in the near future.)
Article on Chair Succession  A second place to consult is the Summer 2016 issue of The Department Chair Journal (on our CETL website) which has an article on chair succession:
It contains some very good tips, but as I read them, it focuses more on transition issues from the standpoint of the department/university, rather than the person exiting the leadership role. So, here are some of the issues that I have come across and some words of advice.
  • Who’s next? When you look around your department/program, you can envision some colleagues as possible leaders and others who are definitely not in that category. Individual characteristics such as temperament, evidence of leadership qualities, judgment and professional competence and accomplishment all factor into such assessments. Who can best represent the whole department effectively?
There may also a personal element here, especially if during your time as chair/program director, you made strides in changing the department ethos or enhanced the visibility and growth of the program through new initiatives. Should one care that ending your term places such accomplishments at risk? To a degree, yes, but not to the point where it is detrimental to you and your professional well-being.
The department’s demographics can definitely constrain the pool of candidates. Your department may be young and have more un-tenured and newly tenured faculty, and a pool of older tenured faculty who have either “taken their turn” or who cannot or should never be in a leadership role. I have heard chairs and program directors say (BTW, that includes me) that they remained or are remaining in their position because the next crop of faculty aren’t ready yet. Don’t fall into that trap!
  • Is the next leader only your problem? The obvious answer to that is NO—it is a department, program and school/college level problem. But a leader who “cares” tends to take passing the torch more to heart, shouldering more of the burden when it is clearly time for you to let your colleagues, and/or your dean, step up whether they want to or not.
Your exit strategy should begin with an assessment of what is best for you and your professional and personal goals and aspirations. It is too easy to forget a sociological maxim that all social institutions precede and transcend the individual. In short—the institution will survive.  Think about how many administrative academic leaders you have seen come and go. As I enter my 30th year at Oakland, I have experienced the leadership periods of 7 (soon to be 8) University Presidents, 10 Provosts, and 9 Deans.  This number includes leaders who held interim/acting titles some of which were more akin to a New York minute, but you get the point. It is okay to begin your exit strategy thinking about you.
So, what are some practical considerations?
  1. Look to the Future  The first questions you should ask is “where do I plan to focus my professional energy in my chair after-life” and “what can I do now to make that transition easier for me?” Thinking a year ahead (or more) makes a lot of sense. Are you an associate professor looking at promotion to full professor? How have your chair years impacted that goal? Some departments/units explicitly value leadership roles (such as chair/program director); others not so much. Are there ways to find support to offset some of the deficits created by your chair/program director service? For example, one person described how they had not presented at conferences in two years because they felt swamped by their chair duties. Another person eligible for sabbatical decided to defer thinking they would just be the chair/program director in absentia and would not get any research or writing done. (Note: don’t sacrifice conference or sabbatical plans—“#we’ll survive without you”). Planning ahead might include thinking about the October University Research Committee deadline for Summer Fellowships for the first summer you are no longer chair.
  2. Plan Your Teaching Responsibilities  Don’t forget too you will be transitioning to a new teaching load. One full professor ex- chair confessed to me that early in their career they short-changed their teaching for research. They were a good teacher, but upon returning to faculty they set as their professional goal to be a better teacher. They have worked harder and smarter re-designing their classes and assignments and it has been paying off. The challenge of returning to a full load in the classroom should not be underestimated. You should consider scheduling/requesting classes that best suit what you have already taught and perhaps consider (if your department has such an option), a special topics class that coincides with your research or pedagogical interests. Better yet, perhaps your unit should adopt a workload policy that chairs and program directors have a course release built into the first year (or two) after stepping down. It could even be titrated to the number of years served in the chair/program director role. And don’t forget too, I know chairs and program directors have filled less desirable teaching time slots (think 8 AM!), and covered needed classes during their tenure to keep their faculty—and the scheduling gods—happy. It is okay to consider cashing in on some of those sacrifices you made as a leader that are often invisible to many.
I am happy to talk with you about an exit strategy. Everyone’s situation is different, requiring a tailor-made approach. And like my mother’s martini, you can be rest assured that I will provide you the strongest possible advice and we will definitely skip the garbage. This is about you and your well-being. The department and institution will survive.
Cheers! Or as my mother would say in Slovak, “Na zdravie!”—“to your health.” 

Guarding Your Personal Time and Saying "No"

Jay Meehan  |  August 31, 2016

As Summer is winding down and the Fall semester is upon us, Chairs and Program Directors are likely observing and feeling the pace and rhythm in their department and the university changing. Increased email requests from students, last minute course (re)assignments, new faculty coming on board and more, signal "it" is about to begin--the excitement of a new semester. What had been scheduled 12-18 months ago on paper, is now becoming a reality. Your mindset is already on the 17-18 schedule which is due soon! Your faculty personnel review schedules and other department committee assignments important for governance have been set—with the usual "negotiations" and soft/hard persuasion undertaken with your faculty colleagues.

You are likely anticipating the flow of "normal troubles" you will face (e.g., closed classes, low-enrolled classes, student concerns) along-side faculty concerns about their recent merit announcement from UHR, or how the new copier isn't functioning. It is here. A new academic year. The problem is this: you may not feel you have a distinct "time off" between terms because in fact, you don't. Many people around you operate on the assumption that Chairs and Program Directors are there for them on a no-time-out basis. So, this month I want to put forward the idea that you must build in your "time outs" away from your chair and program director role. It is important and necessary to do so for your personal and professional well-being.

Tip 1: Schedule your personal time now and guard it carefully. The calendar is getting filled--the doodle requests, department and college/school activities, weekly/monthly meetings and your own teaching schedule are blocking out your time. And remember, these activities don't account for the 'fire-fighting" you do every day that will really consume your time. The question is: where is your time? Have you built something in for you on a daily, weekly and monthly basis? "Your" time can be dedicated to personal development (e.g., exercise, meditation), or connecting with friends and family where "work stuff" is relegated to the back burner, or better yet, off the stove completely. For example, for this semester, I have already scheduled weekend getaways way with my spouse for each month. I have created weekly slots dedicated to visiting our two grandchildren. Exercise and meditation is "built into" each day working around my teaching schedule. You get the idea.

Your time can be staying home and working on your research or taking time to maintain your connection to your discipline. I tried closing my door at the office—doesn't seem to work. If necessary, find a fellow chair (or former chair) and support each other by forming a research writing support group which sets some goals so you don't become disconnected from or feel out of touch with your professional identity.  Have you scheduled a professional conference (or two) this year? Even if you are not presenting your research—attend conferences to stay connected to your professional interests. Remember, you won't (and should not) be chair for the rest of your professional career. And check to see if your discipline has panels or workshops on chairing departments. I know my field does and I found it useful to participate in these events when I first became a chair.

The point is—schedule your time now—and stick to it! I say this from experience as I would more often than not give up my time for others. Don't make that mistake. In the end, you are less effective and you pay the price for not taking care of yourself.

Tip 2: It is okay to say no (politely of course). In the last week I was asked to participate on a university committee. I agreed. Then, I received another email about another committee. I said no, thank you. For some (myself included), saying no is hard. The fact is this. You are a chair or program director because you have earned the professional respect of your colleagues and you have "people skills." Chairs and program directors form a critical part of the formal and informal leadership structure at Oakland and you are constantly being tapped for your advice and time. It makes sense. So, opportunities are always going to come your way. So don't be hesitant or afraid to say no-thank you. Typically these requests present an opportunity for you, as a leader, to have a greater impact on the university community. Choose wisely. How do you do this? Ask yourself how important any initiative is for your department/program and unit and whether you are indeed the "best fit." It is often good to suggest other people who you think could do the job. If you have doubts about it, consult a former chair, a person who has served on that committee to discern the time commitment, your own chair network, or me—your chair fellow. If you accept every request for your leadership skills, you will get burned out quickly.

In short—schedule your time now. Make it your time. And most importantly, enjoy your time!


Introduction and Plans for 2016-2017

Jay Meehan  |  July 6, 2016

My goals for the 2016-17 CETL Chair Fellowship are modest but hopefully will serve those who perform the important role of a department chair or program director. I served as CAS chair for 9½ years during which time my department added two new majors (Social Work & Criminal Justice) and doubled its full-time faculty. During this tenure, I faced a number of challenges and had my fair share of successes and failures that will inform my work as the CETL Chair Fellow. Toward that end, let me highlight my major goals for the year.

Getting to Know You! Funny as that may sound, there are chairs and directors, particularly outside the CAS, who I do not know or know only in passing. I am aware that while every department/program shares similar challenges, each one also has their unique set of issues. My goal is to connect with each of you so I can better understand the issues you face and to ascertain how the CETL can lend best support to your leadership efforts.

Mentoring. I often described being a chair as a “lonely” job. Satisfying competing demands, whether from students, faculty or administration often involves a tightrope balancing act. It was at these times that I sought the counsel and support of other chairs. I am hoping to earn your trust so I can serve as a mentor to you. To me, mentoring can range from being a sympathetic ear or sounding board over a cup of coffee or a brainstorming strategy about a specific problem. I will be reaching out to each of you—chairs and program directors—with the goal of scheduling a one-on-one meeting in addition to the Chair Forum opportunities hosted each semester. I teach Tuesday/Thursday afternoons in Mt. Clemens, but can be available those mornings and most other days for a mentoring session. Please feel free to email me ( or call my office x2428 to schedule an appointment or just chat.

Mobilizing Supportive Resources. An important role for the Chair Fellow will be institutionalizing supportive resources for chairs and program directors. I have inherited two efforts begun last year that will continue in 2016-2017: Chair Lunchtime Forums and the Chair’s Handbook.
  • Four forums are already planned for the Fall. On Monday, September 19, I will host a New Chairs/Program Directors Forum for incoming chairs and program directors. On Wednesday, October 5, Chairs’ Perspective on Provost’s Evidence of Teaching Initiative: Course Evaluations Revisited will be lead by CETL Director Judy Ableser. On Monday, November 7, Jen Heisler, Chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism will lead a discussion about Academic Work-Life Balance. On Monday, December 5, Kathy Moore and I will lead a discussion on Mentoring Faculty. Each forum will be from noon to 1:30, and lunch will be served.
  • The Chair Handbook, which is posted on the CETL website, is an amazing resource! It has tons of information and names of “go-to” people and places. But we have been made aware of gaps, such as some practical guidance about conducting searches and how offers should and should not be negotiated. And I am sure there are more. So this year I will be reviewing that document and soliciting your input about its contents. I also plan to systematically solicit from the Deans their expectations for chairs and program directors as “leaders” in their units.

I am in uncharted territory—this is year one of a new fellowship. I am open to any ideas you have about how CETL can help you be successful in one of the most challenging roles in this university. I am open to your ideas—and more importantly to translating those ideas into resources for you.



Chairs' Retreat: agenda, presentation slides, Fall 2016 Chairs' Forums and other events
Your To-Do List as a Chair: Five Core Responsibilities, from The Chronicle of Higher Education


Mid-Career Professions Need Love, Too, professors' thoughts and experiences on notions that post-tenure professors suffer from “malaise.” (Web link of PDF version)

Fostering Trans Inclusion in the Classroom, a student perspective from Inside Higher Ed


Guidelines to Chair Selections - This document shows the current policies OU departments use to select a department chair or program director.

CETL Library for Chairs - Nine books on chair topics free to check out. View the book list.

Manager's Toolkit - University Human Resources developed this resource for anyone at the university who manages staff. Visit their page.


The Department Chair Journal - Each issue includes

  • Original articles by experienced academic leaders on a wide range of subjects: evaluation and assessment, fundraising, legal issues, collegiality, work-life balance, reappointment policies, time management, and more
  • Useful strategies, practical ideas, and questions for reflection
  • Essential data on such topics as salaries, college costs, and technology
  • Book reviews of the latest academic leadership titles
  • Recent court decisions relevant to the chair role.

Access the journal directly through Kresge Library.



Faculty Promotions in the 21st Century (downloads as a PowerPoint presentation, University of Washington)


Guidelines for the Department Chair (about mentoring) (University of Rhode Island)


Department Climate/Work-Life




Difficult Situations


Useful Resources Websites
Resources for Department Heads (Virginia Tech)
Sample Topics:
  • AdvanceVT: 
    • Departmental Climate Compendium (successful strategies, policies and procedures) 
    • Climate Consultation
    • Work/life Balance Policies
  • Human Resources: 
    • University Organizational and Professional Development (Consulting services) 
    • Experts in Action (volunteer program for retirees and business professionals) 
    • Employee Relations
    • Work/life Resources
    • Equity Initiatives
    • Harassment and Discrimination Policies
    • Conflict Resolution
  • Office for Diversity and Inclusion
  • Office of the Provost
  • Other Resources

& Services

2015-2016 Professional Development Opportunities - Download the full list.

& Documents

Guide to Selecting Chairs and Program Directors  Departments have shared what their protocols are for reviewing and selecting candidates for chairs or program directors at Oakland University. View the guide.

Chairs' Resource Guide Update  The Chairs' and Program Directors' Resource Guide now available. Thoughts on what else should be included or revisions needed? Provide feedback here.

2016-2017 Faculty Handbook

Chairs' and Program Directors' Retreat (11 Aug 2015) Agenda

Presentation Slides



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Faculty Feedback Replaces Mid-Semester Evaluations - Faculty Feedback is a system located in SAIL for communicating with students who show early signs of struggle in their courses. It replaces mid-semester evaluations as it allows faculty to give students feedback earlier than the half-way mark. View the video introduction, and visit for further discussion on this university-wide initiative.

Faculty Handbook  This is the official OU guide for everything faculty need: registrar information, student support services, faculty support services, and all of the procedures that keep our campus moving. Download the 2016-17 faculty handbook.