Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Elliott Hall, Room 200A
275 Varner Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4485
(248) 370-2751

Chairs' Corner

What is the Chairs' Corner?

2017 Chairs' Retreat - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Meadow Brook Hall  REGISTER

Fall 2017 Chairs Forums   Chairs Forums provide department chairs and program directors opportunities to discuss topics specific to their academic leadership roles. Save the dates below, all of which will be held 12:00-1:30 p.m in 200A Elliott Hall and facilitated by CETL Chair Fellow Jennifer Heisler. Topics and registration links will be added August 2017. Lunch provided.
  • Monday, September 25
  • Friday, October 27
  • Monday, November 20
Chair Fellow

Messge from the CETL Chair Fellow

The Role of Chair and the "Retention" Plan

Jay Meehan | April 6, 2017

On April 17, the last chair forum for the year titled " The Role of the Chair: Leadership or Supervision?" will feature  our colleagues Arik Dvir (CAS), Lisa Hawley (SEHS), Karen Markel (SBA) and Jo Reger (WGS) sharing their experiences about the challenges of leadership in the current OU environment. While leadership is one important role (and quality) for a chair/program director, it appears supervision is where things are heading.
Indeed, in his address to the Oakland community on March 28, Provost Lentini provided the most significant public statement to date reflecting the University's thought processes, values and priorities in the Russi post-growth era: the technology of surveillance will save us from the demographic realities of a shrinking pool of high-school eligible college students. All this courtesy of the highly touted “success story” of Georgia State University and the promises of “Big Data.” 
It Starts with the People, Not Technology
The social science truism—demography is destiny—has shone a bright light on the retention issue, which for OU leadership, has become a big "bottom line" economic issue in the face of historic State neglect of its second tier universities. We learned from the Provost where Oakland is turning to first for its solutions: not the people, but rather the technology—predictive analytics and the seduction of “Big Data.” This despite another truism—at the core of every successful company's business model is the idea that your employees are your most valuable asset—perhaps that part of the "business model" will eventually find its way to OU. But, for now, I sense Oakland being seduced by the age of the smart machine and openly marveling at the power of "predictive analytics." Really? We are that far behind.
The key problem is that the strategy is not one focused on how we might work together to improve or make better "product" or create a better learning environment and experience for our students, faculty and staff. That discussion might—hold your breath—require really talking TO each other, rather than AT each other. That discussion might require us to—breathe—work together. A challenging prospect in a work environment like OU that shares more similarities to an abusive domestic violence relationship than a healthy relationship built on trust, cooperation, shared values and goals.
Some evidence? Start with the faculty contract ritual (save one in my 30 years) that has always generated bitter acrimony, contempt, fostered suspicions and reneged on promises such as lower salary in exchange for other benefits now being systematically eroded. And, in the latest contract kick, the insistence on a merit system, which will soon solely determine  a faculty member’s raise, renews the "winner-loser" mentality on a yearly basis and has already fostered within units and between Oakland and its faculty. And yet, we somehow have to emerge from these fights struggling to feel whole again and work together. Not so easy. And we "wonder" and "tsk tsk" about morale and our "culture," but do we collectively care enough and have the will to figure out how to change it?
Well, we better figure something out and soon, because retention is a serious challenge and threat to the university that will require a highly mobilized and driven collective effort between faculty, staff and administration that must be more than “trickle down technology.”
The Seduction of Technology
Since 2008, I have taught a course titled “The Surveillance Society”—an outgrowth of my interests in the police use of information technologies to surveil and control society. In a society that views and uses its technology as savior and seducer (i.e., on average we are on our smart phones 3 hrs. a day, and check it over 100 times), we have turned to the software "vendors" for our solutions, to increase and maximize efficiencies—surely, there is an "app" for any problem! Indeed, at least 4 of them by my count in the Provost’s presentation with more on the horizon. But let's re-phrase that: there will always be a technology vendor willing to sell you a technological savior. Does it work? Ah, a different, perhaps inconvenient question to ask.

Well, ask the police sector about their information technology revolution and experiences and what you find is they had many suitors claiming that this software program or that one would help solve/fight/lower crime. Despite massive investments of public funds—which most definitely enhanced the surveillance capabilities of front line police officers on its citizenry, and by police managers (Mayors, City Managers, Police Chiefs, Capt. Lt. Sgt.), the technology has not been the prime mover in lowering crime rates.
Something other than technology "works" and that has taken the form of community-oriented policing which, when done properly not symbolically, entails authentically communicating and working together with the citizenry to decrease crime and improve the quality of life for residents. Ironically, police budgets were cutting personnel to afford the technologies. Last summer in my ride-along research with police, a former student from 20 years ago, now a police supervisor, complained that the new digital-age generation of cops under him do not know how to communicate with people: citizens or supervisors. OH—there is it is again—working together, communication.

Like Pavlovian dogs we salivate at the prospect of technological investments that have the “bells and whistles” and neat charts (information seduction), increases standardization (think of the revolution McDonald's brought to fast food), but in the last analysis, it is really going to boil down to where the action is: enhancing the quality of professor-student interaction. Listening to the Provost, I had the distinct sense that “big data” will be wagging the dog’s tail. (Note: I’d say the Grizz’s tail but bears don’t have tails.)

In true OU fashion, the retention problem has been “muttered about” here and there in an "under the radar" way dating back to at least (in my tribal elder memory) 2009-10. But at that time, the “coin of the realm” was still growth, with units receiving a clear message that growth would make you a "winner" in this Oakland scheme. And now, with retention as the new coin of the realm, we see clearly that the winner/loser game is only going to be ratcheted up with “Big Data” surveillance capabilities playing a prominent, if not starring role as savior.

It’s Just About the Algorithm Until You Cull the Struggling Bunnies
As we heard from the Provost, Chairs will be learning to use scheduling software that is demand driven by our student customers, and individual units will be reviewed for cost effectiveness—among just some of the features touted. And what will we do with these low performing departments? Will Oakland really ask how to enhance /support the mission of departments whose intellectual contributions are not in demand in the current marketplace? Or will they be eliminated? Let's not encourage and reward innovation—that makes little sense in “Oaklandia.”
I recently came across a “data driven” institutional study done in the 1980s, prior to my arrival that reviewed ALL academic programs across the campus. Crude by today’s data driven efforts, it essentially recommended which units should receive increased, lowered or maintain current (underfunded) levels of support: in short, picking winners and losers. Check it out—it’s  an interesting historical view (email me for a copy). My department SOC/AN was in the category for decreased funding, putting into perspective for me the many years of blank stares, polite nods and otherwise benign neglect received when speaking to administration about what SOC/AN could do with added resources.
That is, until we created two highly successful social work and criminal justice majors. Imagine that! Winners can arise from the administratively relegated ash heap of "loser" departments. Only with vision and determination —not just the one trick technological pony of "super" vision from predictive analytics and “Big Data.”
What we know is that the algorithm is only as good as the quality of information it uses, the assumptions about human behavior the programmer makes and the intentions of its users. As noted in a recent New York Times article (attached), there is the distinct danger of the “algorithm becoming destiny,” dampening student’s passions and drive.
And while many no doubt would characterize embracing technology as a well-intentioned effort to help students, consider President Simon Newman of Mt. St. Mary’s who compared freshman to struggling bunnies who should be drown or shot—all in the service of retention efforts. By the way, he was fired, but let’s not be naïve—there are white hats and black hats in the Big Data world which has arrived on campus. Note to OU Presidential search committee and the Board of Trustees: Mr. Newman was a former financial industry executive.

Bricks to Clicks” (if you read on)
We learned from the Provost of new software that has been adapted from the Georgia State model, which also relies heavily on hiring new advisors. As the Provost demonstrated, Oakland’s woeful advisor-to-student ratio is shameful. The worse ratio is in the College of Arts and Sciences (600:1), which has the largest number of students in the University. National standards call for a 300:1 ratio, ratio Georgia State implemented but I sense that talk about accomplishing that ratio at Oakland will revert to mutterings prefaced with “it would be nice here but….”.
Instead, we are embracing the technology first, despite data that show hiring advisors, and strategically placing them throughout units, will increase retention. The return on investment (ROI) is clear: every 1% increase in retention yields between 1-2 million dollars per year retained through student tuition dollars. More than enough to pay for advisors. But it is the technology that is being purchased, not hiring more people.
There is another facet to this as well: significant cooperation is a necessary condition for the technology to be successful. For example, this new surveillance software will require faculty to routinely interact with the new regime of caregivers/controllers—the professional advisor—and their software tools. How will advisors know otherwise that quiz and test scores are declining, students are not attending class or otherwise in danger of failing? How will we secure the cooperation of faculty in this "intrusive advising" surveillance scheme? Care and control is the Janus face of surveillance or to use a different analogy: surveillance is the iron fist with the velvet glove.
It is worthy side note to point out that the retention problem is solely focused on students with no mention of faculty retention which according to the Oakland AAUP is a larger problem than most realize. 
Of course, we could easily by-pass the faculty to obtain some interesting data points all in the name of the retention mission. Consider the following scenario: License plate readers at the campus gates can be matched with student ID data, further enhanced by facial recognition programs connected to the 1000 CCTV cameras already on campus that can establish time, location and activity data for our students in multiple venues. RFID chip readers in student ID cards can regularly interact with a host of surveillance systems to monitor class attendance and leisure/work activities in campus facilities. The visible card swipe systems currently used to report student work hours, to collect student attendance in the School of Medicine or to enter the Rec Center is “so yesterday” by technology standards.
Perhaps, the university should be leaders and go “all in” by teaming with different "Big Data" brokers and purchase their data (better yet, "real time data") about our student "consumers"—their habits, desires, purchasing patterns, browsing histories, news feeds, time spent on the glass (phone/computer) —all in the service of creating for them a better and unique educational experience—and of course, increase retention. Moodle is a simple stone ax compared to what we can really do. Before a professor enters each class, they can receive a report about the on and off campus social activities, interactions and moods of students. Moods?
Sure, I want to know how many and which “likes” and “shares” are swirling about my "episodic digital collective" called the class. How can I better understand and tailor my next classroom experience for them without knowing more about what happens to my learners outside the classroom? Give faculty the tools to better compete in the information environments our students inhabit. Predictive analytics can do this and more for us.  (It might have the added benefit of helping us when the “open carry” of guns on college campuses becomes legal in Michigan like other states.)
This is not some imagined future. All of these technologies and more are already available. As the NYTimes article notes, at the University of Arizona’s Center for Business Intelligence and Analytics, they are measuring freshman student’s social interactions through every conceivable digital footprint to create an algorithm to predict who is in danger of not making it to sophomore year.
What are we waiting for? Why stop at upgrading facilities like the Rec center, athletic fields, student center and new dorms to enhance the "student experience"? Come on OU, that is so analog! Step fully into and embrace the digital age—remember that old saying from Alcoholics Anonymous: half measures availed us nothing.

But will we know what is "really" happening in the classroom? Can we "measure" our impact (and faculty effectiveness) alone through crude cross-sectional indices of success/failure when our product, perhaps more akin to wine or cheese, requires time to age and mature? And like wine and cheese, there is a great deal of subjectivity about excellence and quality that is tolerated in the marketplace. But not so of education and educators—it's easy work. We have all heard it said—"those who can't do, teach." Insults and assaults from without, to match the insults and assaults from within.
Is there a slippery slope we are embarking on in our latest efforts to survive institutionally? Will we recognize the inevitable mission creep that pervades our surveillance society at large? This is not just about our students and retention—this is fundamentally about all of us—our identity as an institution.
And it begins with a true commitment to the people, not the technology. 




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.

Mentoring Resources Available  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).

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



Share with

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.