Roles and Responsibilities of Faculty Academic Chairs: An Academic Senate Perspective

Professional Standards
Educational Policies Committee

This position paper of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges begins by examining the philosophy behind different structures in an academic institution. This discussion leads to a discussion of the roles and responsibilities of "chairs" within that structure and how they might be fulfilled by department chairs, division chairs or deans. The paper concludes that institutional success can only come from widespread discussion and agreement on such philosophy and structure prior to implementation or change. The paper also describes the many advantages to the institution and its successful leadership that result from the use of faculty members in such chair positions. The paper ends with recommendations to local academic senates regarding the impact of such structural discussions on academic and professional matters and on faculty leadership and participation in governance.


This paper examines the roles and responsibilities of faculty academic chairs within the philosophy and structure of an academic institution. Local structure and implementation vary enormously and must be decided locally. However, the profound impact of these faculty leadership positions on both academic and governance issues leads to several recommendations addressed to local academic senates.

The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges encourages local academic senates to:

  1. Recognize that faculty academic chairs are an important part of overall faculty leadership, along with academic senate and collective bargaining leaders. The local senate should encourage all three to work together.
  2. Recognize that there is no single best philosophy and structure for faculty academic chairs. Any effective structure must be developed locally using a process that takes account of local culture and must fully involve the local senate, the collective bargaining agents and other interested parties. The local senate should ensure that effective structures are agreed, not imposed.
  3. Recognize that local discussions about philosophy and structure must consider the role of the faculty at that institution, addressing which administrative duties are best carried out by faculty members and which by administrators. The local senate should ensure that such discussions most appropriately take place with the institution's governance structure.
  4. Recognize that an effective chair structure, and its interaction with the administration, significantly affects the implementation of academic and professional matters and, therefore, that there are considerable advantages to the use of faculty academic chairs. Local senates should ensure that such structure is neither instituted nor altered merely as a matter of administrative convenience.
  5. Ensure that the structure adequately addresses the needs and protects the rights of part-time faculty.
  6. Work collegially with the local administration to develop well-considered training opportunities for existing and potential faculty academic chairs that foster broader leadership skills and the academic senate perspective.
  7. Develop a mechanism that promotes broader faculty leadership by encouraging routine effective communication among faculty academic chairs, academic senate leaders and collective bargaining leaders.
  8. Ensure that the communication mechanism among faculty leaders respects appropriate roles of the academic senate and the collective bargaining agent in the governance of the institution.