Lessons for the Chair

Those who’ve known me for awhile may be surprised that I’m department chair. I’m as surprised as anyone. I said more than once that I never wanted to be chair. But now I am and have been for 18 months.
How am I finding it? Different than I had thought. Not as hard in some ways, harder in others. Truth to tell, I find rewards and satisfactions as chair. (Frustrations and perplexities too, of course.) I have learned a lot of how things work: things like managing the budget, scheduling courses, working with development, hiring faculty, recruiting students, and much else. Many of those procedures are changing under the new system, which takes effect today, 1 July 2007.
But this entry is not about the daily details of managing the department or the new organization of the campus. It is about some basic lessons I’m learning as chair.
Here’s a brief list of some important lessons. Most people probably already know them. I would’ve acknowledged them back in the pre-chair past. They are much different from my current perspective.

  1. It’s never done. I’ll never finish everything. I may complete—I’d better!—this task or that, but there will always be more to do, an indefinite queue of "doables." When I am chair no longer, there will still be things undone. Can’t be avoided.
    Knowing that everything will never be done—that I can never sit back at 4:30 and say, "Nothing else to do; see what comes in tomorrow," that knowledge is a relief. I can do what is immediate, then what is intermediate, and then, maybe, the distant. I’ll always have something to do tomorrow.
  2. I’m not alone. It’s heartening to find that I’m not the only chair who feels he/she doesn’t know everything and seeks to find the right procedure and the right information. My fellow chairs are more knowledgeable and competent than I, and I learn from them. I also find their uncertainties reassuring in the face of my own. If I don’t know everything, that’s okay.

And? I’m finding that I can do the job and find satisfaction in it. The department I chair is a good department: talented teachers, productive researchers, involved students. I can’t take credit for their achievements, but I can help them achieve.