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Department Head Handbook


As Buller (2012) notes, “The job of chairing a department is probably the most important, least appreciated, and toughest administrative position in higher education.” Yet, it is a role that can bring great satisfaction. As a chair, you will likely have the opportunity to have daily contact with students and faculty colleagues. You can probably still remain engaged with your own research, and you will have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of your colleagues, your students and the university as a whole. 

It is also true that most department heads have little prior management experience and are provided with little training or developmental support. Most of us figure it out as we go.  Developing the capacity to learn about yourself and set reasonable goals for your department are critical skills. Learning where to go for support and having the courage to ask for help will increase chances for success. Please reference the Selection and Review of Academic Department Heads and the Department Head general job description for more information.  

If you take on the role with the mindset that you are going to do more than respond to events and put out fires as they routinely erupt, you will have an easier go of it and may be able to implement some lasting improvements. It is challenging but important work. 

In addition to the Department Head Orientation, the Office of Faculty Advancement holds several events throughout the year designed to provide opportunities for learning and connection with other academic leaders. I encourage you to attend these events. Below you will find a brief curated list of helpful references. The remainder of this Handbook is divided into five sections that provide information and policies.  

 I. Faculty Lifecycle Policies and Procedures 

One of the central functions of a Department Head is managing the routine processes of faculty and student life in the department. This section provides information on many of these critical processes. While you may be aware of your departmental routines and processes in each of these areas, please take a moment to review these University policies. You will likely find yourself referring to them for answers to questions from your faculty throughout the year. Being familiar with these processes and policies is a basic first step to efficient and effective management of your department. While committee chairs and faculty representatives may manage aspects of these processes, the Department Head is ultimately responsible for ensuring that these policies and procedures are followed.  

 II. Faculty Development  

The Office of Faculty Advancement provides developmental supports for faculty, which are listed below. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with these resources and direct faculty to them. The Teaching and Learning Center, the faculty mentoring effort offered through CANOPI, and the resources offered though our membership in the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) provide a wealth of support available to faculty.  

It is important to recognize the need for ongoing developmentally appropriate support in all ranks and at all career stages. While the Office of Faculty Advancement and other offices offer support, some of the most critical developmental work happens in departments and disciplines. Junior faculty especially need one-on-one support from senior colleagues. Each School and College or Department is required to maintain a formal mentoring program for all junior faculty. Resources that provide ground rules and guidelines for mentoring programs can be found on the OFA website. 

It is also critical for Department Heads to develop the leadership and management skills of their faculty who might be interested in leading the department in the future. Succession planning and developing a “bench” of individuals who support the Department Head and can emerge to lead the unit or have a leadership role in the college or university in the future is critical. A Department Head can cultivate this next generation of leadership through mentoring these faculty, providing curial opportunities to lead key committees, and providing other opportunities for leadership development by naming an associate or assistant department head. 

Teaching and Learning Center 

As research on university-level teaching and learning continues to emerge, it is key to communicate the importance of ongoing professional development of teaching. The Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) at Drexel University provides resources, workshops and one-on-one pedagogical support to Drexel University’s faculty and teaching assistants. The TLC works with instructors across every school, college, and campus at Drexel. The TLC also welcomes the opportunity to consult or collaborate with department heads and other administrative leaders involved with teaching and learning design, implementation, assessment, and evaluation to design customized workshops and programs that fit your contextual needs. 

Learn more about TLC’s programs and services: 


 III. Faculty Resources

Whether you are a recent hire or a long-time university faculty member, connecting to and accessing the information you need is an essential component of navigating the professional experience at Drexel. As a university, we understand the importance of supporting our faculty in their commitment to excellence in teaching, research, and service. We work to ensure you have all you need not only to deliver a high-quality education, but to flourish personally and professionally. Below are some of the resources available to our faculty. Selected faculty-related policies, procedures, and human resources guidance documents are listed for your reference.  


IV. Valuable Partners

Deans, fellow Department Heads, Provost Office colleagues, Human Resource Business Partners and others are all valuable resources available to you. Reaching out to these colleagues and developing relationships with them can help ensure your success and the success of your department.  Many of these resources are listed below. You may be aware of some of the offices listed below, and you may not. Whether they are new to you, or you have developed relationships already, they are critical partners in your work as a Department Head.  

The Office of Institutional Research, Assessment & Accreditation (IRAA) is a key reporting entity for the university and provides leadership to support the planning, management, assessment, accreditation, and evaluation activities at every level of Drexel. 

V. Planning 

As is evidenced by the above list of partners and resources, academic departments exist within larger university structures and priorities. One of the most critical of those is Drexel’s strategic plan: Drexel 2030-Designing the Future. This plan provides a roadmap for bringing Drexel’s mission to fruition.  

Drexel University Mission 

Drexel University is an urban research university that integrates education, scholarship, diverse partnerships, and our global community to address society’s most pressing challenges through an inclusive learning environment, immersive experiential learning, external partnerships, transdisciplinary and applied research, and creative activity. We prepare graduates of diverse backgrounds to become purpose-driven professionals and agents for positive change. 

Aligning department priorities with this mission and the strategic plan that supports it is critical.  

Planning for the future of your department is also critical. Developing “bench strength” among departmental colleagues who can be prepared to step into the leadership role is an often-overlooked task. Yet, ensuring the long-term strength of the department depends on it. This can be accomplished by providing opportunities for committee leadership and perhaps creating associate department head roles.

Reference List 

Gunsalus, C.K. (2021) The College Administrators Survival Guide. Harvard University Press. 

Buller, Jeffrey C. (2013) Positive Academic Leadership. Jossey-Bass. 

Buller, Jeffrey L. (2012) The Essential Department Chair. Jossey-Bass.