Roundtable The Department Chair as Negotiator: Challenges Faced by History Department Chairs in These Perilous, Budget-Cutting Times

AHA Session 102
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Addison Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Alan Tully, University of Texas at Austin
Elaine K. Carey, St. John's University
Gary Kates, Pomona College
Kriste Lindenmeyer, Rutgers University-Camden
Alan Tully, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Many chairs are skilled historians, but when they assume responsibility for their departments, few have had much experience practicing the fine art of negotiating with their administrative superiors.  At a time when universities and colleges are slashing budgets and demanding cutbacks from faculty and staff and alike, how can history department chairs serve as responsible and effective advocates for their departments, and for the practice of history generally?   

     By definition, chairs are mediators; they oversee faculty and office staffs within their own departments while simultaneously contending with various layers of academic administration above the department level—the deans, provosts, presidents, and chancellors who make broad-based policy and hand down budgets from on high.  During these particularly challenging times, what strategies have chairs adopted to protect the interests of their departments?  Do they seek to make strategic coalitions with chairs in other fields?  Enlist the support of outside allies (donors, visiting committees, alumni) in pressing their case?  Trot out distinguished faculty members to bolster their arguments?  Give a little in some areas in the hope of getting back a lot in others?

     What flexibility do chairs have when it comes to mapping out departmental priorities?  Can they reconfigure the mix of faculty statuses (tenured and non-tenured) in order to accommodate current budgetary realities while keeping the integrity of the department intact?  Break with precedent by reallocating department budget-lines related to faculty and staff salaries, operational expenses, and graduate-student funding?

      Together, the roundtable participants assembled here can speak from first-hand experience as chairs as well as other kinds of academic administrators.  They represent public and private universities, large and small, secular and church-affiliated.  Are the challenges faced by chairs in these institutions similar, or do the unique qualities of each institution present unique challenges for their chairs?

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