my first week as a chair, so far

I think being a department chair, even though I'm just filling in until the new year, is different at a community college than a four-year school. I think at most four year schools, department chairs are the front line supervisors, the boss or middle manager if you will. What dawned on me yesterday, and I don't mean this in a bad way, is that the position of chair I'm serving in means the other faculty trust me to do all the crap they don't want to do but has to be done. For us, the actual supervisor, at least in title, is the division dean. Admittedly, the dean does defer quite a bit to the chair, assuming the chair is capable. So far, I think I'm capable.

First thing Monday morning I got to talk with a student unhappy about a grade from last spring. I'm not sure what's going to happen with that. Our policy and process is first the student tries to work things out with the instructor, then the chair gets involved and then there is a policy for moving complaints up the administrative food chain. I didn't plan on spending nearly an hour chatting with a student and listening to her complaints about the instructor as I was getting myself ready for the first day of classes, but that's the territory. Even though it was not a "happy" talk I was able to spell things out for the student, make clear what she needed to do, and what I would be able to do once she came back to me, if she did. I also provided her an alternative route to take with her concerns, which was to let them slide because the grade, while she wasn't happy with it, was essentially irrelevant as long as she earned a degree before transferring. I hope I helped her, and I think I did, though I may be seeing her again.

Something else I found myself dealing with this week, and I'm still dealing with it, and will be for quite some time, is the fallout created by my dean overstepping his bounds a bit. He announced that a new hire was being groomed to be our composition director. While the dean can appoint an interim chair or comp director (as he did with me) the permanent position requires being elected by faculty. For those who were unaware, who were caught unawares, hearing about this "appointment" came as quite a shock. Many, maybe all, faculty want a comp director who has a better sense of the department, college and students, along with our portfolio process and expectations. These are valid concerns. But we have a long-time faculty member providing guidance and mentoring to our new hire and continuing mentoring over the course of the year. Though this may not be ideal, I think that when this is coupled with his credentials and experience, that all will go well. Still, I had to talk with the new hire, as have several others, to make it clear that this doesn't jeopardize his place with us, that people have nothing against him, and on and on. In the long run, I think all will be well but it's a disappointing way to open the year.

These are the biggies. I've also been working on a department plagiarism policy that will have enough teeth while also allowing individual faculty to treat plagiarism however they like. I think we may have something that is close to that. I'll have to wait and see what folks have to say about the present draft. Another effort is lining up faculty to work on various strategic plan efforts. It's not that they are reluctant to do this sort of thing, but pinning enough folks down could be described as herding cats, though that's a bit over the top. Next week, who knows what will be coming my way. I'm having to be better organized when it comes to this sort of thing. I think I'm doing that. I also get to spend more time learning about the college overall, how the department works its budget, how certain programs stay alive, flounder or prosper, who at the college pulls their weight or is deadweight; that sort of thing is something I like, if only because I get to know more of the people on campus and not just my English and closely allied colleagues. Plus, my desk is almost clean, having only several different, seemingly nondescript, piles and stacks of paper cluttering it. But whether I'm chair of simply teaching, my desk will never be clean, at least not for long.