Within my experience, the Department Headship is perhaps the
most crucial position in education for faculty and students
because it is directly involved with the educational process.
Even during its heyday, the role of the Department Head was
never fully understood or consistently implemented. Job descriptions
for the position rarely make clear whether the Department Head
is the representative of the program, faculty and students to
the administration, or whether it is the last outpost of administration.
I always considered it to be a little of both with the main
emphasis being to represent the best interests of program, faculty
traditional definition and role
for a Department Head
position was listed in the institutional table of organization.
Each major discipline had a Department
Head. In some instances, several closely related disciplines
might be combined into a single department, i.e., Fine Arts,
It was a position filled by appointment, and the appointee
served at the will of the Dean. At a few institutions, the
Head was elected by the faculty.
There was a financial remuneration connected with the
The Department Head was expected to provide leadership
and had responsibilities for records, budgets, etc. and was
spokesperson for the faculty and students of that program.
The Department Head served with other Heads as an advisory
body on a college council with the Dean as Chair.
Within the department context, each major discipline had fixed-use
space restricted to departmental programs and some multi-use
space shared with other programs. Each department was given
an operational budget which was spent at the discretion of
that Department Head and faculty members.
My first encounter with alternative management
at the program level was during 1976 Ð 1977 at the University
of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I went there to interview
for a position. The university had just built a new school
for art and design and only recently moved into the new facility.
I met with the Dean of the School of Art and the interview
was going well until I asked who was Head of Graphic Design.
He explained to me that although the school had various programs
of study, there were no headships or other designations of
responsibility by discipline other than as teachers. I inquired
about leadership, supervising budgets, keeping records, who
spoke for faculty and students, etc., and I was informed that
all matters for all disciplines were handled by the Dean and
Assistant Dean with staff.
met with faculty, and generally, they were disgruntled, cynical
and very uncommitted to teaching, the school or the Dean.
At the end of my visit, I was offered a position. I told him
that frankly I had never seen such a ridiculous educational
situation in my life. It was so incredible to me that all
I could do was laugh. Needless, to say there was no more communication
between the Dean and myself.
a large number, if not actually a majority, of programs for
all the arts at state universities are managed very nearly
the same as the one described at Ann Arbor. I have worked
within this type of educational management, and I am even
more convinced now than in the 1970s that the concept is totally
contrary to faculty productivity and commitment. Where, when
and why this organizational concept without department heads
was conceived is not clear, and its origins can only be speculated.
is believed that elimination of departments began during the
period of financial duress in the early 1970s. The new organizational
scheme usually began with establishing Schools composed of
a variety of programs that formerly had been separate departments.
Within a short time there were Schools of Art, Design, Music,
Drama, Dance and Architecture. School heads were identified
as Directors, and in most instances, their organizational
status was about the same as a Department Head. Only in a
few instances were schools headed by a Dean.
Director holds responsibility for operational and academic
matters including budgets, school policies, educational leadership,
teaching assignments, etc. The Director has an office staff
for maintaining records and other clerical tasks. School Directors
form an advisory council for the Dean. Faculty participation
varies among Schools. A common form of faculty involvement
is for the Director to establish an advisory committee drawn
from the faculty at large. This is most typical when the School
incorporates a large number of different programs Ð such as
a School of Art which might have ten to fourteen distinct
programs. Faculty constitute the standard academic committees
for hiring, faculty review for retention, promotion and tenure,
main distinction between Department Heads and Directors, and
at the same time the most disturbing, is that Department Heads
rose from the teaching ranks and most had years of teaching
and professional experience. There is a tendency today to
hire Directors from other administrative positions, and they
simply do not have in-depth experience in design. They attempt
to force directions on the faculty which are often contrary
to faculty objectives.
very serious drawback to the School concept is its negative
impact on professional education. Directors often promote
esoteric programs when students are concerned with practical
ones. The majority of students enroll in Design as preparation
for a professional career as a designer. With the current
institutional obsession for research, professionally based
programs and faculty are frequently under pressure if not
attack from Directors and Deans.
Department Heads had a singular program responsibility, they
could provide educational leadership in addition to executing
certain operational responsibilities. Directors having responsibility
for two or more programs are in no position to provide educational
leadership, and they would do best to concentrate on being
a good manager and facilitator.