Management Department Heads page 2

Department Head
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 and students.


The traditional definition and role
for a Department Head

The 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, Crafts, etc.

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 position.

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.

A New Structure
My first encounter with alternative management at the program level was during 1976 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.

I 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.

Currently 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.

It 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.

The 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 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, curriculum, etc.

The 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.

A 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.

Because 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.


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President Andrew Morgan
of Kansas City Art Institute

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