Now That I'm Here, What Should I Do? Encouragement and Advice for New Department Chairs: Part 2

October 31, 2008

In the first of this two-part article members of the Committee on Administration, now titled the Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration, offered words of reflection and advice to faculty entering administration. In this second article committee members offer pragmatic suggestions as well as tools and resources that may help new or less-experienced administrators address their new challenges.

To be certain, this article is far from an exhaustive study. There are many questions and issues that go unanswered, and the recommended sources are only a sampling of the many resources available in the field. However partial and incomplete this article may be, a common theme emerges from it: that leadership is more than a skill; it is a specialty that requires study, acquisition of knowledge, reflection, development, and experience. It is ironic, then, that we in academe spend so little time preparing our peers for leadership positions in our respective disciplines. But we don't and never will in any comprehensive way. In this light, the Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration hopes that this article, as well as all of its publications, conference presentations, and web pages, will provide useful support to aspiring and established music chairs, directors and deans through sharing sources its members have found helpful.

Find a mentor among your peers. Discussing your work with an experienced and highly regarded chairperson or dean is one of the best places to start your training. Your mentor need not be at your institution; some of the best input you can receive may come from a colleague in a similar position at another school. Wherever the person may be, their observations and input, from the perspective of someone who has been around the block a few times, will help ground your experiences. Issues in academe are surprisingly cyclical - just ask anyone who has been involved with general education reform. In administration there will be surprises, and there will always be challenges with budgeting, recruitment, facilities, curricula, and personnel (some would say especially personnel). While not discounting the uniqueness of any particular situation, talking with an experienced academic leader may give you perspective to your current challenges and demands. To be most beneficial, research in the field of mentoring suggests it is best to establish a regular contact schedule and to keep to it, even when there appears to be nothing to report or explore (Boyce, 1992).

Attend workshops. Most likely, you did not enroll in any courses as a graduate student in higher education administration, either because they were not available, they were far removed from the concentrated work you were doing in your specialty, or it had never occurred to you to take such a course since you never imagined, in your twenties, completing doctoral studies, that someday you would enter administration. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for you, now that you indeed do have administrative responsibilities, to pursue professional development workshops designed to help you learn essential skills in the field.

While there are often unique workshops offered annually throughout the country, there are at least three noteworthy, longstanding conferences to consider. The first workshop is one directed specifically to administrators in music. The week-long Music Management Workshop, offered in June every other year at DePaul University in Chicago, focuses on pragmatic issues associated with leading a music program. (The next offering will be in Summer 2009.) According to its website (, topics include management concepts, planning in the music unit, curriculum, budget, faculty issues, legal issues, relating to the rest of the campus, and external relations. According to Don Casey, the Dean of the School of Music at DePaul, more than 300 participants have benefited from this workshop since its first offering in 1986.

A second longstanding conference is the Academic Chairpersons Conference at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas ( Now in its twenty-sixth year, this three-day conference, scheduled each year for early February, is intended for "anyone responsible for directing, coordination, or supervising academic programs and/or faculty." While also offering sessions focusing on practical and pragmatic advice, each conference is organized around a general theme. Some themes from the past have included "Defining Departmental Leadership: Engaging Academic Communities for Success," "Changing Leadership: Expectations for Chairs," and "Academic Leadership: Building Responsive and Responsible Communities." The theme for February 2009 is "What Is on the Horizon?"

Finally, for the past seven years the Council of Independent Colleges has offered a three-day workshop for department and division chairs in different locations around the country ( Also theme-based, this past year the conferences focused on "Advancing the Department," which was designed to "provide chairs with skills and strategies to serve as front-line administrators and to strengthen their departments." Topics included conflict management, negotiating skills, marketing the department, working with the chief academic officer, and current legal issues.

Read. As a cursory glance on will reveal, the literature on leadership is vast and exhaustive, even overwhelming. In this sea of verbiage, what books are most helpful for the academic leader and manager? Listed here are some books committee members have found helpful. For more sources on music in academe, fundraising, interpersonal skills, leadership, management, and mentoring, see the annotated, online bibliography developed by the committee (

Academic Leadership: A Practical Guide to Chairing the Department (Learning, 1998)

The Administrative Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Administrative Performance and Personnel Decisions (Seldin, 2002)

Aligning Faculty Rewards with Institutional Mission: Statements, Policies, and Guidelines (Diamond, 1999)

Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know about How Artists Work. (Austin & Devin, 2003)

The College Administrator's Survival Guide (Gunsalus, 2006)

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't (Collins, 2001)

Hiring the Best: A Manager's Guide to Effective Interviewing (Yate, 1988)

The Invisible Faculty: Improving the Status of Part-Timers in Higher Education (Gappa & Leslie, 1993)

Leadership in the Arts: An Inside View (Thomas, 2008)

Leadership Is an Art (DePree, 2004)

Musical Chairs: Management Handbook for Music Executives in Higher Education (Miller, Werner, Hipp, 2006)

On Becoming a Leader (Bennis, 1989)

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable about Destroying Barriers that Turn Colleagues into Competitors (Lencioni, 2006)

To Rise above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean (Martin, 1988)

Become familiar with the work of your institution's foundation. Once you are a chair, and once you grasp the fiscal realities of your work, you may find that securing funding from sources outside the university is absolutely essential. Some institutions centralize fundraising; others do not. Whichever the case, it is important to become familiar with the work and the "language" of the foundation, office of institutional advancement, development office, or whatever designation the office in charge of fundraising and development is named at your institution (hereafter referred to simply as "foundation"). In most schools, the foundation has the capacity to be a helpful partner in teaching and learning, and most are only too happy to work with an academic administrator who wants to leverage fundraising maximally. The online bibliography offers sourced for further reading and how-to suggestion. Here, however, are a few things to consider in your initial work in fundraising:

  • Construct a list, if it does not already exist, of graduates going back many years and work with the foundation and alumni office in cross checking names. Create affinity groups for funding appeals by identifying graduates by ensembles (choir, band, orchestra, etc).

  • Work closely with your gift officer to coordinate efforts. This may include moving beyond an annual mail campaign, which typically yields small gifts, to cultivating major donors and developing planned giving. Such coordination also will avoid the mistake of a "double ask" or of asking a donor with the capacity to give a substantial gift to make a modest donation, which may put an end to a willing donor's quest to find the right project to match his or her desire to give.

  • Effective development is centered on establishing, building, and sustaining a relationship. As committee member Don Casey notes, "fundraising is actually friendraising." Connecting with people, understanding what they value and how they wish to be recognized, and matching their interests with your needs in an ongoing relationship are crucial for success in development work.

Use the CMS Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration as a resource. As stated on our website, this CMS committee "focuses on developmental and career issues of administrative work in music." Through workshops at national meetings, publications like this article, and online resources, the committee strives to support career development in administration and promote the field of academic leadership. There are three ways to take advantage of this committee of peers. First, attend workshops it offers at meetings of the Society. Second, use our website as a resource to find journals, newsletters, and books focused on leadership and management, publishers who specialize in administrative issues, professional development opportunities, and links to workshops. Finally, turn to the Sounding Board on the committee's website to contact members of the committee for input on a myriad of challenges faced by administrators. The topics include budgeting, curriculum development, delegating, mediating conflict, fundraising, challenges to leading programs at specific types of institutions (small liberal arts college, state university, etc.), mentoring faculty, strategic planning, and more.

When this article appears, new chairs, directors and deans will have been in their positions for three to five months. The honeymoon is likely continuing for many, and for some a new cognizance may be developing in which they realize how different administrative work, even the work day, is from what they just left as professors with full teaching loads. The Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration hopes it can play a role in the transition and acclimation to this new work and to a career that has challenges as well as many wonderful rewards.

Contributors to this article:
Donald E. Casey (DePaul University)
John P. Graulty (Delaware State University)
Anne L. Patterson (Fairmont State University)
Todd E. Sullivan (Northern Arizona University)
Keith C. Ward (University of Puget Sound)
Nancy S. Ypma (McKendree University)

5071 Last modified on May 7, 2013
Login to post comments