A Profile of the Music Department Chairperson in Higher Education
Published online: 30 April 1993
The director or chairperson of the department or school of music serves a critical role as "middle management" in postsecondary educational institutions. Heightened demand for accountability in the utilization of scarce resources, especially during times of economic uncertainty, intensifies the demand for effective leadership in guiding the development of the music department. Because of the unique nature of departments and schools of music, the director serves a pivotal role in exercising academic and artistic leadership and accountability. Since there is a demonstrated need for strong and effective leadership in schools and departments of music, the characteristics, roles, and functions of this position should be closely examined and understood.
Although the literature suggests that the characteristics, roles, and functions of the department chairpersonship vary with the size and complexity of the institution, there is little relevant research devoted to the examination of these attributes for directors and chairpersons in departments or schools of music.
The purpose of this study was to examine the attributes of department chairs in colleges and schools accredited by the NASM. Seven subproblems pertaining to demographic profile, career path, professional aspirations, administrative duties, perceived difficulty in working with certain groups and individuals, and perceived levels of satisfaction with certain aspects of the position were investigated. During the winter of 1991 a survey instrument was constructed and mailed to all 521 NASM-accredited institutions, of which 426 replied, for a 85% response rate.
Research findings indicate that typical chairpersons are employed by a public institution ranging in size from 1,000 to 10,000 FTE. Their institutions characteristically do not have a faculty union, and they administer departments of fewer than 1,000 full-time students. Their departments offer the Ph.D., D.M.A., and Mus.D. as the terminal academic degree. Chairpersons hold faculty rank, are tenured, and have earned a terminal degree with specialization in either music education or a performance-related concentration. The chairpersons earn just over $50,000 per year and have held their positions as chief department administrators for one year or less.
The likelihood that this typical chairperson is teaching academic courses is about 84%, and he or she probably teaches private studio lessons or music education curriculum. She or he is not likely to be currently engaged in research or professional writing, but has published either prior to, or at some point during his or her administrative appointment. Because of the nature of the position, the chairperson is not likely to be conducting, composing, or performing either solo or ensemble.
The typical music department chairperson has held a faculty position at some point during his or her academic career prior to accepting the current position. There is a 25% likelihood that the current chairperson has held the same administrative position at another institution.
Upon completion of their administrative service to the department, chairpersons are about as likely to return to the ranks of the faculty as they are to retire from academe. After their service as chairperson, roughly 20% aspire to become the dean of a college of fine arts. They are unlikely to return to professional performing or the management of an arts organization.
The average chairperson spends just over four hours each week with staff, students, and faculty. They spend less than three hours per week with other chairpersons, the dean, and members of the central administration. Chairpersons spend the most time drafting memoranda, writing reports, processing mail, or on the phone with colleagues, and slightly over six hours in strategic planning and in problem-solving. On average, the department chairperson spends a total of 43.5 hours per week discharging professional obligations. During their personal time, chairpersons typically spend more time watching television than in recreational reading, hobbies, or home and yard maintenance.
Of all the decisions requiring their attention, chairpersons find that their most difficult decisions concern the dismissal of faculty and staff. They do not find individuals or groups particularly troublesome or difficult to work with, although faculty members in groups are more difficult than others.
Chairpersons derive the greatest amount of professional satisfaction from helping others to achieve results and to work toward goals, and secondly, from initiating or facilitating change. Never having enough time for administrative task completion is the source of the chairperson's greatest frustration. The chairperson views academic leadership as his or her most important function, followed closely by planning and budgeting and departmental representation.
Chairpersons are likely to counsel new department chairpersons to be effective communicators, politically savvy, objective and fair, and to become effective and efficient strategists. Further advice concerns the ability to tolerate ambiguity in the position, the ability to set goals and prioritize objectives, and to be patient with faculty and students. Finally, the typical chairperson would recommend that new administrators have a sense of humor and maintain high levels of involvement in all aspects of music department curriculum.
Conclusions of the study as drawn from the analysis of the study's subproblems revealed the following twelve observations:
- There is a direct relationship between salary level and size of institution; the larger the institution, the larger the salary.
- There are significant differences in career paths among age groupings of respondents; older chairpersons are more likely to have occupied a variety of positions prior to current appointment.
- There is a significant difference between career path and size of the institution; chairpersons in larger institutions tend to have held a greater variety of positions prior to the chair.
- There is a significant difference between career aspiration and age; the younger the chairpersons, the greater the probability that they will return to the faculty.
- There is a significant difference between career path and years spent in current administrative position; the longer the chairperson has served, the greater the possibility that she or he will soon retire from academe.
- There is a significant difference between career aspiration and size of the institution; chairpersons at larger schools more frequently aspire to become deans, whereas those at smaller schools plan to return to the faculty.
- There is a significant difference between the number of hours spent in various administrative activities and size of the institution; the larger the school, the more time spent drafting memos, reading scholarly material, and attending social functions.
- There is a significant difference between hours spent in individual and group meetings and size of the institution; chairpersons at larger schools spend significantly more time in meetings than do their counterparts at smaller institutions.
- There is a significant difference between degrees of difficulty in decision-making and years spent in current position. Merit pay decisions are perceived as less difficult by chairpersons with 18-21 years of experience than by other chairpersons. Chairpersons with 12-15 years experience have greater difficulty with decisions regarding tenure than do the less experienced chairs.
- There is a significant difference between the degree of difficulty in decision-making and size of the institution; the larger the school, the more difficult and complex decision making becomes.
- There is a significant difference between the level of satisfaction in the position and age of the chairperson; the older the chairperson, the greater the satisfaction derived from opportunities to facilitate change.
- There is a significant difference between the level of satisfaction in the position and the size of the institution; the larger the institution, the greater the level of satisfaction with salary and benefits, and the greater the opportunity to solve complex problems.
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