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An Examination of Academic Department Chairs in Canadian Universities

Author: Boyko, Lydia

Abstract: This thesis is a baseline, population study, designed to create historical and contemporary contexts for and to inform current understanding of the department chair function in Canadian universities. Chairs are explored from five discrete yet dependent perspectives to discern distinctions and associations among institutions, disciplines/fields of study and individuals: What is the job? Who holds the job? Does formal position prescription match practice? Has the job changed over time? What makes department chairs job ready and effective? Canvassing 43 predominantly English-language public universities in 10 provinces, the inquiry encompasses four data sources: (1) 58 university policy documents and faculty association collective agreements; (2) a national electronic survey in two versions – for incumbent chairs, which generated replies from 511 email recipients, representing 38 per cent of the 1,333 individuals in the population approached; and for incumbent deans, sought for their views of the chair function, which drew the participation of 79 email recipients of 269 prospective contributors, signifying a 29 per cent response rate; (3) telephone interviews with 30 chairs and 15 deans (active, former and retired); and (4) curricula vitae of 134 chairs and deans (active, former and retired). The findings confirm the longstanding tradition of the job’s temporary nature, irrespective of institution and discipline. Candidates are usually drawn from tenured faculty ranks, primarily from the immediate unit. The notion of non-academic professionals from outside the university setting occupying the role is viewed by chairs and deans with disdain and is not evident in practice, either in hard pure and applied fields of study such as science, engineering and medicine, or in the soft pure and applied areas such as arts, business and education. The notion of a business-oriented approach to departmental administration appears to be largely a function of an institution’s size and its culture shaped by senior management rather than its location, age and type or a specific discipline with the exception of medicine and engineering. Chairs remain members of the collective bargaining unit in unionized faculty associations during their term of office and typically deem their ability to lead professorial peers with authority constrained as an equal.

Source: University of Toronto - TSpace

Size: 2.53 MB
Last Updated: août 4, 2015