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Building a department chairs’ academy–no longer a forgotten chair

March 1, 2022

Cynthia Lester

Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Georgia State University Perimeter College

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

The question

An academic department chair is a significant member of the university’s leadership. They serve as the academic leader for the department and are tasked with advancing and supporting the department’s mission while providing strategic direction for the faculty, staff and students within the department. Many times, they see themselves as the first line of defense in solving problems while also trying to manage from the middle.  But how do faculty members, who are well trained in their disciplines, teaching, research, and service navigate their way to managing budgets, providing administrative oversight, scheduling classes, and managing conflict?

In a December 1, 2016 article from Inside Higher Ed, entitled, “Forgotten Chairs,” of those interviewed, 67 percent indicated that they received no formal training from their institutions and those who did receive training received 10 hours or less.

In 2016, Georgia State University consolidated with Georgia Perimeter College.  Perimeter College became the 10th college within Georgia State University and helped to make Georgia State the largest university in the state of Georgia and one of the largest in the nation, enrolling one of the most diverse student bodies.

Since then, Perimeter College has undergone an administrative strategic alignment, which has fostered a unique opportunity to assess how academic department chairs are trained to meet the changing landscape of college, university, and higher education needs.

The solution

The solution has been to work with colleagues to develop a department chairs academy, which focuses on providing resources and support for new and existing academic department chairs. The academy includes sessions on managing and understanding the budget, human resource processes and managing staff, handling student complaints, mentoring faculty, conducting effective faculty evaluations, a deep dive into the promotion and tenure process, and conflict resolution, to name a few.

There is one session per month between September 2021 and June 2022, facilitated by senior leaders in the college. These sessions have been vitally important as five of the ten department chairs started in their positions in fall 2021.

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Get Started

We kicked off the academy with a day-long retreat in August, which allowed us to come together as a community, establish a space for trust, and begin the hard work of self-development. Initial survey results have revealed that participants appreciated the opportunity to meet, discuss topics relevant to their work, and gain resources and tools that are helping them serve as an effective department chair.


EAB has been an invaluable partner in providing information and resources for this project. I am also grateful to my capstone partner, Joe Lewandowski, who serves as the Director of Resource Panning at the University of Buffalo for his insights related to budget policies and systems. A huge thank you is extended to my Perimeter College Associate Dean colleagues, who helped me develop the chairs academy and serve as presenters and also to the department chairs who show up for each session, ready to engage.

Lastly, to the senior administration at Georgia State University, President Blake, interim Provost and Senior Vice President Parsons-Pollard, Senior Vice President Kropf and Senior Advisor Hensel, thank you for the resources and opportunity to work on this project and to ultimately build what I envisioned.

The chairs academy was initially formed from my own experience when I began as a new chair of the new department of computer science and engineering in 2016, very soon after the consolidation. I had some tools and resources at my disposal, but much like my other chair colleagues around the nation, I received no formal training.

As I have moved into other administrative positions within the college, I have carried with me this notion of the “forgotten chair.” Now serving as the interim Dean of Perimeter College and the one to whom the chairs report, I am excited about the opportunity of creating a space for the chairs where they can receive the support and tools they need to do their work effectively while also focusing on their own growth, development and leadership. By building the department chairs academy, it is my hope that at least at Perimeter College, thoughts will become long gone of a “forgotten chair.”

See the fellows’ blogs from the capstone projects

Cynthia Lester and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

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