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FAQs - The Role of the Department Chair

[Special note: Personnel policies vary according to the type of appointment. Both the Human Resources and Academic Affairs offices can be very helpful in addressing personnel issues. For staff appointments, contact the Human Resources office and for academic appointments you should contact the Office of the Provost or Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Chairs should frequently consult with their Deans and the appropriate office for personnel issues in order to comply with standard campus operating practices.]

Since I started in my role as chair, no one really explained to me what I am supposed to do. Just exactly what is the role of a chair and what am I responsible for in the department?

The Chair is responsible for providing leadership and seeking excellence in the teaching, research, extension and service activities of the department. He or she is responsible for representing the needs and aspirations of the department to the rest of the University. The chair is responsible to the Dean and to the department faculty for conducting the fiscal, academic, and personnel affairs of the department. Though chairs depend on their faculty and staff to accomplish the work of the department, they are ultimately responsible for the departmental affairs.

The chair should attempt to do these things in a diligent manner that makes the most efficient use of the financial, physical, or human resources available including those available in the Human Resources and Academic Affairs offices. The chair must develop, improve, and execute departmental policies and procedures in harmony with University, campus, or college policies. The Chair has the responsibility as is required to accomplish these duties.

The Collected Rules and Regulations spell out a wide range of general duties for the department chair in the fiscal, staffing and instructional areas that help to articulate common duties. (See web site below). However, the specific expectations for department chairs and the associated fiscal and staffing duties vary among campuses and even among academic colleges and schools. Department chairs are advised to sit down with their deans so their expectations and responsibilities are clearly articulated.

For more information and a list of commonly performed duties check the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations Section 20.110.

Is the chair authorized to sign contracts with outside companies on behalf of his or her department?

No, only those University employees with written delegation of authority are allowed to sign contracts on behalf of the University. All of the contracts must be sent through the campus business office or other campus entity for final approval and designated signature. Unless the contract is an approved form contract, the legal office must review contracts before signature by authorized university representatives.

If the department chair does sign the contract, he or she may become personally liable for its terms and agreements. Thus, chairs should not sign contracts with outside business groups and only let the designated offices take care of them in the proper manner.

For more information, see the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations Section 201.110.

We have lots of projects that are grant funded where we hire academic assistants on a term basis. In some cases the grant funding runs out before the "term appointment" is up. Can I terminate research and teaching assistants, post-doctoral fellows, or research professors in the middle of their term appointments if grant funding runs out and if alternative sources of funding are not available?

No you can not. Generally, unless there is reason to terminate an employee for cause, you must allow them to complete their work for the period for which they were hired. In fact, academic staff who are on either regular or non regular term appointments can only be released prior to the end of the stated term for cause and only after invoking the same dismissal for cause procedures that are used for tenured faculty. Additionally, employees may be terminated under extraordinary circumstances because of financial exigencies or discontinuance of a program. Please note that financial exigency can only be declared by the Board of Curators.

For more information about length of appointment and termination policies, see the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations Section 310.020 B.1.c. and Section 310.020 C. 2.

When it comes to annual evaluations should I follow the adage "If you can't say something good about someone, say nothing at all?"

No. It is important to provide accurate and honest feedback to all faculty and staff employees. The purpose of annual evaluations, and all evaluation sessions for that matter, is to provide feedback to the employees about their performance. Annual evaluations provide an important opportunity to clearly articulate an assessment of the employee's previous year's work and to clarify the performance expectations for the coming year. Merit raises should be allocated on the basis of merit and be consistent with a candid evaluation of performance and the annual review.

University regulations require that the performances of all faculty members, including tenured faculty, are to be reviewed annually. In most instances, a discussion involving the department chair (or dean) with the tenured faculty member as to her or his performance for the past year and plans for the coming year will be sufficient. However written evaluations should be provided to those faculty members where there are concerns about substantial shortcomings in performance. Written annual evaluations are expected for untenured faculty members. In addition to the annual performance evaluation it may be necessary to document misconduct or significant performance deficiencies throughout the year as they occur.

For more information about annual evaluations see the University of Missouri Collected Rules and Regulations Section 310.015.

Reviewed August 28, 2014.