Essential Guides
shih_2.jpg Dutton.jpg braudy.jpg udwadia_miller.jpg
Pharmacologist Jean C. Shih
University Professor
Internet expert William Dutton
now holds Oxford chair
Leo B. Braudy, University Professor, scholar of English and cinema Firdaus Udwadia (Aerospace and mechanical Engineering) and Don Miller (Religion)

Essential Guide for Department Chairs

Faculty Search, Appointments, and Assignments
Evaluations, Promotions, and Leaves
Hiring and Managing Staff
Faculty Governance
Career, Home and Family
Networking and Support
Legal Issues/Managing Risk
Handling Complaints


Knowing Your Vision
Your job as department chair is to help evoke a shared vision for the department.

  • Get copies of your school's strategic plan and the University's strategic plan and use them to generate your own three-year strategic plan.
  • Involve your faculty colleagues. Your being chair is not a license to unilaterally impose your views.
  • Your plan should assess your department's position relative to premiere universities and should address
    • What the department's special niche is among the premiere competitors
    • How it can be improved to rise to the next level of excellence
    • What strategic choices will move it towards that goal
    • What benchmarks should be established to gauge progress.
  • Use your dean as a source of advice and a partner in planning.
  • Don't just plan once; update your plan annually, noting your progress in achieving the benchmarks you have set.

Becoming a Strategic Leader
Being a department chair can be daunting. New department chairs often feel ill-prepared, believing that they lack the skills and knowledge to become an effective leader. Several excellent resources (see below) will help you understand your role and what is expected of you.

Personal Characteristics

  • Be fair and unbiased.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Don't take things personally.

USC Resources

  • USC's Academic Leadership and Development Committee organizes discussions and workshops on being an effective department head, and what it means to be a leader within the USC Community.

External Resources

Books and Articles

  • Several books to help you get a handle on the job are:
    • “Academic Leadership: A Practical Guide to Chairing a Department” (1998) by Deryl R. Leaming, Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing
    • “A Field Guide to Academic Leadership” (2002) edited by Robert M. Diamond, San Franciso, Jossey-Bass.
    • “Leading Academic Change: Essential Roles for Department Chairs” (2000) Ann Lucas, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
    • “The Department Chair's Role in Developing New Faculty into Teachers and Scholars (2000), Estela Mara Bensimon, Kelly Ward, Karla Sanders. Bolton, MA, Anker Publishing.
  • A great set of articles, books and resources pertaining to the department chair role are available on the American Council on Education's website


Helping the Faculty in Teaching
It is part of your job as department chair to help the faculty become better teachers.

  • Make sure faculty members understand how to ensure positive relationships with students, including mundane things such as setting up appointments, publicizing office hours and then keeping them.
  • The Learning tab provides extremely helpful links relevant to teaching.
  • The Center for Excellence in Teaching provides resources and videos that help faculty become more effective teachers. This information is increasingly important given the University's strategic focus on learner centered education.
  • Help your faculty understand the helpful online resources that pertain to assessing teaching and learning and using technology in the classroom.
  • Let faculty know about the community-based learner collaborative (see the documentation when "outside the university" is "inside the university" as well as the Communities of Practice for teaching and learning, and the Academic Culture Initiative. Links are on the Faculty Portal at the Learning tab, under USC Resources and Offices.

Faculty Mentoring
All junior faculty (and some not so junior) benefit from having a mentor in the department.

  • Assign a mentor to new faculty.
  • Encourage faculty to share resources related to teaching strategies, successes and resources.
  • Develop a system for faculty colleagues to observe one another's teaching (perhaps reciprocally), with the goal of improvement rather than judgment.
  • The Center for Excellence in Teaching also provides mentoring support.
  • The UCSD website provides very useful information on mentoring for new faculty, for the department chair and for the faculty mentor.
  • Have at least two department meetings each year to discuss aspects of teaching, or invite a CET fellow to help organize it.
  • Meet with every faculty member every year to discuss teaching.
  • Use student evaluations to initiate a discussion of how performance can be improved. This meeting can be separate from, or combined with discussions with the faculty about their teaching/scholarship load and course assignments or their Annual Performance Review.

Faculty Teaching Responsibilities

Planning the Curriculum
As the department chair, you will work with the Dean's Office (in some schools, with your Department Coordinator) to determine what classes are to be taught and when.

  • Classroom Scheduling assigns classrooms (auditoria, lecture classrooms, seminar rooms) for the majority of classes held on the University Park Campus and accommodates time, day, and room changes in general use classrooms.
  • The USC Curriculum Office has information and documentation you will need should your department wish to add, drop, rename or modify courses. Here too, you should work with your Dean's Office.
  • The Office of Academics Records and Registrar houses the Online Academic Student Information System (OASIS) and manages such things as grades, degree progress, grade corrections, academic reviews and the like.

Helping Students


A critical aspect of your job is to help the faculty flourish in research:

Setting Research Expectations

  • New junior faculty are often anxious to know what it takes to “make it” in their field. You can help them by clarifying what the expectations are in your discipline regarding such things as:
    • Striving to achieve impact through a focused research program
    • The emphasis that should be placed on research proposals and grants (e.g., R01s as P.I.)
    • The relative importance of books vs. articles, long articles vs. short ones, and single vs. multiple authored publications.
    • The expected quantity and rate of publication
    • Make sure they understand what counts as premiere outlets for publishing
    • How important it is to present their research at other universities or national meetings,
    • The necessity that their body of research be regarded as high in quality, originality and impact.
  • Make sure you and your faculty have a copy of the Manual of the University Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenurewhich details
    • The criteria for Tenure and Promotion
    • The nature of the tenure and review process, including deadlines
    • Interdisciplinary candidates
    • The preparation of dossiers (teaching, research, service, external referees and letters, appendices
    • Senior external appointments
    • Sample solicitation letters
    • Checklists for dossier preparation
  • Faculty should be familiar with section 4 of the Faculty Handbook which contains information on
    • Appointments and their lengths
    • Conditions of Tenure
    • Evaluation, reappointment and promotion of tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty
    • Advisory committees on appointments, promotion and tenure

Developing a Mentoring System
Mentoring in research is at least as as important as mentoring in teaching.

  • The USC Academic Senate has declared that mentoring is the obligation of every faculty member at USC.
  • Develop and sustain a mentoring system for junior faculty. Align them when they first come to your department with at least one supportive colleague who does research in a similar area-- who can read their papers, provide advice and feedback on research and publication, help them network (and, in some fields, serve as a co-author.)
  • The UCSD website , and resources provided by CET provide excellent resources related to mentoring.

Creating a Collegial Research Culture
You play an important role in setting the tone for research in your department.

  • To create a culture of research, set targets for departmental and individual publications, proposal submissions, and presentations in premiere venues.
  • As benchmarks, see what is done in three or four departments you regard as top-rate.
  • Have brownbag seminars where faculty can present and get feedback on their research.
  • Invite key research scholars to hold seminars.
  • Invite pre-eminent scholars in your area as visitors.
  • Encourage your faculty to publish in the top journals, and also compete in research competitions, present at national conferences, and present at other unievrsities, as appropriate to your discipline.
  • Create a climate where individuals discuss and debate their research and share drafts with one another, individually and in workshops.
  • Encourage an atmosphere where faculty help each other's careers, e.g., nominating colleagues for fellowships and prestigious societies.

Making Sure Your Faculty Know of Research Resources
Make your faculty aware of the valuable resources on campus to facilitate research.

  • A one stop place for research resources at USC are the extremely useful Research pages maintained by the Vice Provost for Research Advancement, as well as the Research tab in the Faculty Portal.
  • Faculty find the opportunity to search for sponsored projects and funding opportunities extremely helpful in the conduct of research.
  • Included at the Research tab are offices at USC that facilitate research
  • The Department of Contracts and Grants provides valuable guidelines on proposal preparation, procedures, forms and policies, links to sponsors, the ability to search for funding sources, and access to the NSF Fast Lane proposal submission system.
  • The website also provides useful information on the research centers at USC potentially relevant to your faculty's interdisciplinary research.
  • The Office of the Protection of Human Research Subjects outlines policies that relate to the ethical conduct of research using human subjects.
  • Make sure your faculty are aware of the research policies described in section 5 of the Faculty Handbook including those related to:
    • Research Proposals
    • Classified and Proprietary Research
    • Research involving Human Subjects
    • Patent Policies
  • Make sure your faculty are familiar with University policies that pertain to conflict of interest and ethics, conflict of interest in research, intellectual property, and scientific conduct.

Faculty Search, Appointments, and Assignments

Faculty Search
As the department chair, you play a pivotal role in shaping your department through the faculty you hire.

  • Discuss proactive recruitment strategies and what needs to be done to remove obstacles to the hiring, promotion and tenure of women and faculty of color.
  • Make sure each search committee has a senior member as provost's liaison for equal opportunity, and a specific plan for making phone calls and otherwise reaching out for diverse candidates.
  • "Casting the net widely" is a vital part of the effort to search for the best candidates, as detailed in USC's Equal Opportunity Policy (and this Faculty Forum article ).
  • Strategies often found helpful include:
    • Telephone campaigns to likely sources of good leads
    • Canvassing of contacts at national meetings
    • Imaginative forms of transition appointments.
  • Consult the Provost's initiative on faculty hiring.
  • A Pre-recruitment Form must be approved before each search begins. It must refer to a school or department plan for pro-active search strategies and include the name of the senior faculty member designated as Provost's equal opportunity liaison.
  • Understand the government requirements regarding work authorization if you are considering hiring a candidate who is NOT a US citizen or permanent resident. Contact the Office of International Services for assistance. Work authorizations can take many months to obtain and it is a good idea to start the process as early as possible.

Faculty Appointments

  • For USC to meet the goals of our Strategic Plan, every faculty appointment should improve the excellence of the department.
  • Assistant professor and non-tenure-track appointments are approved by the dean; all other appointments are subject to approval by the Provost after advice of the University Committee on Appointments, Promotion and Tenure.
  • No offer letters or commitments, even "informal" or verbal ones, are allowed to be issued except by the dean. (Part-time appointments are sometimes delegated to the chair, but must still use the standard language.)
  • Appointments should follow the policies set out in the Faculty Handbook section 3-B.
  • Having a family or intimate relationship with another faculty member or staff is not a barrier to employment, however, steps are required to be taken to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest (see section 3-G of the Faculty Handbook)
  • Deans, and the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, can often be helpful in seeking opportunities for the partners or spouses of newly-appointed faculty. They often work with the Center for Work and Family Life.
  • Policies regarding appointments for tenure and non-tenure track faculty, appointment lengths and terms of employment can all be found in the Faculty Handbook .
  • If joint appointments are being made, the chair should become familiar with the procedures involved in joint appointments.
  • All new faculty should be encouraged to attend the New Faculty Orientation held in the fall by the Academic Leadership and Development Committee.

Responsibilities and Assignments

  • Section 3-B of the Faculty Handbook states that full time service of faculty includes:
    • Performance of assigned teaching, clinical or librarianship duties
    • Enhancing the University and public good through research, publication, creativity activity and professional activity
    • Performance of University service including student counseling, registration and commencement assistance, and service on University committees
  • The Faculty Handbook (section 3-B) also gives details on the faculty member's academic and professional responsibilities.
    • Tenured and tenure-track faculty are expected to do both teaching and research, as well as service (with the average activity profile including 35%-45% responsibility to teaching and research and 5%-15% to service). Tenure-track (probationary) faculty should be soared burdonsome service responsibilities.
    • The specific nature of a faculty member's teaching, research, and/or clinical service to the University may be adapted in accordance with the demands of the specific academic unit and/or the terms of a particular faculty member's negotiated activity profile.
    • The activity profile of non-tenure track faculty is based on the needs and expectations of their academic unit
    • For all faculty, the activity profile should be established through consultation between each faculty member and the dean or chair of the academic unit.
  • Assignment procedures are detailed in section 3-B of the Faculty Handbook .
    • Faculty are expected to teach courses that have been assigned to them by the department chair, after consultation with department faculty, on the basis of departmental or school needs.
    • Teaching, clinical, and service assignments shall not be made for discriminatory or retaliatory reasons.
    • Claims that assignments violate this or any other provision of the Faculty Handbook, other University policies, or provisions of law are subject to review through the grievance procedure, but contested teaching and clinical assignments shall be performed pending any such review.
    • Faculty grievance procedures are detailed in Section 7 of the Faculty Handbook
  • The chair should be familiar with the grounds for dismissal as outlined in the Faculty Handbook , which include:
    • Neglect of duty
    • Incompetence
    • Violations of academic freedom
    • Misconduct
    • Dishonesty
    • Conflict of interest
    • Moral turpitude
  • Processes involved in Faculty Dismissals(see section 8 of the Faculty Handbook) include a preliminary inquiry followed by formal proceedings. For faculty with performance problems, whether or not you believe they amount to "neglect of duty," consult with your Dean, as the University expects that specific steps be taken.

Evaluations, Promotions, and Leaves

Merit and Mid-Course Reviews

  • Merit Evaluations include the following provisions:
    • All faculty undergo a periodic review (usually annually) which serves as the basis for merit increases. All faculty must submit annual reports on their activity.
    • The annual review is a particularly important opportunity for feedback for probationary faculty (tenure-track faculty who have not yet received tenure.)
    • Policies on annual faculty merit evaluations are set out in the Faculty Handbook, the University Policy on Evaluation of Department Chairs and Faculty as well as school-level guidelines.
    • Merit evaluations influence the Dean's recommendations to the Provost on salary, as do considerations of equity, market, promotion and similar matters
    • Each school annually inputs salary recommendations and any changes in status into the Faculty Salary Management System for Provost office review and approval.
  • New tenure-track Assistant Professors undergo a mid-course review (typically at their third year) as described in the Faculty Handbook.
  • In all reviews, it is important to balance praise with constructive criticism, and avoid assurances to probationary faculty about what will be the ultimate evaluations by external reviewers and school and University tenure committees.
  • If there are performance problems, and whenever you judge that a faculty member's work is unsatisfactory, consult with your Dean so that a development plan can be worked on.
  • The Faculty Handbook provides for the annual possibility of a notice of non-reappointment for any probationary faculty member (someone on the tenure-track who has not yet achieved tenure) as well as any non-tenure-track faculty member. Such decisions are made by the dean; in the case of a full-time faculty member, there is prior advice by a faculty committee. Non-reappointment is to be distinguished from dismissal for cause.
  • If you are a long-serving department chair, you are also subject to evaluation. It is useful to understand what are the guidelines for evaluating the department chair(PDF) are.


  • The criteria and process for promotion and tenure are described in the UCAPT Guidelines Some examples include
    • the standards for selecting top-rate referees for external letters. Check the list with your Dean's Office before you send out the letters.
    • the necessity to give a balanced evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, not just an advocacy document.
  • When new faculty members arrive on campus, make sure they have a copy of the Faculty Handbook and the UCAPT Guidelines. Make sure promotion committees, and associate professors, also have the Gudielines.
  • Take some time to meet with new faculty to go over the guidelines for promotion and tenure and give them the opportunity to ask questions.
  • Clarify expectations for promotion and tenure by on-going discussions about what the top three or four peer programs look for when they hire, promote and tenure someone. Remind them that departmental advice or evaluations are no guarantee of the eventual decision.
  • Check out advice from the American Council on Education on good practices in tenure evaluation .
  • Schools must submit tenure dossiers to the University committee by February 1, and promotions not involving tenure by October 15. Thus departments must submit dossiers to school-level committees far enough in advance to allow ample school-level consideration before these deadlines.
  • There are provisions for "stopping the tenure clock" for probationary (untenured, tenure-track faculty member) because of parenting or other good reason. As detailed in the Faculty Handbook documentation should be submitted by the individual to the Provost's Office, through the chair and dean, as soon as possible.

Leaves and Retirement

  • Eligibility and process for Sabbatical Leaves are set out in section 3-E of the Faculty Handbook
  • Requests should be submitted by the individual, through the chair and dean, for consideration by the office of the Provost (or dean of USC College or the Keck School.) Some schools have additional opportunities for research leaves.
  • The Faculty Handbook documents provisions for unpaid Special Leaves and other special arrangements.
  • Documentation should be submitted by the individual, through the chair and dean, for consideration by the Provost's office.
  • Colleagues contemplating retirement should discuss arrangements with their deans. It is possible to arrange phased retirement over a one or two-year period, with pro rata compensation.
  • Helpful Information regarding retirement can be found at the Faculty Portal's Essential Guide on Planning for Retirement and at the USC Benefits website
  • There are also often opportunities to be recalled to service, post-retirement, for part-time research or teaching, and other ways for the retired colleague to remain an active member of the academic community. The Emeriti Center is available for advice.

Hiring and Managing Staff

Part of your job as a department chair is to hire staff and facilitate staff development. Remember that staff are employed by the University, not any indvidual faculty member. Policies on hiring, firing, and other matters must be followed to be fair, and to avoid legal problems.

Hiring and Employing Staff

  • Partner with your school's Human Resources specialist to learn your school's policies and procedures.
  • The USC website provides helpful information on policies for hiring staff, including:
    • Hiring
    • Non-Discrimination Policy
    • Obtaining and Providing Employment References
    • Pre-Employment Screening
    • Recruitment
    • Terms and Conditions of Employment
  • Also included are useful information on policies for staff employment, including:
    • Appropriate Attire and Appearance
    • Causes for Discipline
    • Guidelines for Discipline
    • Layoffs and Reorganizations
    • Performance Evaluations
    • Seniority
    • Staff Benefits
    • Terminations
  • It is helpful to understand the different classifications for staff, including:
  • Familiarize yourself with:
  • Employee Recruitment details information relevant to Hiring Managers that explains the university process as well as detailing the responsibilities of the hiring manager.
  • Letters and forms available online are used when hiring staff, include.

Managing Staff
It is your job to manage the staff who work for your department.

  • Pay attention to the morale of your staff and make sure that all staff members feel respected and appreciated for the work they do.
  • Make sure your staff understand their job duties. Regularly review their job descriptions (every year or two) to make sure they are accurate and update as necessary.
  • Every staff member undergoes a written Annual Performance Review. As a department head, you will be involved in the review process, particularly the review of your Departmental Administrative Coordinator. Make adequate time to have an in-depth discussion of the staff's strengths and challenges. Where there is a need for performance improvements, follow-up several times throughout the year to see how the employee is doing. Do not let 12 months go by before there is another discussion about the areas that need improvement.
    • Staff review may identify specific areas in which improvement of a staff member is recommended.
    • Staff members can often get better at their jobs by taking advantage of staff development programs offered through Professional Development. or ITS.
    • You can point your staff in the right direction when they have questions by pointing out the Administrative and Business Practices site on the USC website.
    • Do not send mixed messages with a critical performance review but then giving a full merit increase.
  • The Employee Workplace Policies document provides very helpful information about such issues as:
    • Leaves
    • Complaints
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Safety policies.
  • Chairs should understand the causes for disciplining staff
  • including:
    • Attendance
    • Breaches of Confidentiality
    • Conflicts of interest
    • Violations of computer policies
    • Harassment
    • Dishonesty
    • Drugs, alcohol, gambling
    • Violent behavior
    • Misappropriation
    • Policy violations
    • Safety violations.
  • You may not simply fire staff. Instead, you must follow the guidelines for discipline. Disciplinary actions should occur in a progressive sequence from:
    • Oral warnings
    • Written warnings
    • Disciplinary administrative leave
  • Work with your Human Resources specialist to create a plan of action
  • Keep written records of disciplinary problems (shared with your Dean's Office), noting the date of the infraction, what occurred, what you did and what happened as a result. If there is not a file of memos, or print-outs of email, an event you judge to be the last straw may appear to an outsider to be a first offense.
  • Chairs with questions regarding discipline should contact their units HR specialist or Personnel Services.
  • The dean's office can provide guidance and interface with the General Counsel, Personnel Services, and other University offices.

Faculty Governance

Becoming a department chair often means taking a larger view of the University and your role in it.

  • Understand the government of the University as detailed in section 2 of the Faculty Handbook.
  • .
  • Take some time to understand the key people who serve the University, such as the Provost, Vice Provosts, and the Associate Vice Provosts, and Academic Deans of the schools that comprise USC.
  • The Academic Senate is the representative body of the faculty. Resolutions from the senate can be found on their website.
  • You may also find it useful to understand the initiatives and announcements that the Provost issues to keep faculy informed.
  • You may also find it useful to understand the various University committees,
  • Department chairs should protect probationary (tenure-track) faculty from too much committee work or other service, but they must have a voice in governance.
  • It is the responsibility of the department chair to clarify that all full-time faculty are expected to be part of the governance of the University, All faculty should work cooperatively to solve University-related issues.

Career, Home and Family

The happiness of you and current and prospective colleagues is impacted by the home-life interface.

Networking and Support

Networking can make you and your faculty happier by providing support and career-building opportunities.

Legal Issues/Managing Risk

As a leader of your department, understand the potential risks you face and how you can minimize them.

Handling Complaints

According to C.K. Gunsalus, whom we quote below, there are ten key guidelines for handling complaints. But first we want to add two he didn't mention:
  • Consult the dean: Before you take that action or send that email, consult with your dean or dean of faculty. They may have dealt with similar issues before, and they may have the relevant policies at their fingertips.
  • Consult Office of Equity and Diversity: If what anyone tells you suggests there may have been discrimination, harassment, or retaliation, neither investigate it yourself nor ignore it, and instead call OED, at (213)740-5086.
  • Don't take it personally: Avoid the temptation to take complaints personally and become defensive. Find out what action the person making the complaint expects from you; perhaps listening is all that is required. Keep your demeanor calm and courteous.
  • Never act on only one side of the story: Many problems stem from differences in perceptions. As you collect information, keep your stance neutral and remind people you are gathering data in the face of a problem presented to you.
  • Nobody knows what "everybody knows": If someone tells you "everyone knows" something, it is a good idea to drill deeper into the facts of the case. Often, things that some believe are common knowledge have little basis in truth.
  • When in doubt, leave it out: If you are thinking better of making a statement or putting something in writing, don't do it. Emphasize facts and decisions, not opinions and motives.
  • Never attribute to malice that which incompetence will explain: Most bad things happen not through nefarious intent but through inattention, inaction, or miscommunication. Ask for clarification of facts, and repeat back what you have heard until you get it right.
  • Say what you'll do, and do what you say: Just as giving a screaming child a candy bar trains that child to yell for a treat, you can also train adults to behave inappropriately if you break the rules out of pressure or desire to have the problem solved. Let the person know the plan of action and its timeline, and stick to it.
  • In the absence of facts, people make them up: If you leave people hanging for a long period of time waiting for the next step or response, they will imagine the worst. Stick to your time schedule to alleviate this kind of worry.
  • Keep notes: Your notes can serve as everything from reminders of your action plan to facts required for a lawsuit. Only four things belong in notes: the date, who was present, the facts brought to you, and the action you promised. Leave speculation, analysis, and thoughts out.
  • Trust your instincts: If you have an anxious or fearful feeling about a situation, don't hesitate to call in someone else to help handle the situation properly with the appropriate boundaries. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance.
  • Some problems require formal process: It is possible that most of the problems brought to you will require only a calm ear to listen. However, some situations, like reprimands, discipline, and terminations, will require formal action. The more complex the problem, the more likely it will require a formal process. Acquaint yourself in advance with the resource people on your campus.
-- Ten guidelines quoted from Gunsalus, Basic Guidelines for Handling Complaints, Magna's Campus Legal Briefing © Copyright 2010 Magna Publications

Disclaimer: This guide is for information only and is intended as a helpful set of links to the Faculty Handbook and other University Policies. It does not constitute official University policy, nor do linked pages, except for the Faculty Handbook and the Policies web page. Send suggestions for additional resources you would like to see listed to the Office of Faculty Affairs.