Department Chair Duties: What to Do When Feeling Overwhelmed
Many of the questions the FA receives from faculty involve Department Chair duties. Specifically, many chairs report being frustrated or even overwhelmed by additional duties they face that are not expressly detailed in the FA Contract.
As a Chair, what duties am I required to perform?
To start with, it’s important to recognize that each department is unique, and in order to function smoothly, Chair duties are not entirely consistent from one department to the next.
A list of Chair functions can be found in Article E.1.0 of the FA contract, yet the questions we receive typically focus on duties not expressly listed in the contract but that are instead referenced in the contract through a broad description of chair responsibilities. That passage reads as follows: “The primary responsibilities of department chairs are to work collegially to ensure and facilitate the effective, efficient operation of the department, and to serve as liaison with the administration.” This broad statement, which first appeared in Board Policies and Procedures years before the contract was developed, was undoubtedly included along with a more general list of functions to address the broad variety of department functions at MCC.
It’s also important to recognize that our contract limits the work assigned by designating that it should be possible for faculty to complete our weekly duties over the course of 40 hours per week (excluding any work related to overload). Granted, many of us donate additional hours in order to provide our students and colleagues with the best we have to offer, but the general idea is that you should not feel absolutely compelled to work more than 40 hours per week on a consistent basis. The number of those weekly hours performed to address Chair duties varies in accordance to the reassigned time one receives. If a Chair is asked to take on duties that consistently require more time than your department Chair reassigned time provides, then it’s probably time to consider your options.
However, before taking any action, it is important to be sure you are correctly calculating the hours your reassigned time provides, and that you are keeping track of the amount of time you are actually spending on Chair duties. This means you’ll need to start keeping track of the hours you put in as Chair, and you’ll need to translate your reassigned time figure into actual hours.
For example, let’s say you receive .40 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) of reassigned time as a chair. This means you are being reassigned from 40% of all of your duties as a faculty member—that is, you are being reassigned from 16 of the 40 hours you are expected to perform during a typical work week. Keep in mind this does not mean we are hourly employees and that any time we spend working over 40 hours a week should result in extra compensation. Nor does it mean that a faculty member should be docked pay when a light work week occurs in which we perform less than 40 hours of work. (OK, we all know that doesn’t happen, but it is theoretically possible.)
The bottom line is we are salaried professionals (not hourly employees) whose work hours vary as a result of the nature of our jobs. It is doubtful that any of us are eager to start punching a time card, and therefore it is not in our interest to focus too much attention on the total hours of work we perform each week. The exception to this occurs when (a) we are being asked to perform additional functions not listed in the contract on a consistent basis and (b) those functions result in a work week that far exceeds 40 hours on a consistent basis. This principle is particularly relevant to Chairs who are often asked to perform duties, but it applies equally to non-chairs asked to perform duties.
Before concluding that you are working too many hours on a consistent basis, it would be helpful to keep a rough log of your weekly work hours—especially those hours required to take care of any special tasks you have been asked to perform. Also, if you are performing overload, then be sure that you do NOT include those in your calculation of your weekly work week.
So I’ve paid careful attention to the hours I’m putting in, and it’s clear I’m being asked to work far more than 40 hours a week. This is clearly the result of additional tasks administration has asked me to perform. What options do I have?
Your first course of action should be to discuss the matter with your dean and seek out a way to either reduce your responsibilities or gain additional compensation/reassigned time through the work authorization review process. If you are unfamiliar with these options and would like to discuss them before approaching your dean, feel free to contact Brad Byrom (firstname.lastname@example.org) for assistance.
If your dean is unwilling to address the issue, your next step would be to request that the FA intervene. There are a number of things we could do, ranging from requesting that higher level administrators intercede, to filing a grievance or unfair labor practice complaint. In general, we recognize that Chairs need healthy, long-term professional relationships with their deans, so any course of action along these lines would include avoiding any major rift between chairs and deans.
The FA is intent on maintaining a collegial environment at MiraCosta, and so far our involvement in issues like this has not resulted in any major clashes between faculty and administrators. We hope to keep it that way while also standing strong for the rights of our members.