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A week in the life of a chair

As I think most of my readers know, I currently serve as chair of the Computer Science department at Grinnell College [1]. Being chair adds a variety of interesting responsibilities to my life. Here are some of the things I did as chair this week.

One of my faculty members had to deal with a team of students in their class in which the students were inappropriately insulting their teammates. I discussed the issue with the faculty member and with the class mentor and made some recommendations.

Some of the more juvenile students on Noyce 3rd found it appropriate to deface announcements from a student group. I tried to find ways to address the issue, and also discussed the issue with administrators [2].

I announced our upcoming election to the department [3].

I planned our weekly department meeting. I realize that not every department has a weekly department meeting, but in Computer Science we’ve found them quite useful as a chance to build community, to check in on classes, and to discuss a variety of issues. This week, we primarily discussed our normal topics, but also considered issues pertaining to MathLAN.

I ran that department meeting. Running our department meetings is both easy and hard. We are a cooperative department, but we also like to talk a lot about a lot of things, so sometimes go off topic. I think it’s important for us to talk, but I also want to get most things done. I also took notes for that meeting [4].

I was going to say that I didn’t have to deal with any personnel issues, but that’s not true: I communicated with the Dean about a search and issues pertaining to that search.

I checked with Student Affairs about housing for summer students [5].

I forwarded a variety of interesting opportunities to students in the department [6].

I made a few updates to the departmental mailing lists [7].

We’re in the midst of setting schedules for next year. I communicated with the Registrar’s office about a variety of issues: They sent me questions on room choices and on course descriptions, I both replied to those messages and also sent them an update on room preferences for one of our classes. I also ended up talking to a colleague about the appropriate time structure for his course [8].

I sat in on two days of a colleague’s class [9,10]. I still need to write up my notes on those class visits.

I dealt with two separate confusions having to do with our peer educators. While our Peer Education Coordinator is absolutely awesome, there were still reasons for me to send some followup comments as chair, not least that some of the issues needed someone to be a bit less nice, and I fit more readily into the bad cop role.

I checked with Student Affairs and the Dean’s office about how, as an institution, we are dealing with international students who are not readily able to leave the country [11].

I did a variety of tasks related to our summer research program, including checking on when we will hear about funding, putting together a spreadsheet of applicants, initiating conversations among the department faculty, communicating with faculty in other departments with common applicants, and some other things I’ve now forgotten.

I worked with the Grants office on some potential grants.

I tried to extract information from our Registrar about the current status of our Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Iowa on the new 4+1 BA+MCS program [12,14].

I worked with a colleague on an academic honesty issue. We still have more discussions to go on that.

I met with our Student Educational Policy Committee to discuss their handbook and our normal business, particularly how various classes in the department are going.

I discussed alternative plans for the ISU Hack-a-thon (on the phone, via email, and via text).

I chatted for awhile with a colleague about various curricular issues, particularly forms of group work in the department and what topics we should be covering in various courses. I think we need a department retreat this summer to discuss these issues together and with our new colleague.

I communicated with a few students about department policies and offerings. For example, one student wanted to know our policies on whether Physics majors can skip CSC 151 [15] and has set up a followup meeting.

Most of those activities stem from my role as department chair. There were also a few activities that seem to cross over between my role as chair and my other roles within the department [17].

I talked to a student or two about study abroad options [18].

I advised a few students who are not my academic advisees about the new 4+1/U2G joint program with the University of Iowa.

I dealt with academic honesty issues pertaining to our introductory course [19].

I sat in on a meeting of the Grinnell Women in Computing Group. The group is open to anyone who wants to attend, and I thought it would be useful to hear what kinds of things they were discussing. The students seemed relatively happy to have me there [20].

I reminded a variety of students to apply for conference scholarships.

Of course, I also have my normal faculty responsibilities. In addition to teaching, class preparation, grading, helping students with problems in person and via email, and other such activities, I had other things to do.

I met with a few students individually to discuss their performance on a recent exam.

I communicated with Student affairs about students in difficulty. Grinnell’s Academic Progress Report system should let us stay on top of such issues, and intervene early. But it only works if faculty fill out the APRs, and so I do my best to fill them out in a timely manner.

I interviewed a variety of students who were applying for summer research.

I wrote a few recommendation letters.

I did a variety of service for my professional organization, including some conference meta-reviews and some regular maintenance of the email list.

I attended a few meetings and dealt with other committee business via email.

Doesn’t the variety of work sound fun? I’m pretty sure that I’ve missed some things. This week was more-or-less typical in terms of overall workload, although the particular chair tasks differ from week to week. I didn’t have any large memos to write this week; I’ll probably have some in the coming weeks. One nice thing about being chair: It exercises a wide variety of skills.

[1] My successor was elected this past week, so I only have about six months to go.

[2] Unfortunately, my attempt to pass the buck, as it were, was unsuccessful.

[3] See above for the results of that election.

[4] While it may seem strange for the person running the meeting to take the notes, experience suggests that I am better than most at being able to write, speak, and think simultaneously.

[5] The College is moving three of the houses that I think normally house summer students. I thought it appropriate to check now whether or not we had other plans. It sounds like we do.

[6] Just call me SpamR.

[7] I suppose that I could dump this responsibility on someone else, such as the ASAs. But it seems to get done more promptly when I do it. I should still pass on this responsibility in most cases.

[8] The courses in our introductory sequence have traditionally met for four fifty-minute blocks per week. The revised scheduling guidelines from a few years ago make that model more difficult. The Registrar has suggested that we follow the lead of Mathematics and Statistics, and move to three eighty-minute blocks per week. We will make that transition in CSC 151 next year. We are discussing whether a similar transition may be appropriate for CSC 161 and CSC 207.

[9] I was supposed to sit in on three days, but the third day didn’t make it into my calendar, and I missed it.

[10] Arguably, those class visitations were intended for a concentration, rather than for my department, but it’s close enough to make no difference.

[11] I wish that I could say that I got a clear answer. However, folks are still trying to figure out what to do.

[12] Tried to extract information suggests that I have difficulty dealing with our Registrar. That’s not really true; I find him helpful and cooperative and communicative in most cases. I just haven’t heard much about the MOU lately, and my colleagues at UIowa keep asking about status.

[14] The University of Iowa wants us to call it the U2G program. I prefer 4+1.

[15] Our policy is that declared Physics majors entering the fourth semester or later may register for CSC 161 without taking CSC 151 [16].

[16] We have asked the Registrar’s office for a way to formalize the policy so that it’s easily accessible to students. Unfortunately, it appears that they don’t have a clear mechanism.

[17] Some of the above may, too.

[18] I think Jerod is officially our study-abroad coordinator, but he’s studying abroad, so the role falls to me as chair or as an old tenured faculty member or something.

[19] Since I teach one section, there’s some crossover between my role as chair and my role as professor.

[20] A few students had fun making fun of my Pebble watch which, for some reason or other, they decided to call a Pebbie.

Version 1.0.1 of 2017-02-28.