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CS-specific chair responsibilities (part of a letter to the incoming chair)

In my recent end-of-semester debriefing session, I decided that I should try to have documentation in place for my successor as chair by early June. I write enough that I expect it will take me a dozen or so essays to cover everything. I’ve already written a draft introduction and a list of common chair responsibilities. This musing serves as the second non-introductory section of the letter and provides the tasks and responsibilities that seem specific to CS, or at least not to all departments. I expect I’ll need to write a follow-up musing at some point when I remember other responsibilities.

As you well know, we are not the typical Grinnell department. We seem to have added a variety of other departmental responsibilities. While you need not carry out all these responsibilities, you are responsible for making sure that they get carried out.

Supervise staff

Yes, that’s right, we now have department staff: a half-time Peer-Education Coordinator and a full-time Linux System Administrator [1]. It is partially the Chair’s responsibility to supervise those staff.

Although David Lopatto of the CTLA is the nominal supervisor of our Peer Education Coordinator, you will do the day-to-day supervision. Our PEC is good at asking questions. Sometimes you get to serve as her stand-in when we need to be a bit harsher with the peer educators.

I’m not sure whether you will have any supervisory responsibilities for the Linux SysAdmin. You will likely have to negotiate that issue a bit with David Robinson. No matter what, I expect that there will be times that you need to serve as the department’s voice in guiding the SysAdmin.

You are also expected to provide feedback on the Administrative Support Assistants at least once a year. Expect email from Angie in early spring.

Read peer-educator reports

Our Peer-Education Coordinator has primary responsibility for reading the regular reports from our peer educators. However, I have found it useful to quickly skim those reports and comment in ways that she may not be able to comment. You should encourage our Peer-Education Coordinator to forward comments from the evening tutors to faculty, when appropriate.

Manage the Web site

John Stone has been the primary manager of the Web site, but we’ve shared a lot of the work. It’s not clear what the future of our Web sites will be but the Chair (or a delegate) should make sure that the various portions (e.g., lists of graduates, links to current courses, news items) are kept up to date. I discuss the Web site more in the next major section.

Coordinate with student groups

We have a variety of student groups officially or unofficially associated with the department. These include AppDev, a VR club, a forthcoming hack-a-thon club, the Student Chapter of the ACM, a group of students who do outreach to the community, and the Gadfly team. At times, these groups need faculty supervision, faculty guidance, department funds, or a combination thereof.

PM has taken on supervision of the Student Chapter of the ACM. Sarah is in charge of outreach (or should be; we’re still working on clarifying her responsibilities). We may end up with some confusion there, because there’s some talk of having the ACM chapter coordinate the outreach.

In any case, you will find it valuable to keep track of the groups and what our relationship with those groups is.

Check on CS extras

As you know, CS Extras is our name for our weekly seminar series. Some member of the department needs to be in charge of keeping track of the extras, arranging advertising, recruiting speakers, catering, and so on and so forth. That person should not be the chair. John Stone has done it for the past few years but will be on leave next year. In addition to convincing one of us to take on that role, you’ll need to check in to make sure that we are on top of things. (Most of us are busy enough that we usually let some things drop.)

We spent some time this year discussing the timing of CS Extras. 4:15 p.m. on Thursdays works well for the faculty and for many students, but does not work well for athletes during season. Unfortunately, we could not come up with another time that was likely to be available to large numbers of students and faculty and provided an opportunity for pre-talk socialization. It’s an issue worth revisiting every few years.

Check on CS table

As you know, we hold a weekly discussion group of papers and such that we call CS Table. As in the case of CS Extras, the Chair usually does not coordinate CS table. However, the Chair may need to make sure that the coordinators send out notices. The Chair also helps handle room reservations (normally through the ASA).

This year, we over-filled the PDR we used, which is the largest of the PDRs. I have asked for permission to use the Whale Room. I’m still waiting for a response.

Advise on study abroad opportunities

[This responsibility will move to another section.]

Someone in the department needs to be available to talk to students about the various CS-related study-abroad options and, more generally, about how to fit a study-abroad opportunity into their four-year plan. While we all can provide some advice, we usually have one designated go to person to resolve particular questions and to serve as the representative of the various programs. If I recall correctly, you agreed to take on this responsibility whether or not you are chair.

Make department posters

We have a few informative posters about the department that need to get updated somewhat regularly. The Current Faculty poster should get updated at the beginning of each year. Some scattered posters about our curriculum can get updated less frequently. The Chair usually coordinates these with the ASA.

Manage mailing lists

The department has a variety of mailing lists. Let’s see if I can remember them all.

  • csstudents is a mailing list for our majors and any students (and some non-students) who want to hear about goings-on in the department.
  • csfaculty is a mailing list for the faculty in the department.
  • cs-summer is a mailing list for folks around during the summer, intended to help restrict announcements of summer activities to those who will care about them.
  • women-in-computing is a mailing list for our WinC group.
  • cs-alumni is a mailing list for our alumni. It is currently in hibernation.
  • cs-peer-educators is a mailing list for our peer educators. It is currently in hibernation, but we might offer to reactivate it if Sarah thinks it would be useful.
  • cs-evening-tutors is a subset of the prior mailing list for our evening tutors. The same comments apply.

Our ASAs can manage the lists, but I’ve tended to take on some of the management responsibilities. Students find it easier to ask me to add them, I’m picky about how entries appear, and I can also make sure to offer the opportunity to join women-in-computing for students who ask to join csstudents and appear to self-identify as women. I’m happy to continue in that role.

As Chair, you will also receive a variety of notices from external entities. Students are likely to find it useful if you forward appropriate messages to the list.

The CSC 322 students have created a mail archive system for the primary csstudents mailing list. You can consider whether or not we should use that.

The CSC 322 students have also created a job board for the job-related postings that appear in the list. You can send jobs to me to post. We should also encourage posters to send the jobs to CLS.

Keep information boards up to date

Henry created information boards and shelves for information on internships, jobs, study abroad opportunities, graduate schools, and such. Henry hired a department assistant to keep those up to date.
(I believe Angie Story has funds for such assistants.) I have been negligent in keeping up on that task, but you are organized enough that you should consider restarting the practice.

Help coordinate picnics

The department holds two picnics each year in conjunction with the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Although another member of the department will typically take on the role of picnic coordinator, you will still have to answer a variety of questions from the ASAs and will likely be on the mail chains.

Coordinate the senior lunch

[This responsibility will move to another section.]

We have a senior lunch on the Monday of finals week. Our tradition is to hold it at Relish. We need to reserve Relish, gather orders from students and faculty, remind students and faculty who have not ordered, and so on and so forth.

I originated the senior lunch and have coordinated it each year. I am happy to continue to do so. However, it may be nice to have you give one of the speeches at that lunch.

Coordinate the senior breakfast

We hold a breakfast for seniors and their families on the day of graduation. You work with our ASA to make sure that students and their families are notified, that we get extra tables, that we order food, and so on and so forth. We can no longer afford to cater through College catering, so you will need to look for alternatives. I self-catered it this year and will do so again if necessary. However, I am told that HyVee caters at a reasonable rate, so you may also want to look into that.

Note that some of our students receive enough email that they do not bother to read the email from our ASA. As Chair, you should send a follow-up message to each student who has not replied to see whether or not they plan to attend the breakfast.

At the end of the senior breakfast (i.e., at 9:00 a.m.) we have the annual department photograph. We typically hire the wonderful Jennifer Weinman as our photographer. If she is not available, you will have to find someone else.

Manage photographs of majors

Once we’ve taken the photographs, we need to print them, frame them, and add them to the collection. Henry has generally done this, but I expect that he would like to pass on the task. I would suggest that we give up the model of centering the photographs and move to a model in which we go all the way across on one row and then move on to the next row. But we can discuss it as a department.

Solicit student artworks

We also have very talented students. Student-created artworks make our department more welcoming and more interesting. Toward the end of the year, we usually ask students to consider donating a work of art. We pay for the cost of framing.

Represent the department with CRA

We are departmental members of CRA. That means that you get regular email messages from CRA. You should forward along information, as appropriate. You should vote in the CRA elections. Beyond that, you don’t have many responsibilities.

Participate in professional surveys

The Department participates in at least two annual surveys, the ACM NDC Survey and the Data Buddies survey. For the former, you have to gather demographic data on our students and ask Jim Mulholland to gather faculty salary data. I suppose you could ask OASIR to gather the demographic data; you’re better at delegating than I am. For the latter, you have to bug students to fill out a survey (or bug faculty to bug their students to fill out a survey).

Coordinate Tapia and GHC

[This responsibility will move to another section.]

The department helps support our students from underrepresented groups by supporting trips to the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and MINK-WiC, our regional GHC. One member of our department (formerly Janet, currently me) deals with the various issues associated with these conferences, including working with the ASAs to purchase memberships, reserve hotel rooms, and make transportation arrangements; holding a competitive application process for our scholarships; raising funds to support these costs; and creating a post-conference report for our funding organizations.

We currently gather funds from the following sources: the HHMI grant (now expired), the Wilson Center, the Chief Diversity Officer, and our own Diversity Fund.

Manage the Pledge of the Computing Professional

[This responsibility will move to another section.]

We are the cadr of the linked list of nodes that constitute the Iowa branch of the Pledge of the Computing Professional. We hold one induction ceremony each year. In preparation for that ceremony, we need to purchase pins, verify that we have enough stoles, and print certificates.

We had some recent discussions about the Pledge and are still trying to find ways to make sure that our students understand that it is important to sign up in advance.

Plan for affinity reunion

We had a successful affinity reunion this past fall. We should try to make it a quinquennial celebration, if DAR is willing. I hear from students that the career fair was particularly successful and that they would like to see similar opportunities in the future.

Coordinate with CLS

The CS department has a closer relationship with CLS than most departments. We have a few employers, such as Google, who send folks to recruit each year. We try to schedule those recruitment sessions during Thursday extras. CLS is also helpful for sending our students to a variety of off-campus programs, such as the grad student visit days at UIowa. The Chair serves as the primary liaison with CLS.

Coordinate with other related initiatives on campus

Grinnell is an active place. There are many initiatives and activities that touch on our department. The Chair needs to keep track of these initiatives and activities and make sure that the department is appropriately represented in discussions.

Here are some of the current initiatives that strike me as having a direct bearing on our department.

  • The new Statistics concentration. Our courses form part of one track through the concentration, and it’s a track that many students seem to want to pursue.
  • The Carver-funded Data Science initiative. CS plays an important role in data science. We are revising CSC 151 to have more of a data science focus and have a commitment to covering Machine Learning somewhere in the curriculum.
  • The Digital Liberal Arts initiative and its offshoots, like Vivero. These activities often draw upon our expertise and employ our students. I hear from many of our students that they particularly appreciate seeing these very different applications of computing.
  • The Web Governance task force. I’ll admit that I’m not sure what they are doing, but we should stay informed.
  • Data governance. The College is finally putting in some structures for better data governance. We should share our expertise. David Robinson says that we are early in the process. You should remind him that we have useful perspectives to share.
  • High-performance computing group. There’s an HPC group on campus along with an affiliated cluster. We don’t make use of that cluster right now, but some members of the department might find it useful.
  • The Wilson Center for Leadership and Innovation. Wilson helps fund many activities for our majors and related to our major. It is helpful if we keep close ties to Wilson. I’m serving on the Wilson Committee for another two years, which should help. We also have some majors on the Wilson Committee.
  • The Media Studies group. I’m not sure if we need a role in this group, but some members of the department are interested.
  • The Technology Studies concentration. Janet and I have both served as chair of the concentration and taught the core course. It is likely that the CS department will continue to have some role. However, the concentration is attempting to re-envision itself. (They haven’t settled on a name. For the time being, I’m calling the new version History, Philosophy, and Social Science of Science, Technology, and Health.) When the new version appears, it is unlikely that we will be able to staff the new intro course.
  • The Linguistics concentration. When we hired you, we committed to having John teach the introductory course once every three years. We intend to continue to honor that commitment.
  • The Neuroscience concentration. You’ve served as chair. I’m not sure what our other relationships with that concentration are. With [elided] on leave in 2017-18 and [elided] moving to the Dean’s office, you may be called on to take more responsibility in that concentration.

There are almost certainly others.

Gather, analyze, and keep track of data

Particularly as we try to understand the state of the department, you should gather data related to the department. You will receive some data automatically. You can request some from OASIR. And you’ll have to generate some yourself. There are enough data sources that I address those in a separate section of this letter.

And more

That’s more than enough for now. I’m sure that I’ll come up with others as I write the remaining sections of this letter.

[1] Well, I hope we’ll have a Linux System administrator.

Version 1.0.2 of 2017-05-28.