“Not All Chairs are Boring”

I feel like every other entry on this blog begins with a variation of “I’ve been very busy lately” but this one ends the sentence differently: “I’ve been very busy lately with stuff I couldn’t talk about.” Around the middle of May, the chips fell and it became clear that I was to be the next department chair.

With the exception of the trip to Saskatoon and the visit of the mothers-in-law, the last few weeks have been occupied with wrapping up my slightly forshortened term as graduate director, negotiations with the dean — well, actually the negotiations were pretty quick, it was doing my homework before that took some time, and then getting ready to take on the position. Thursday I had a six-hour meeting with the outgoing chair to get briefed on all aspects of departmental life. Today, I held a staff meeting, handed off my grad director dossier off to my successor, and even started a couple (small) initiatives of my own.

Instead of one big announcement, there have been lots of little ones, mostly because the turnover happened later than usual for a variety of reasons. Technically, the appointment isn’t yet official (until then I am “acting”), though it’s all formalities at this point, and the changeover had to happen when it did. Tonight, anyone in my department who didn’t know got an email telling them, and so now I can also tell you, gentle readers.

If you’re wondering what an associate professor is doing running a department, you’re not the first to ask me about it. Yet it is fairly common practice around McGill, and apparently elsewhere too. At least two of my own mentors — Richard Leppert and John Lie — chaired their departments immediately after getting tenure. By comparison, I’ve had a little while to figure things out. It is also not unusual at McGill for one half of an academic couple to run a department in which the other partner works, so there are procedures in place for that as well.

As to my own ambitions, they are not administrative, but I do firmly believe that all who are able should take their turn, and so it is mine. Right now, my administrative days are pretty intense and the learning curve is steep. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know just a few weeks ago.

I’m not sure what kind of chair I’ll be, but I have a few ideas. Like the blog says, “not all chairs are boring.”

But don’t expect much departmental gossip in this column. The administrative aspect of my life must remain, of necessity, backstage.

7 replies on ““Not All Chairs are Boring””

  1. congrats (and condolences) on the new position. I think you’ll do great. Just remember to protect your writing time. Is this for a set period of time or open ended?

    (from a former Assoc Prof dept chair).

  2. As one of the mothers-in-law referred to, I’d also like to offer my congratulations on your new position at McGill. I know you’ll do a fine job! Love, Kay.

  3. Thanks for all the good wishes. Greg — the term is 3 years. Then Carrie and I go on sabbatical together. My research and teaching will both doubtlessly take a hit: I’ve already taught a reduced load as grad director and that will continue. And the first year, especially, will be pretty intense. Indeed, this week has been intense. But tomorrow and Friday I’m writing.

  4. I’ll add to the chorus of congratulations, and say, just remember to protect your fun times! that’s a lot of time that you have to protect. Luckily you seem to find teaching, writing, and beaureacratin’ all somewhat fun. But still, it is always good to do some things that are not any of those three.

    and remember to be snarky sometimes.

    You will make a wonderful chair because you gave me such great advice about how to deal with my department.


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