An exploration of academic department chairs in British Columbia public colleges

Date created: 
BC public college
Academic department chair
Professional bureaucracy
Role conflict
Role ambiguity
Role overload

The overriding goal of this mixed method study was to contribute to the relatively small documented body of literature on BC public college chairs by providing a descriptive account of the chair position and chair people from the perspective of the people performing the chair role and from an analysis of college documents and faculty collective agreements. The specific purposes were: 1) to gain an understanding of the position of academic department chair; 2) to gain an understanding of the people who perform the role of academic department chair in BC public colleges; 3) to identify and describe the challenges and successes experienced by chairs in BC public colleges; and 4) to explore strategies to improve the position of chair in BC public colleges. Publicly-available government policy documentation, chair job descriptions, and faculty collective agreements of all 11 BC public colleges were analyzed. In addition, all 11 public colleges were invited to participate in an online survey consisting of 76 fixed-format and open-ended questions. Ten colleges participated with a response rate of 53.4%, representing 125 chairs of the 234 chairs serving at the 10 colleges. Survey responses were analyzed applying Kahn’s et al. (1964) Organizational Role theory and Mintzberg’s (1979) theory of Professional Bureaucracy as a theoretical framework. Four main conclusions, each one corresponding to each of the four main purposes, emerged from the study: 1) the chair position in BC public colleges is a joint faculty and administration temporary position, assigned with multiple tasks and roles that guide the chair person in serving students and faculty; 2) BC public college chair people are leaders with no official authority who are guided more by altruistic motives rather than by self-serving financial motives and/or career ambitions; 3) the inherent nature of the chair’s dual role and the professional bureaucratic nature of post-secondary educational institutions prevent the elimination of all role conflict experienced by BC public college chairs but it is possible to reduce or eliminate four of the six types of role conflict; 4) strategies to improve BC public colleges’ chair position include a reduction in chairs’ work load, a plan to improve communication and educate members in the chair’s role-set about both the dual role of the chair position and the professional bureaucratic nature of public colleges.

Document type: 
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes. Copyright remains with the author.
Senior supervisor: 
Michelle Pidgeon
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Dissertation) Ed.D.