Today starts my second year as department chair here at Northwestern. Year 1 overall verdict: Not bad. I would even go so far as to say I have mostly enjoyed it, and that it’s certainly been a good occasion for personal growth.
Fact of the matter, though, I feel like I’ve had it easy so far. Everyone, please, find some wood and knock on it. Good staff and good resources certainly help here–and are greatly appreciated–but the biggest boon has been:
Stone-cold sane and community-spirited colleagues. Fully professional, serious scholars, and genuinely nice.
Truth be told, I did not know most of my colleagues very well when I started as chair–I’d only been here two years; I’m pretty introverted when I don’t have a computer screen or Pinot Grigio in front of me; and my own substantive/methodological interests put me more toward the departmental outskirts.
A year in, I’ve gotten to know colleagues a good deal better through being chair, and the result–hand to God, in every single case–has been liking and appreciating them more for it.
Something folks say over and over about being chair: You learn things about your colleagues you wish you did not know. I’ll confess a lurid side of me was a little curious as to just what these things would turn out to be. I am still waiting. Plenty of current/former chairs in other departments and universities have absolutely hilarious stories about how crazy or lazy or frustrating folks they had to deal with are. I have none.
Who knows? Maybe wackiness and unfortunate events are just around the bend and everything will go to hell, etc., but so far, so good, and the folks in my department give me every reason to be optimistic that my good fortune will continue.
As it is, the only time being chair provokes regret is like in the Wile E. Coyote cartoon, when the coyote runs off the cliff but only actually falls when he looks down: like that, only looking down in this case is stopping to reflect on other things that I’m not getting done as a result of time spent on chair duties. I’ve not done that well with the key skill of those who manage to be super-productive researchers while chair, which is strongly disciplined cognitive compartmentalization. Maybe I’ll do better in Year 2.