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Thriving in the midst of liminality: perspectives from department chairs in the USA

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Abstract

The chair position is essential for implementing progressive changes in higher education institutions. However, the position has been unattractive to many faculties due to its ambiguity and the limited training chairs receive prior to assuming the office. Chairs must balance the dual responsibilities of managing faculty and student affairs who they support and evaluate as they implement the mandates from higher administration. Similarly, they shuttle between their managerial roles and faculty roles while balancing work-life demands. Hence, the purpose of this paper was to explore the managerial approaches of chairs in the USA who were serving in departments in the field of educational leadership to learn how they balance their various responsibilities. Fifteen chairs who are members of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) were interviewed for this study. The theory of liminality was used to understand how chairs serve and manage multiple dimensions of their role and beyond. Overall, the performance of chairs in the study was enhanced by four themes including (a) managing the molecule, (b) people work vs. paperwork, (c) leadership qualities enhance performance, and (d) possessing academic seniority. Based on the findings, we recommend three major support areas for chairs that include providing mentorship opportunities for chairs, advancing leadership role models for chairs, and initiating formal trainings for leadership development.

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Acknowledgments

We, Drs. Sydney Freeman, Jr. and Ibrahim M. Karkouti would like to dedicate this manuscript in the memory of Dr. Kelly Ward (posthomonously) due to her untimely passing during the development of this manuscript. We would like to thank her husband Gene Solomon for giving us persmission to continue this manuscript to completion. We would also like to thank the editors and reviewers for their feedback as their suggestions have made the article stronger. Lastly, we would like to thank Dr. Linda Sierra Hagedorn for her critical and substantive feedback on revisions of this manuscript.

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Freeman, S., Karkouti, I.M. & Ward, K. Thriving in the midst of liminality: perspectives from department chairs in the USA. High Educ 80, 895–911 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00521-6

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