Department head vacancies causing faculty members to step up

Clare Lowther

Someone had to do the job.

John Moore, who formerly coordinated programs within the middle grades and secondary education program, decided to step up.

He is one of about nine faculty members on campus who have made the transition from faculty member to interim department head in order to keep their departments afloat.

“The work has to be done,” said Moore, now the interim department head for middle grades and secondary education. “Very few people have the passion to do it… I want to make this program one of the best in the country.”

Departments currently looking for permanent leaders include chemistry, physics, engineering, elementary education, middle grades and secondary education, and public health. Three of those openings are within Ogden College alone.

Some positions have been vacant for over a year.

Provost Barbara Burch said the university is doing an unprecedented number of searches for department heads right now, but so far it has been unable to find the right person for every position.

“It’s a tough marketplace,” Burch said. “The number of people searching in higher education versus the number of people searching for jobs doesn’t match up. We are very, very fortunate in most instances to have exceptional faculty … with leadership and commitment and willingness to take on the department head positions until we can move on to the search process. “

Burch credits the openings within the departments to budget constraints and faculty members moving into optional retirement.

Optional retirement allows faculty who have accumulated 27 or more years of work to retire, then be rehired by the university on a part-time basis, while at the same time receiving retirement benefits. Under this plan, faculty can continue to work for the university for up to five years.

“The advantage of (optional retirement) to the university is that we don’t lose the wealth of experience those faculty members have,” said John Petersen, associate vice president for Academic Affairs. “It is beneficial to faculty because it allows them to transition into retirement.”

Others attribute the high turnover rate to career mobility and high amounts of stress as a result of the position.

“Department heads are often an individual who is very mobile in their career and, quite frankly, after five to 10 years, they’re ready to move on,” said David Dunn, dean of the College of Health and Human Services. “It’s a fairly high burnout rate.”

Moore said the job comes with additional responsibilities. He normally works 10-hour days examining his department’s budget, recruits new faculty and oversees faculty evaluations.

Robert Jefferson, dean of Gordon Ford College of Business, agreed that burnout can cause department heads to leave.

“People generally serve three to five years,” Jefferson said. “I’ve been here seven years, and within that time there have been changes in four of the six (departments).”

Jefferson added that department heads tend to be faculty leaders who are attractive to other universities and are sometimes given job opportunities they cannot pass up.

Some department heads like Charles McGruder, who served as head of physics and astronomy, leave in order to concentrate on other things.

“(The job) involves an enormous amount of administrative work, and I found it impossible to complete other things,” McGruder said.

McGruder left his position at the beginning of this semester to focus his energies on a research position.

Peterson credited the openings in the College of Education, at least, to reorganizations which created new positions.

“We should have everything stabilized as soon as possible,” Peterson said.

To fill the open positions, departments have been advertising nationwide for candidates. Search committees within each department select from a pool of applicants and make recommendations to their dean. The dean will then review the recommendations and pass those on to Burch and President Gary Ransdell.

“We’re looking for a candidate who has an academic background within the department for which their applying, a person with previous experience in administration, a person with leadership experience and an individual who gets along well with others and interacts well with faculty,” Dunn said.

Moore said that despite the heavy workload, he enjoys the job and is interested in becoming the permanent department head.

“I’m concerned about keeping this program alive and well,” Moore said.

Herald reporter Abbey brown contributed to this story.

Reach Clare Lowther at [email protected]