In Spring 2007, Dean Tooley requested that an advisory committee of the faculty be formed to review our Department Chair's Handbook. Knox had recently revised their guide for department chairs, with the support of a FACE grant, and had offered to share it with other ACM schools for adaptation. (See the preface to Knox's handbook, attached as an appendix.) The three of us took on the charge, and found that Knox's new handbook would indeed be a good starting point. Using the Knox handbook as a base, we revised it to bring it into line with Cornell's policies and practices.

We appreciated in particular that Knox's handbook is a "peer-to-peer" guide rather than a top-down statement of rules and regulations. It goes beyond policy statements to acknowledge and advise on the broad complex of tasks and issues involved in chairing a department. This handbook is a guide, and not legislation, so we have attempted to refer to legislation, institutional policy, and forms rather than duplicating those here, where appropriate.  However, many procedures and expectations at Cornell are not documented formally elsewhere. While we envisioned a new department chair as our ideal reader, we also tried to make this handbook a useful and quick reference for more experienced chairs. 

As the three of us worked on this project, we were sometimes startled to learn how differently our departments operate.  New chairs often have only their department members to rely upon for information about chairing, and even experienced chairs may have had rare occasion to discuss chairing outside their own departments. This handbook tries to take such differences across departments into account, so readers may encounter procedures that may not have been used in their own departments. We hope that this handbook may open discussion among chairs regarding best practices.

We wish to thank the Office of Academic Affairs and the Committee on Administration for vetting drafts. We received particularly invaluable help from Ann Opatz. We also wish to thank the committee at Knox for allowing us to adapt their work to our institutional context.

Finally, we recognize that this handbook omits information on at least one subject that is critical for department chairs to have-namely, budgeting and ordering procedures. These are in flux due to the new administrative software, but this section will be incorporated once those procedures are finalized and the capabilities of the software are fully realized. Undoubtedly, other sections (such as the section on bidding) will need to be revised as well.

We welcome any feedback on this handbook and suggestions for future revisions. Please direct comments to the Office of Academic Affairs. 

Michelle Mouton, Tony Plaut, and Cindy Strong
Advisory Committee on the Cornell College Guide for Department Chairs
October, 2009