Guide for Department Chairs

A word used in the feminine gender shall include both genders and vice-versa. Words such as chair shall designate the person, male or female, in the indicated position or role. These interpretations shall be deemed to apply in their necessary grammatical forms and usages.
Foreword by the Vice-President Academic and Provost

Dear colleagues,

Let me begin by thanking you on behalf of the University of Ottawa for taking on your new leadership role. As you will soon discover, if you have not already done so, your role will bring many new challenges of management and leadership, but as someone who has been a department chair, a dean, and a provost, I can confirm that few rewards are more satisfying than being able to accomplish good things for your colleagues and your unit. We all depend on the willingness of colleagues to take on these positions, and I am truly grateful to you for having agreed to do so.

Studies of good leadership indicate that across cultures and over time, most of us tend to look for and to value the same qualities in leaders. Foremost among these are integrity and competence, which in my view are the true bedrock of good leadership: without them, none of us can succeed for long. But we also value those who can inspire and motivate us by imagining, articulating, and promoting a vision of a better future for us all, and I encourage you to dream on behalf of your colleagues and to advocate strongly for them.

It is often said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and there is no doubt that changing our own culture is among the most arduous tasks any of us can undertake. My experience has nevertheless been that given time, imagination, patience, and hard work, we can succeed in making the changes that improve conditions for us all. I wish you every success in that task, and I encourage you to take full advantage of the leadership and management development opportunities provided by the Centre for Academic Leadership.

With every good wish,


David Graham

Vice-President Academic and Provost

Foreword by APUO President

Dear colleague,

First, please allow me to thank you sincerely for taking on this important academic leadership role. Universities are bedrocks of democratic society and as Chair, you play an essential role in helping to create an environment that fosters a life-long love of research, teaching and learning amongst both faculty and students, as well as mentoring faculty in their paths towards tenure and promotion.

As an Association, our aim is to help you promote the two pillars of academic unionism – academic freedom and collegial governance – that are fundamental to creating an environment in which bold, creative and impactful scholarship can emerge. These two pillars are intimately linked since the exercise of academic freedom requires that academic staff play a major role in the governance of the institution. Universities are unique workplaces within the modern world in which there remains an expectation for collegial and democratic governance, including management by peers. This principle explains why Chairs, such as yourself, remain a member of the Association.

While being a Chair may sometimes feel like a thankless task, to be asked by one’s colleagues to serve in this position is also a great honour and a chance to foster a passion for scholarship and promote its impact. We at the Association are here to support you by providing information on the Collective Agreement and other academic workplace matters. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions and best of luck in your endeavours!

Best wishes,


Susan Spronk

President, APUO


Welcome to the Guide for Department Chairs.

This  guide has been developed jointly between the University of Ottawa and the Association of Professors for the University of Ottawa (the APUO). It is inspired by and some sections of it are adapted from the uMass Boston Department Chairs' Handbook, itself adapted from Cornell University's adaptation of the Knox College's Guide for Department Chairs (Galesburg, Illinois: Knox College, 2006). 

This guide is designed to provide you with essential information, as well as some valuable tips & advice, to allow you to be successful in your day-to-day role as Department Chair.

Developing this guide was a team effort. We would like to thank the multiple staff members who have contributed to its development and many chairs (former and present) who have reviewed and commented previous versions with  the view of improving the guide. 

If you have any questions about the content of this  guide, or any of the processes described herein, please do not hesitate to contact Françoise Moreau-Johnson at the Centre for Academic Leadership or Brianne Carlson at the APUO.

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