The End of Department Chairs at Xavier
Today I am the Chair of the Theology Department at Xavier University of Louisiana. But as the first Summer Session ends on Monday, there will no longer be a Chair of Theology. Instead, all of the Humanities (Theology, History, English, Languages, Art, Music, Philosophy = "THE LAMP") will be grouped into one Division. They will be led by the Division Chair, and each department will be led by a "Departmental Head." For Theology, that will be my friend Mark Gstohl starting in the Fall semester. He will have less release time and benefits, as well as less prestige with the position, than previous Departmental chairpersons.
Why are we doing this? I am not clear. The answers have varied over the past year. At times it was about budget, other times it was about synergy, sometimes it was about the future of education and Lumina as well as SACS, our accrediting agency. We were told that Berea would be our model, but it seems clear that faculty at Berea are pretty upset about their restructuring. But at Berea, faculty voted for the change and they got to vote to decide who would be the Division Chairs. Faculty at Xavier were not allowed to vote for either of these important decisions. We are told that once we see how this works next year, and experience governance from this business model of efficiency with true leaders, that we will embrace the change. I am skeptical but will try to keep an open mind as this moves forward. Several employees in academic support positions lost their jobs earlier this year. So far no tenured faculty have been let go, but many speculate that vacated positions won't be renewed. Times are rough from here in the trenches of higher education. Universities are getting less and less support from federal and state levels. Tuition has gone way up, enrollments have gone down. I very much love my job, my school, my students and the mission of my university. I just need to survive these turbulent times in hope that things get better, or at the very least, that things don't get worse.