Clearly the position must come with some added responsibilities. What are they?

If the extra duties are purely administrative, why does one need a professor to be head of department? Can a non-full professor be the head of department?

If the answer varies by field, I'm most interested in the sciences.

  • Like in a university?
    – Bluebird
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 6:20
  • Yes, e.g. "Head of the chemistry department".
    – Allure
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 6:25
  • Are there job openings for that role at a university that you are interested in?
    – Bluebird
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 6:31
  • See What is life as "Head of Department ____" like?
    – ff524
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 6:53
  • 1
    Actually, @E.DouglasJensen, I don't recognize a formal distinction between the two titles. I've seen them used interchangeably, though there are certainly different conceptions of the role as you point out.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 0:14

2 Answers 2


In the US the situation varies greatly, depending on the university. In some places the head is hired specifically for that position. In some, he/she is chosen by vote of the faculty. In some, the position rotates among faculty every few years. In some, a distinguished academic is hired to add "stature" to the department.

A head is normally a tenured person, but he/she can hold any rank, especially when the position rotates. Non-tenured but tenure track faculty (assistant professors) are normally spared this duty so that they can spend efforts needed to get tenure.

The head normally, but not always, has teaching duties and possibly also carries on research. But the load is reduced to allow for the administrative duties.

The head makes sure that all of the courses are staffed and that everyone gets paid. He/she is responsible for seeking resources from the common university pool, though not necessarily for grant funding. The head may need to approve some aspects of grants when they employ common resources. The head may need to assure funding agencies that the terms of the grant are fulfilled.

The head normally chairs the inevitable periodic faculty meetings that set strategy for the department and distribute duties to the faculty.

The head manages faculty evaluation and may have a voice (or not) in tenure decisions. Usually, the head can veto a positive tenure decision for financial reasons, but I don't believe it is common to have the power to do so otherwise. I doubt that very many places permit the head to veto a negative tenure decision made by a faculty committee.

The head is the manager of record for any professional staff, such as secretaries.

The head is a shoulder to cry on for faculty with problems and for students with complaints. As such, he/she becomes a sort of mediator.

The head answers to the dean when any internal problems spill over into the wider arena. He/she then becomes the defender of anyone in the department who needs (and deserves) defending.

Normally a person who leaves the head position retains faculty tenure and returns to the normal teaching, service, and research duties.


The answer will not only depend on the discipline but also on the country you are in.

The short summary (in my country) is: You are responsible for everything ;-) - from funding to interpersonal issues, over teaching to relation to the university and external partners. Not forgetting teaching, PhD students, other staff, etc...

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