Department head usually could be in charge of many things, such as hiring decision, support of tenure applications, invitation of reviewers of tenure, forming hiring committee etc.

In general how department head will handle such conflict of interest?

Regarding people not working with department head so far, would it be wise to avoid working with him, even if we may share same research direction?

  • Does your department have more of a "head" - someone appointed more or less unilaterally by higher administration, accountable only to them, who keeps this job indefinitely and usually for quite a long time - or more of a "chair" - someone more or less elected by the department, usually with the approval of higher administration, accountable more to the faculty of the department, who generally does administrative duties for a few years before they become again an ordinary faculty member and someone else is elected in their place? Commented Mar 2 at 4:59
  • A question having correlated but not always identical answer: do departments at your university tend to run as dictatorships where the head decides everything, or more as democracies where the faculty decide everything (by vote or consensus) and the chair merely carries out faculty decisions? Commented Mar 2 at 5:01
  • @AlexanderWoo Thank you for your reply. For my department, it is someone was appointed, but it is a 5-year term, not indefinitely. I won't say it is 'dictatorships'. He does recommended a lot applicants that are being banned by the search committee. But We could definitely tell that he is more interested in the applicants that fit his research interest. And I do see some colleagues are trying to work on his interested subfields. I am just in general asking how would this kind of conflict of interest be handled Commented Mar 2 at 8:22
  • let say in future we have a position for promotion. In this case, he would definitely help the collengues who shared the same research interest, or even the collengues working with him. Would this be considered as conflict of interest, and if yes, how this will be handeled? Commented Mar 2 at 8:25

2 Answers 2


The best way to know how this would be handled is to ask the department head.

You write that the head is appointed on a 5-year term so, presumably, when that term is over then the COI will be void. All of this depends on the COI rules at your institution, however, and perhaps some of these will apply retroactively.

At my institution, this might be termed a COI if the department head had sole input on the hiring decision. If the department head is part of a committee, it would not be considered a COI as other committee members would be expected to ensure a balanced view. A joint publication might be viewed as a positive point, since collaborating within the department might be seen to foster a productive research environment.


While such a collaboration might, indeed, be a conflict of interest, that doesn't necessarily make it impossible to manage. But it takes some planning so that the conflict doesn't result in any improper action.

That assumes that you, the head, and maybe the entire department have a way, policies, to manage the potential conflict in a way that is fair to all. The dean (or provost,..., depending) might need to have a say.

In particular, the head might need to step out of certain decisions that affect you either positively or negatively and defer to others, perhaps a dean, or perhaps a committee.

I've been in situations where I wouldn't consider collaboration with a superior when I couldn't trust the system as a whole. I've also been in situations where such collaboration would be entirely comfortable.

The problem isn't the CoI itself, but how the conflict (potential conflict, actually) can be handled. A CoI isn't an automatic ban on collaboration, or cooperation generally. Just don't make assumptions that all is well or that all is bad.

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