Department Chairs: More Than Floating Heads with Absent Hearts


  • Summer Juliet Cowley University of Alberta


emotional labour, department chair, leadership


There is a tendency in discussions of higher education to treat the human administrators who run universities as solely rational subjects, separated from their idiosyncrasies, preferences, and emotions (Mumby & Putnam, 1992; Luthar & Šadl, 2008). In this paper, I argue that department chairs, as people managers, should be conceptualized as playing significant emotional role, rather than as solely serving instrumental functions as “bean counter[s]” (Chu, 2011, p. 52). In this paper, I argue that: 1) the role of chair is important and emotional; 2) leadership theories lack agreement on best ways to lead; and 3) department chairs are emotion workers. I close this paper by stating that department chairs need to be considered as performing work that demands ongoing emotional self-management and that research on chairs should have a dual focus of task-oriented and emotion work-oriented inquiry.

Author Biography

Summer Juliet Cowley, University of Alberta

Master of Education

Department of Educational Policy Studies - Ed Admin & Leadership






Position Paper/Essai