Contemplating the Prospect of Being a Head
§1. What does it take to be a department head?
keeping with my prior disclaimer of expertise, I really don't know
the answer to this. I'm not sure there is a set answer in the usual
sense. I've known many people at my own institutions as well as
others who have totally different personalities, psyches, degrees of
organization, and levels of mathematical ability but would do or have
done a good job of being a head. I've also known some successful
heads and some failures who have many similarities. I have also seen
some people fail at the job who I thought would be successful. It's
hard to predict and surely depends as much on the department as on
It's rather clear that a department head should be organized, fair,
honest, and open minded. I also think a department head should be
an optimist; some might think I am being facetious by saying that, but
I am totally serious. It is inevitable that every department will have
hard times. You, as a head, must believe that, with work, problems
will be solved or at least ameliorated.
Rather that generating a list of desirable traits for the job, let me
make some statements that I think a good prospect for a head should
agree with. Then I'll make a few I think they should disagree with.
1. Usually at the end of the day I can remember where I parked my
2. There are some issues in mathematics that I care a lot about,
and there are others on which I am neutral. I have never ceased
to be amazed that there are some mathematicians who seem to be
passionate about everything.
3. I like people. I think it is interesting to observe how people act
4. Vanilla is not my favorite flavor.
5. Being a department head is an important job. There is a lot to do,
and the head's decisions have important consequences.