Rules and procedures for the appointment of heads of academic departments | The training of heads of academic departments |
Acting heads of departments

The head of an academic department (HOD) occupies a pivotal position. He/she provides leadership and development where it matters most: in the academic department. Ensuring that his/her department flourishes as a well functioning academic unit is critical to our strategy.

The role, rights and responsibilities of heads of academic departments (HODS):

  1. The head is responsible to his/her Dean for his/her work as head. The HOD must develop an operational plan for the department in consultation with the Dean.

  2. The essence of headship is to give academic leadership to the department, to be concerned about its scholarship, its teaching and its standards, to develop its staff, and to grow it into a well-functioning academic unit.

    The head should, as far as possible, consult his/her academic staff and delegate academic and other duties to them.

    The head should also, where possible, consult the students in the department (or their representatives) at regular intervals. He/she must see to the election of class representatives.

  3. It is the head's duty to represent the interests of the department in the faculty board, Senate and more widely.

  4. The head should hold regular departmental seminars (at least once every two weeks) to promote intellectual vigour and rigour in the discipline.

  5. While there are no prescriptive rules about departmental meetings, the HOD should hold them at least once every two months. Minutes should be kept and confirmed, and used for producing actions lists with deadlines. He/she should ensure a good flow of information to staff, especially as regards to policies and procedures.

  6. Important issues include staff planning (include succession planning), staff development, the development of a departmental employment equity plan (in consultation with the Dean), and the carrying out of this plan. The head has to monitor the progress of staff serving probationary periods of appointment, and must carry out (or delegate) annual staff appraisals.

  7. The head must also see to a range of administrative duties including:

    1. Attend to or delegate routine academic and administrative matters relating to the department.

    2. Ensure that nominations are made to the faculty board for the appointment of examiners for all courses offered by the department, and for higher degree candidates in the department.

    3. Serve ex officio as a member of any committee of assessors appointed in respect of PhD candidates from the department, and for higher degree candidates in the department.

    4. Decide leave for academic, technical and clerical staff in the department in accordance with HR rules and policies, and notify the Human Resources Department of any leave approved. (The head has power to decide on applications for special leave for periods of less than seven days, and may approve annual leave for the administrative and support staff of his/her department, but must notify the Human Resources Department of all leave granted.)

    5. Make recommendations in regard to applications from members of staff for special leave for periods of seven days or longer, for study and research leave or contact leave, and on such other matters as may be decided from time to time.

  8. The head is responsible for safety in his/her department. This includes ensuring that students, staff and visitors to the department are safeguarded and protected from physical risk, and that safe working standards and procedures are adhered to at all times. The head must see to it that he/she receives regular written reports from the safety officer(s) in the department.

  9. The head is responsible for the control of expenditure against departmental budgets, and has the right to information about research budgets and research expenditure of members of the department.

    The head is responsible for the equipment and assets assigned or on loan to the department and for the departmental asset register.

  10. An acting head of a department has the rights, duties and responsibilities of a head, and serves as a member of any committee (together with the head if the head elects to continue to serve as a member) where the head's membership is ex officio.

    If, in the absence of the substantive head, proposals are considered which would fundamentally affect the long term policies of the department (in regard to permanent staff appointments, curricula and structure degrees and courses), the Dean shall seek the head's views and ensure that these are communicated fully to the relevant committee.

Rules and procedures for the appointment of heads of academic departments

  1. There is a single set of rules and procedures for the appointment of HODs.

    Several HODs are appointed to permanent headships (this includes ballet, and some heads in the Faculty of Health Sciences). When the present incumbents step down from these headships, such procedures will be used to determine the appointment of the next head of department concerned.

  2. The University's Employment Equity Policy applies at all levels within the University and appointment decisions must show commitment to the policy. Using the University's recruitment policy and procedures as a framework, every reasonable effort will be made to appoint suitable internal and external candidates from the designated groups to Headships of Academic Department positions.

  3. The process for appointing a head begins with consultation. Deans generally consult members of the academic and senior support staff of the department (individually or in groups) and make recommendations to the executive officer charged with responsibility for the appointment of HODs. This must be done about six months in advance. The DVC will sometimes do this consulting, and include the Dean.

  4. Professors and associate professors are contractually bound to make themselves available for appointment as HODs. Staff at the rank of senior lecturer may occasionally be appointed as HODs.

  5. At least nine months before the term of office of an HOD is to expire, the Vice Chancellor's nominee (DVC responsible for academic headships) will initiate the process, and aim to complete this six months before the new HOD takes office.

    The Dean (or DVC) will first consult the permanent academic staff of the department, and may then also consult the senior professional, administrative and support staff.

    The aim is to find someone in the department who has:

    1. The mix of scholarly strengths, inspirational leadership, recruiting skills, creativity and general management capacity required to develop a well-functioning academic unit.

    2. The support of the department.

    3. The vision essential to the department at a particular time.

  6. After this process of consulting staff, and after consultating the DVC, the Dean must make a recommendation to the DVC (as the Vice Chancellor's nominee). The DVC, after further consultation (if considered necessary) shall either refer the nomination back to the Dean for re-consideration, or recommend to Council that it appoint the nominee to be head for a specified period.

    Before the DVC recommends appointment, the DVC shall inform the Dean, the nominee, the current head, and the permanent academic staff.

  7. The norm for a period of office will be five years, but where there are good reasons, appointment may be for a shorter period. As a general rule, a HOD should not take study and research leave during the first three years of a headship. Headships are renewable.

  8. The nominee must present, either orally or in writing, an operational plan for the development of the department to the Dean and the DVC.

    The Dean must ensure that this is done. The plan may be presented before the appointment is made, or before the nominee takes up the headship, or within the first six months of the headship, but not later than that.

    The operational plan (modified where necessary in consultation with the Dean and the DVC) is intended to be a key tool for planning the work of headship. The Dean will also use it in subsequent performance appraisals.

  9. An HOD who wishes to be relieved of the headship must ask the Dean and the DVC to consider this.

  10. The Council may terminate a HODs headship before the term of office expires, if a committee recommends this. The Vice-Chancellor (or the Vice-Chancellor's nominee) may at any time appoint a committee, the composition of which shall be for a committee of review, to consider whether or not to recommend the termination of the headship. The committee shall submit a motivated recommendation to the Council.

  11. Allowances, research support and leave privileges of heads of academic departments

    The allowance and research (or other) support of each head of department shall be decided by the Dean from time to time, and is subject to budget.

  12. The Dean may award an HOD an allowance which may be used in one or more of the following ways:

    1. A headship allowance (a taxable addition to salary for the period for which given).

    2. A research grant (e.g. to assist the HOD in maintaining his/her research during the period of headship).

    3. A combination of the two above.

    The allocation of the funds may not be changed for the duration of the headship.

  13. The study and research leave accrual for HODs (in addition to standard accrual) is two weeks for each year as head, pro-rated.

The training of heads of academic departments

  1. The Dean is responsible for the induction of each HOD, for arranging an induction programme for him/her, and for arranging for him/her to attend suitable courses. Each Dean is responsible for the staff development of the HODs in his/her faculty. This includes ensuring that each HOD is placed, through effective and appropriate support, in a position where he/she can teach, supervise research students, and maintain his/her academic profile. In many cases this may involve a downscaling of some of these activities, given the added responsibilities and tasks the HOD must perform.

  2. Best practice models will differ across disciplines, but induction and training of HODs should cover:

    1. Academic leadership (through vigorous planning, scanning of the national and international disciplinary landscape and visitors and conferences).

    2. How best to organise regular, well-attended research seminars.

    3. How to run effective, regular academic staff meetings (including senior support staff), which are minuted and lead to departmental action plans, and which are a forum for important discussions. Plenary departmental meetings should also be organised at least once a year.

    4. The management of relationships with undergraduate and postgraduate students.

    5. Contributions to academic programmes.

    6. Curriculum development, taking into account university and system policy imperatives and trends.

    7. Staff development, in particular regarding teaching, research and general intellectual growth.

    8. Use of outside scholars for stimulation of students.

    9. Library and IT services.

    10. Space management at departmental level.

    11. The management of facilities and equipment for research.

    12. The management of fieldwork and community sites.

    All factors should be supplemented by specific operational induction into HR management, research management, financial processes (fund raising) issues and communications.

Acting heads of departments

  1. It is our policy to appoint an acting head in all cases where the head is (or is to be) absent, or when the headship is vacant.

  2. The Dean appoints acting heads for periods of less than three months, and reports his/her decision to the Executive Director: HR and to the DVC.

  3. The Vice-Chancellor (or the Vice-Chancellor's nominee, currently the DVC responsible for academic headships) appoints acting heads after taking the advice of the Dean, and after such consultation with staff as the DVC and the Dean consider necessary, for periods of between three and 12 months.

  4. Should a vacancy exist for more than 12 months, a substantive rather than acting appointment is normally made.

  5. The appointment of acting heads is reported for information in the Principal's Circulars.

  6. Where an acting appointment is made for less than three months, no allowance is paid. The Dean decides the allowances and conditions under which an acting HOD will work for periods of between three and 12 months. No additional leave privileges attach to periods of acting headship.

  7. Rules may be varied

    Without in any way affecting the right of Council and Senate to alter, amend or make rules, it is recorded that these rules may be varied by Council from time to time after consultation with Senate.

Hugh Amoore
18 January 2000

Reference: Senate November 1999; Council December 1999
Rules updated: 12 May 2016

Page last updated: 03 December 2021