Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Higher Education (EdD)

Degree Level



Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders


John Murry, Jr.

Committee Member

Christopher J. Lucas

Second Committee Member

Ketevan Mamiseishvili


Education, Career pathways, Female department chairs, High research activity, Success, Universities


The advancement of women into academic leadership remains a problem facing public, high-research activity universities. While there are more women who are qualified to assume the position of department chair in research institutions today than there were 30 years ago, women still lag behind their male counterparts in holding these academic leadership roles. The purpose of this study was to examine the personal and professional career experiences of women department chairs in a public, very high research activity institution, and to provide advice to women faculty seeking to become a department chair in the future. The department chair is among the most important academic administrators within any higher education institution, and the effectiveness of this leader is paramount to the overall success of their department. Historically males have occupied the majority of chair positions in research universities. Little is known about how women prepare for the position, why they are selected, and the challenges they face in becoming a department chair.

The research design involved using a qualitative case study, which employed purposeful sampling methods. Eight current female department chairs, four college deans who were familiar with the chairs' appointment, and one provost from State University, a public, very high research activity university were selected to participate in the study. Face-to-face, open-ended interviews were employed as the primary source of data; however, additional documents were analyzed to corroborate the interview data and enrich the study. The research questions in this inquiry focused on four specific areas, which included: (a) knowledge, training, experience, and skills required to become a department chair in a public, four-year institution; (b) strategies used to obtain the position; (c) gender-based challenges faced by the women chairs; and (d) advice for aspiring female academic department chairs.

The study's findings indicated that the women chairs possessed important academic and administrative leadership experience and interpersonal skills, and encountered unique challenges in their advancement to the position. The study's participants also offered advice for future women department chairs with regard to understanding the roles, responsibilities, and challenges related to the position of department chair, as well as professional preparation for the position.