In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.
My new co-blogger at IHE has a nice piece on job titles that raise more questions than they answer. It's basically a call for titles that describe at least something about the duties of the job.
In some ways, though, I think the trouble with titles is that even such basics as "dean" and "provost" are frequently opaque, even before getting to "special assistant to..." and suchlike. So as a public service, below I've listed a few common academic titles, and the ways I've seen them defined in the community college world. I haven't done administration in a research university setting, so I grant without argument that your mileage may vary.
Department Chair: I've only ever seen this apply to academic departments, which are clusters of faculty in the same discipline. In some settings, chairs are elected by the department; in others, they're appointed by deans. In some cases, chairs evaluate faculty; in others, they belong to the same bargaining unit as faculty and therefore don't evaluate them. Department chairs carry faculty rank, and can keep tenure if they had it in their faculty roles. Although department chairs are first-responder administrators, they're generally considered faculty first and administrators second.
Division Dean: Not to be confused with the "dean of the college," a division dean is a middle manager between the department chairs and the senior management. Depending on the locale, the dean may or may not teach a class, but s/he is considered an administrator first. Deans are typically chosen by the senior management, and usually have to have terminal degrees (usually doctorates) in their academic discipline. (This may not hold for divisions on the non-credit side, like "continuing ed.") In the contexts I've seen, division deans manage budgets and deal with personnel issues as they arise. They are usually the go-to people for articulation agreements, accreditation reports, outcomes assessment, and faculty evaluation. It's a difficult role, since it involves a great deal of responsibility with relatively little authority, especially when money is tight. Most division deans come from the ranks of department chairs and/or associate deans.
Chief Academic Officer: This is the highest-ranking administrative person at the college with a direct line of responsibility into the academic side. Depending on the size of the college and local tradition, this person's title may be "dean of the college," "dean of the faculty," "academic vice president," "vice president for academic affairs," or "provost." This person reports to the President, and is responsible for the deans and the faculty. (Other "chief officers" typically include one for student affairs, one for business and finance, one for continuing ed, one for the foundation, and one for IT.) CAO's often don't carry faculty rank or tenure, though they usually came from faculty ranks. I read a few years ago that the average length of service for CAO's in America is three years, which is amazingly brief. Although it's losing the monopoly on the franchise, this is still the most common last job for first-time Presidents.
Provost: Although precise definitions vary, a provost is usually understood to be second-in-command at the college, and to have a wide scope of responsibility. In some cases, the various VP's report to the Provost, who is the academic version of a Chief Operating Officer. In the Western states, I'm told, the 'strong provost' model is particularly common. The virtue of that model, if you want to call it a virtue, is that it frees up the President to fundraise full-time. In my neck of the woods, provosts usually encompass both academic and student affairs, and often continuing ed. I've seen vp's report to a provost, but I've never seen the other way round.
Dean of the College: At small colleges, this is usually the CAO. At large universities, this is like a division dean, but one who actually has authority and resources.
Associate Dean: This is usually a full-time administrator who reports to a dean, and who takes care of certain areas of responsibility so the dean doesn't have to. (Budgeting and outcomes assessment are common portfolios.) I had a wonderful associate dean at Proprietary U; his skills were strongest in the areas where mine were weakest and vice versa, so between the two of us, we had it covered. My cc doesn't have associate deans, so the deans have to fly solo.
Assistant Dean: Danger! Danger! Don't be fooled by the seemingly familiar assistant-associate-full hierarchy. In the contexts in which I've seen them, assistant deans aren't really in line for anything; they're usually dead-end positions. They're often (though not always) relatively young and just passing through, and they're given discrete tasks without much supervisory responsibility. These people often either leave higher ed or become 'directors.'
Directors: Directors are sort of like deans, but the people they manage aren't faculty. A cc might have a dean of liberal arts, but a director of counseling. Directors are closer to the 'managers' you see in the typical corporate setting. Although the jobs are fairly well defined and usually full-time, they often don't lead anywhere within the organization.
Coordinators: Coordinators are more like department chairs than like directors. They're usually full-time employees who wear multiple hats. They're usually faculty, though I've seen them in more purely administrative functions as well. You might have a history professor who doubles as coordinator of the Honors program, or a counselor who coordinates the women's center. In the cases I've seen, most coordinators have a primary responsibility as something else.
"Senior": This is what the pomo types used to call a "floating signifier." It can mean just about anything. I've seen 'senior vice president' used to mean 'provost,' and I've seen it used to mean 'vice president with a salary bump.' 'Senior' can refer to either rank or length of service; when the two diverge, the usages can get socially awkward. A 'senior associate dean' seems like an oxymoron, but it's out there.
Specific functions can vary. I've seen deans do course scheduling, and I've also seen chairs do it. Sometimes student complaints go to the chair, and sometimes to the dean. I've heard of systems in which chairs allocate merit raises, which I'll admit strikes me as a colossal conflict of interest, but there it is. Sometimes deans allocate faculty lines, but sometimes CAO's do. I've even heard of a few places in which the deans are unionized, oddly enough, though it's not entirely clear to me how that squares with their managerial responsibilities.
As long as we're talking titles, I'll bow to the inevitable and ask the obvious. What's the weirdest or most opaque title you've seen on campus? Alternately, have you seen one of these terms defined very differently?