What is a College or University Department?

Refers to the sub-division of a college composed of lecturers and other supporting members of staff who are responsible for the provision of tutoring to the students registered in specific degree programs, e.g., the Engineering Department.

Though the way faculties are organized into departments isn’t the same everywhere, most colleges and universities in the United States will have academic departments established by discipline. For example, one department will include English faculty and classes, while another will be earmarked for business, and then others for science, engineering, etc.

Sometimes, such classification could be coarser, such as in a liberal arts college that de-emphasizes the sciences and has a single Science department. Similarly, in an engineering university, there may be a solitary department for Language and Literature. Such classifications, at times, could be more refined as well. For example, at Harvard University, one will find separate departments of Chemical Biology and Chemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology, and Evolutionary and Organismic Biology. In professional graduate schools, departments will be specialized. Thus, it’s common to find departments of Pathology, Anatomy, Dermatology, etc., in a medical school.

Some disciplines could be placed under different departments at different colleges and universities. For example, computer science could have its own department or may be placed in the department of mathematics or applied mathematics. Similarly, biology may be organized under its own department or in the department of chemistry or biology. Thus, it can be said that departments reveal disciplines, which in turn stand for the coherent fields of research and scholarship.

Departments are administrative structures that act as cogs in a wheel for the smooth functioning of the institution. Apart from the academic departments, there are several others, such as Admissions, IT, Maintenance, Counselors, Conference and Events, and Domestic Bursary, among others. Each of these has specific roles to perform. For instance, the admissions department in an undergraduate college would include professionals like the admissions tutor, senior tutor, admissions coordinator, and the school’s liaison officer to oversee all aspects of undergraduate admissions.

Typically, departments are managed by a member of the department, who’s called the department chair. They may be appointed by the dean of the faculty, elected by the department faculties, or assigned the role by rotation among the tenured faculty members. The importance, responsibilities, and power of the department chair differ widely from one institution to the other and even among an institution’s different departments.

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