Helping Faculty Develop a Scholarship Agenda
A major role of every academic leader is to help faculty do well. For those of us who work in institutions where becoming a productive scholar is an absolute prerequisite to earning tenure, “doing well” implies developing a scholarship agenda, and “working” a plan.
Ensuring that new faculty get off to a good start is a very important component of any successful plan. All too often we spend limited travel funds and go to extraordinary efforts to recruit promising candidates only to see them leave our institution because they realize they are not on track to earn tenure. Some, realizing they will not do well, leave as they approach their three year review. Others stay until they fail their sixth year “up or out” review. Both cases represent a lose-lose situation.
The individual (and their significant others) lose as they are uprooted and have to find another position–a task made more difficult by the circumstances of their departure. Institutions lose in several ways. Obviously, they must reapply to fill the position, make do while the position is vacant, and then conduct another time-consuming and expensive search. Not so obvious are several other consequences which, while even more costly, are often not recognized. For example, if the new faculty member was given a reduced load or increased travel funds, what effect did this have on departmental colleagues?
After an unsuccessful third-year review and being “put on notice,” faculty members in that situation will choose one of two options, both of which represent a loss to the department. One option is to focus all their efforts on scholarship. As a consequence, teaching receives minimal attention; curriculum and instructional development suffer; and advising students and departmental service become a low priority. Other department faculty fill in the gap or the work doesn’t get done. In addition, the uncertainty about their continuation affects both short-term and long-term planning of the department and, in some instances, this uncertainty can affect the work environment of the department.
Can this “lose-lose” situation be avoided—and, if so, how? The solution is not “rocket science.” One suggestion is to help the new faculty members succeed by asking them to set goals and develop a plan for achieving them; meet with them to review their plan, then periodically review progress, offering help and advice as needed.
One way to help them focus—and help you better assist them—is to have them complete something like the following. Ideally, it should be done during their first three months.
Name: _______________Date of Initial Appointment: _____
1. Purpose: The purpose of this document is to assist both untenured and tenured professors in developing and pursuing a scholarship agenda and a plan for achieving it. By following this process, reviews of progress will be positive experiences.
2. Definition of Scholarship: In keeping with a growing national trend and in view of our mission as a land grant university (or our mission as a predominately teaching-oriented institution–tailor this to your institution), we have chosen to use the term “scholarship” as the umbrella term to encompass and encourage a broader range of activities than those included under the much narrower terms “research and publications.”
Scholarship is an inclusive construct that includes the many ways in which faculty draw upon their expertise in performing teaching, research, and service functions that directly relate to their specialized fields of knowledge or expertise. It can include all faculty work meeting the following criteria: (a) it requires a high level of discipline-related expertise; (b) it is public in the sense that it can be replicated or elaborated; (c) it can be documented; (d) it can be peer-reviewed; and (e) it has impact on/or significance (for) external or internal communities directly affected by the effort or the discipline itself (Robert Diamond).
3. Please identify the major professional/academic organizations in your professional field of specialization, indicating whether you are currently a member of each, the extent of your current involvement, and your desired involvement in the future (attending meetings, serving on boards, acting as a program chair, presenting, etc.).
List Organization and Requested Information (Add more pages as needed.)
4. Please identify the leading national journals in your field of professional specialization, the ones which you read and your intended involvement in the future (serving on editorial board, publishing articles, etc.)
List Title(s) and Required Information (Add more pages as needed.)
5. Explain your major research agendas (topics) and for each topic you listed, please describe briefly any scholarly work already in progress and identify your co-workers (identifying each as student or faculty member). (Add more pages as needed.)
6. State what you hope or expect to have achieved in terms of pursuing your research agenda during the next twelve months, e.g., planned papers and presentations, and articles you hope to submit. Please be specific as possible. List the organizations where you hope to present, journals in which you hope to publish, etc. (Note: This is a tentative projection on your part, not a contractual obligation or promise!) (Add more pages as needed.)
7. Given existing staffing and budgetary constraints, what could be done to facilitate your accomplishing the activities set forth in this document? (Add more pages as needed.)
Faculty Member Date
Comments by Department Head (or Dean)
Department Head (or Dean) Date
1 copy – faculty member’s folder
1 copy – faculty member
While the major focus of this article is on helping untenured faculty develop and achieve a scholarship agenda, it can also be quite helpful in working with tenured faculty.
Please tailor as needed to fit your needs. I ask only two things. One, that you let me know if you use it. Two, that you notify me of its value to you—did it help?
James O. Hammons is a professor of higher education at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Academic Leader editorial advisory board.