It’s Not Just a Series of Workshops: Reevaluating Faculty Development to Improve Recruitment, Retention, and Tenurability of Faculty
In my experience with faculty recruitment at two very different academic institutions, I have learned that faculty candidates care a lot about what support they can expect for their professional development; it’s one of the most common questions I hear. Institutions typically hire faculty whom they want to keep and, for those that have a tenure system, faculty who will be tenurable. The success of an academic institution depends on high-quality faculty who demonstrate excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service, and the new generation of over-tasked millennial faculty (Gardner, 2016) expects more support than before. This article encourages academic institutions to reevaluate their faculty development offerings for improved recruitment, retention, and tenurability of high-quality faculty.
Remedial approaches to faculty development are rarely effective
Quick literature and job searches using the phrase “faculty development” tell me that what most institutions have in mind when they think of faculty development is an office, program, or person that will produce a series of workshops that teach faculty how to teach and how to succeed as scholars. Often, faculty development is placed under the umbrella of a center for teaching and learning and focuses predominantly on improving teaching. There may be an additional focus on scholarly productivity, but this frequently amounts to little more than fixing faculty problems, such as less-than-perfect time management or less-than-effective grant writing prose. Workshops, journal articles, and other abundant, well-meaning resources aim to educate faculty on how to become better teachers; successfully balance their scholarship with teaching, other duties, and family life; cultivate collaborations and write more grants; better manage grants; more effectively mentor graduate and undergraduate students; ensure they are compliant with university policies; and so on. The general motivation for many faculty development programs seems to be largely remedial (Phelps, 2018) or to elevate institutional teaching and scholarship standards without committing the institution to providing better support for faculty advancement. In other words, these programs encourage faculty to be creative enough to keep doing more with less. Good faulty development may be many things, but what it’s not is just a series of workshops.
Remedial approaches to faculty development do little to further the professional advancement of faculty, and they often arise from mixed motivations. For example, if excellence in teaching were as important to faculty success as the investment in teaching and learning centers suggests, then scholarship of teaching and learning would be valued more for tenure and promotion. This is rarely the case, particularly at R1 universities (Schimanski & Alperin, 2018). While faculty appreciate help with their teaching and students benefit from excellent teaching, the institutional motivation to improve teaching seems to have more to do with appeasing accrediting bodies and retaining students than it does with the advancement of faculty. Institutions would better serve their faculty if they honestly assessed how much teaching is really valued and reevaluated how it’s appraised for tenure and promotion.
Similarly, if predominantly teaching colleges really believed that scholarship informs teaching, an argument often used as a justification for ever-increasing scholarship expectations, then those colleges would make more of a commitment to supporting scholarship than they do (Baker et al., 2016; Kelsky, 2019). If an institution claims to have high standards of scholarship for tenure and promotion, it’s reasonable from a faculty perspective to expect a comparable increase in support to accompany the ever-increasing scholarship expectation.
Faculty development begins with successful recruitment
Successful faculty development must begin with effective faculty recruitment to ensure the hiring of a diverse faculty whose aspirations align with those of the institution. Major causes of dissatisfaction and burnout are misalignment of values between faculty and the institution (Gabriel, 2017) and unclear institutional expectations (June, 2010). The institution should have a clearly articulated mission as well as goals that meet the changing needs of society and are reflected in its tenure and promotion expectations. The institution also can endeavor to have clear hiring policies that embrace diversity, communicate its goals transparently to candidates, and foster careful selection of a faculty with a shared vision.
Faculty development requires ongoing strategic support
Faculty advancement post-hiring needs to be an ongoing process and is only really successful in institutions that make a top-down commitment to continuous support for faculty excellence. If the institution values faculty excellence, it should have a transparent, robust strategic plan that upholds that value. The strategic plan might include regular review of existing policies and development of new policies that effectively support faculty advancement. Examples of the types of policies that affect faculty advancement include but are not limited to those that
- disclose expectations and procedures for tenure and promotion;
- uphold inclusivity and promote diversity;
- produce fair and effective ways to evaluate and reward good teaching;
- provide for sabbaticals and pre-tenure leaves;
- seek funding to support faculty research and compensate faculty for summer work;
- include an office of research support and an office of diversity (not just for students) as well as a center for teaching and learning; and
- ensure reasonable and equitable teaching loads and reduce burdensome service and administrative tasks for faculty.
A survey involving 500 faculty developers, administrators, and faculty identified the number one challenge to faculty success as expanding faculty roles amid increasing pressure to sustain their scholarship, update their pedagogies, and achieve a work-life balance (reviewed in Sorcinelli, 2007). Increased teaching loads and administrative overtasking are major contributors to faculty burnout (June, 2010; Kelsky, 2019). The gold standard for teaching loads at R1 institutions is 2-2 (Kelsky, 2019). While it might be difficult for some colleges to achieve this standard, they can still take steps to continuously revise and improve teaching load policies and implement procedures that assess faculty workload to ensure utility and equity. Gender inequity in service still exists despite female faculty often being advised to “just say no” (Pyke, 2011) and women frequently take on more low-promotability tasks than men, contributing to their slower advancement and disadvantaging them at the time of promotion (Babcock et al., 2017; Pyke, 2011). A good faculty developer can help to address these and similar issues. Faculty-friendly institutions may also take steps to reduce pressure on faculty by offering generous maternity, paternity, and pre-tenure leaves, and tenure clock extensions when needed.
Pre-tenure leaves and sabbaticals may seem like a luxury. At my own institution, however, I recently carried out a feasibility study that revealed that the net cost of offering pre-tenure sabbatical leaves was surprisingly less than we had previously thought, which made it much easier for us to convince our chief financial officer to build them into the budget. The net cost (adjunct stipends and benefits) of one half-year sabbatical at full pay was about 30 percent of an assistant professor’s annual salary plus benefits, while the net cost of one full-year sabbatical at half pay was about 13 percent of an assistant professor’s annual salary plus benefits. This calculation is based on a 2-2 teaching load and assumes that an adjunct will cover every course. Pre-tenure sabbaticals are being offered by more colleges and universities now than even 10 years ago, and from a faculty perspective, they are critical for building a research program that is productive and sustainable beyond tenure.
Faculty development is tightly linked to tenure and promotion procedures
A survey conducted in the United States in 1999 revealed that the tenure rate (percentage of successful reviews) at private institutions was about 74 percent. Public institutions did a little better at about 84 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). But the data didn’t include faculty who were not recommended for tenure review following a third-year or reappointment review or who left the institution before their tenure review. Achieving tenure is a primary goal for most junior faculty, and unsuccessful tenure reviews force the institution into either expensive faculty searches or hiring less experienced, temporary replacements. Faculty development personnel at many institutions are not connected much to reappointment and tenure review procedures, which a different department, such as a provost’s office, often handles. I would encourage institutions to reevaluate this organizational structure. Faculty development and reappointment and tenure review are tightly connected. In my current position, I have been actively involved in both. I have no influence on reappointment and tenure decisions, which allows me to be an impartial advisor to faculty candidates. Nonetheless, I have access to the reports produced by our reappointment and tenure review committees, and I am present at tenure deliberations. This gives me a unique insight into what the committees look for, allowing me to offer accurate advice to faculty candidates. I also assist in appointing and providing guidance to new committee members regarding procedure and expectations. My participation in these reviews has been invaluable to my faculty development efforts, and it contributes to ensuring that the process is fair and equitable.
Adequate research support is essential
Adequate research support, beyond just giving out money, is essential not only for faculty advancement but for raising the profile of the institution. With external funding becoming harder to obtain and publication standards becoming higher, getting funded and published while balancing teaching and administrative tasks is now much more challenging for faculty. An institution that values scholarship might at least have a research support office (RSO) or its equivalent. Moreover, a good RSO should be able to contribute to faculty development rather than merely oversee fund management. For example, RSO staff can offer strategic research development support that assists investigators with developing research plans that align with funding agencies’ visions. They can also assist faculty with producing proposal development plans with timelines and checklists. Finally, they can facilitate internal reviews and offer support for writing and editing proposals. Smaller colleges that don’t have an RSO or equivalent office may utilize the services of a grant writing agency. Such agencies, although expensive, offer great services that range from grant writing workshops to actual grant writers. This may seem like a luxury, but the payoff may be worth the cost. A previous institution I worked at contracted an expensive external grant writer but recovered about twice the expenditure in external funding within the first six months. Since faculty are more likely to receive new funding if they have been funded previously, the benefits continued after the contract expired. Institutions that are committed to faculty advancement should be at least willing to conduct feasibility studies for these types of “luxuries.”
Fostering connections with other universities
Finally, an RSO or faculty development office, particularly at smaller or geographically isolated colleges, might consider fostering formal connections with other universities. Such relationships prevent faculty from becoming intellectually isolated and facilitate collaborative scholarship and joint grant proposals. In the post-COVID-19 days of videoconferencing, the ability to organize cheap, online meetings, or symposia with other universities has become very possible. The “online age” has afforded opportunities for my own university to connect our faculty with colleagues in a number of institutions in the US, the UK, China, and Singapore, and we have occasionally engaged some of those senior colleagues to serve as mentors. Finding senior mentors who have disciplinary expertise and can offer a different perspective is of huge benefit, particularly to faculty at smaller institutions.
The quality of the faculty is the most vital determinant of the quality of an institution. Professional development is becoming more important to faculty, and I have witnessed good faculty members leave their positions because of unclear expectations or inadequate support. If colleges and universities are to compete and survive in the future, faculty development will need to be much more than a series of workshops.
Babcock, L., Recalde, M. P., Vesterlund, L, & Weingart, L. (2017). Gender differences in accepting and receiving requests for tasks with low promotability. American Economic Review, 107(3), 714–747. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.20141734
Baker, V. L., Pifer, M. J., & Lunsford, L. G. (2016). Faculty challenges across rank in liberal arts colleges: A human resources perspective. Journal of Faculty Development, 30(1), 23–29
Gabriel, S. (2017, October 7). Moving from silos and burnout to community engagement. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/moving-silos-burnout-community-engagement
Gardner, S. K. (2016). Mentoring the millennial faculty member. The Department Chair, 27(1), 6–8. https://doi.org/10.1002/dch.30088
June, A. W. (2010, June 9). Faculty burnout has both external and internal sources, scholar says. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Faculty-Burnout-Has-Both/65843
Kelsky, K. (2019, May 7). The professor is in: When the promise of research support falls flat. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-professor-is-in-when-the-promise-of-research-support-falls-flat
National Center for Education Statistics. (2001). Institutional policies and practices: Results from the 1999 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, Institution Survey. U.S. Department of Education. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/2001201.pdf
Phelps, P. H. (2018, July 17). Five fundamentals of faculty development. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/faculty-development/five-fundamentals-faculty-development
Pyke, K. (2011). Service and gender inequity among faculty. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44(1), 85–87. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1049096510001927
Schimanski, L. A., & Alperin, J. P. (2018). The evaluation of scholarship in academic promotion and tenure processes: Past, present, and future. F1000Research, 7, 1605. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.16493.1
Sorcinelli, M. D. (2007). Faculty development: The challenge going forward. Peer Review, 9(4), 4–8. https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/peerreview/PRFA07_Web.pdf
Katherine Robertson, PhD, is the director of faculty affairs at Duke Kunshan University (Kunshan, Jiangsu, China). Prior to becoming an administrator, Robertson was an associate professor of biology, and she has served in several faculty development roles.