For the most part, US higher education has not recognized the value of intergenerational workforce practices as a valuable source of expertise and transmission of institutional knowledge. But faculty mentoring programs are the exception: they represent one of the most highly developed intergenerational practices in higher education today. These programs draw upon the reciprocity needed among different generational faculty cohorts and serve as a vehicle that enhances institutional capacity, advances organizational learning, and facilitates faculty career success. Typically, these programs involve the mentoring of junior, pre-tenure faculty by more senior, tenured faculty to facilitate the progress of new faculty toward the attainment of tenure. Yet many of these programs have not kept pace with the changing faculty landscape, in which almost three-quarters of the faculty workforce consists of full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty. In fact, roughly half of all faculty now serve as part-time adjuncts, and approximately one-fifth hold full-time contingent positions (Yakoboski, 2018).
As a result, some colleges and universities have begun to implement mentoring programs for the now predominant non-tenure-track faculty cohort. These programs, however, are considerably sparser than and have not attained the same level of institutional recognition as tenure-track mentoring practices. As Amy Harkins (2020), chair of clinical health sciences at Saint Louis University, points out, mentoring adjunct faculty as if they were full-time provides valuable returns both in affording development opportunities for part-time faculty to move to full-time teaching roles and ensuring that instructional delivery does not discernibly differ between full-time and adjunct faculty. One exemplary example of non-tenure-track faculty mentoring is the program at Northeastern University, established through an ADVANCE grant (Advancement of Women in Academic Women in Science and Engineering) from the National Science Foundation. In this program, faculty mentoring circles comprised of four to six faculty meet during the academic year to exchange information and share opportunities.
In addition, some institutions may assume that senior tenured faculty will not benefit from mentoring opportunities as they are too close to retirement. As Samantha, a senior White faculty member explains, because of her age her institution views her as not needing mentoring advice since she is simply expected to retire and, as she explains, “be put in a nursing home”:
I think because I am old, I think my age doesn’t allow me to be encouraged to grow, to change, it’s like “you’re already there, it’s fine.” I think in its own way it is discrimination. I am still very active. I had a book come out. . . . In the minds of some folks, I should have retired, and therefore I can’t contribute, so why would they ask me too? (Chun & Evans, 2021)
Clearly, mentoring programs offer an important source of psychosocial and career support to mentees, enabling them to navigate hidden workplace barriers, accelerate career progress, and create supportive networks. In our new book, Leveraging Multigenerational Workforce Strategies in Higher Education, we highlight some of the leading-edge best practices in faculty mentoring. Characteristics of effective programs include the facts that they are formalized, structured, and systematized; address different career stages; and respond to the needs of different faculty cohorts. In recent years, these programs have evolved significantly to include innovate mentoring models that entail networked or group mentoring as well as hybrid blends of individualized and group mentoring approaches. Despite the growth of mentoring programs, however, relatively few institutions have expanded these programs to address the similar workplace needs of administrators or staff.
Mentoring programs differ from sponsorship programs that are specifically directed to the sponsorship by an individual with significant organizational clout who can advocate for the success of the mentee and protect them from negative influences. Sponsorship programs are particularly important for women and minorities, although a study of 40 high-potential individuals found that women had fewer such opportunities (Ibarra et al., 2010).
Best practice mentoring models for junior faculty include the University of California, San Francisco’s program, which assigns mentoring facilitators to each department, division, and organizational research unit. Each junior or new faculty member in the four professional schools participates in a mentoring partnership agreement and development plan. The program also provides mentoring awards and monitors outcomes through an evaluation process. Another innovative model is the University of Oregon’s grant-funded faculty and external mentor program, which supports early, mid-career, and underrepresented faculty by pairing faculty members with a scholar at a peer institution in the same discipline. At New York University, the Office of Global Inclusion offers the Mentoring Program for Diverse Faculty, which specifically focuses on early career, minoritized faculty, with one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring, sponsorship, and faculty development programs.
Mid-career faculty mentoring programs are less frequently offered but can provide valuable career advice for individuals who feel stuck in their career progress after having attained tenure. Our study identified normative, ageist pressures that can arise, for example, when faculty have remained for six or more years at the associate professor rank. As Michael, the director of an innovative teaching and learning center at an elite college, explained,
a couple of observations around professors who have been at the associate rank for an extended period of time and who have come up for full and have been turned down or not put themselves up for full or delayed . . . I have heard a lot of discussion about the longer that goes on, the more bias there is against the person. (Chun & Evans, 2021)
New mentoring models that have emerged in recent years include network mentoring circles or mutual mentoring opportunities that create nonhierarchical collaborative interactions among faculty members at different career stages. These networks have been implemented within the confines of a given discipline or involve interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, an innovative mutual mentoring model was implemented with support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation between 2006 and 2014. Through a program of micro-grants, individual mentoring networks were established between and among mentors and protégés at different stages of career development. A unique feature of these networks is the inclusion of both academic and nonacademic mentors, such as librarians and administrators, as well as students. In a similar vein, the Coaching and Network Resource Program (CRN) implemented at the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence at Purdue University, blends both mentoring and networking models to build community among assistant and associate professors.
Another important type of program that capitalizes on intergenerational learning is reverse mentoring. In such programs, members of more recent generational cohorts share knowledge with seasoned and veteran faculty in ways to incorporate technology in the teaching process. For example, consider the reverse mentoring program offered in the School of Education at Baldwin Wallace University. In it, student tech coaches mentor veteran professors who may be exploring new methods of technical integration in their teaching. The reverse mentoring program was launched by Dr. Susan Finelli-Genovese, associate dean of the K–12 master’s program, and was instantly successful. Heather Sanderell, a senior majoring in early childhood education, mentored a faculty member who was 15 years her senior and felt the reciprocity involved in the mentoring process was beneficial to both herself and the faculty member. As she explained, “I think it’s a very beneficial program for both parties, the student and the professor, because it allows both of us the opportunity to communicate with someone from a different generation, someone who comes from a different background and perspective of learning” (Chun & Evans, 2021).
As academic leaders design and implement mentoring programs for different constituencies, it is particularly important to consider the overall needs of the workforce, especially the new dominant cohort of non-tenure-track faculty as well as administrators. In particular, mentoring programs need to address the barriers faced by women and minoritized faculty who may endure isolation, marginalization, and differential pressures within their departments and institutional culture. Structured mentoring programs that address different faculty cohorts can help advance career progress, transmit valuable institutional knowledge, and strengthen organizational learning. Through development of innovative mentoring models and systematic expansion of existing programs, colleges and universities can enhance retention, foster intergenerational engagement, and contribute to career success in fulfillment of institutional mission and goals.
Chun, E., & Evans, A. (2021). Leveraging multigenerational workforce strategies in higher education. Routledge.
Harkins, A. (2020, March 2). Providing leadership and support to professionally develop adjunct faculty. Academic Leader. https://www.academic-leader.com/topics/faculty-development/providing-leadership-and-support-to-professionally-develop-adjunct-faculty
Ibarra, H., Carter, N. M., & Silva, C. (2010, September). Why men still get more promotions than women. Harvard Business Review, 88(9), 80–126.
Yakoboski, P. (2018). Adjunct faculty: Who are they and what is their experience? TIAA Institute. https://www.tiaainstitute.org/sites/default/files/presentations/2018-10/TIAA%20Institute_2018%20Adjunct%20Faculty%20Survey_November%202018.pdf
Edna B. Chun, DM, and Alvin Evans are award-winning authors, each with more than two decades of experience in higher education. Chun teaches in the Human Capital Management Department at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies and is chief learning officer of HigherEd Talent, a national HR and diversity consulting firm. Evans is higher education practice leader for HigherEd Talent.