by Kiernan Mathews, Todd Benson, Sara Polsky, and Lauren Scungio
Since 2005, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education’s (COACHE) Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey has been systematically listening to faculty and, campus by campus, revealing inequities in the faculty experience. The survey results illuminate disparitiesin perceptions about the academic workplace betweenfaculty of different racial and ethnic backgrounds—andalso demonstrate, amid a nationwide conversation about inclusion,that white faculty’s perception of diversity and inclusion efforts on campus still outpaces genuine progress.
The Chronicle Review recently published a forum on the future of the academic work force. I found it to be a grim look at trends in the professoriate. Even the thought leaders I have always counted on for optimism had only some scraps of it to share. Although urgent priorities at COACHE kept me from meeting the editor’s deadline, I decided to share here my hope for tomorrow’s faculty—in the hands of today’s faculty.
I was recently contacted by Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed about plans for meeting the childcare needs of faculty now and in the coming months. After casting around for an answer, I’ve found very little to share with her--and that absence of a plan might end up being the story.
I recently asked a forum of faculty affairs leaders about university governance beyond their boards and faculty. When we talk about “shared governance” in higher ed, what does that mean for staff? What influence do they have on the direction of the institution?
The question has a special urgency this summer as faculty were afforded (or fought for) some flexibility in coming back to campus and getting work done during the pandemic. What voice, what power (if any) do staff have in the decisions being made right now to continue, or reinvent, the work of the university?... Read more about What is the Role of University Staff in Shared Governance?
Several years ago, I observed here that the assistant, associate, and vice provosts and deans with institution-wide responsibility for faculty success (I call them “chief faculty affairs officers” or CFAOs) often find themselves alone on their campuses. Without a community of practice in academic personnel and faculty development, people in these roles “set sail to distant places” to find the professional advice and emotional support that fundraisers, admissions officers, and student affairs administrators (for example) find closer to home. At the time, there was no magnetic pole for faculty affairs professionals, so I offered links to several conferences and associations where they could piece together a peer network and learning agenda.
What leadership is required to help faculty do their very best work for our institutions?
That was the organizing question when, earlier this month, I served as Educational Chair to a second cohort of academic leaders in the Seminar on Leadership of the Faculty. The Seminar is a COACHE program I run with the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education, with my disciplinary colleagues who are leading scholars of the professoriate, and with other outside-the-box thinkers. I started this institute because data I collect suggests that academic leaders struggle to be inventive, despite their training as faculty to be just that. One goal of the Seminar is to reconnect provosts and deans with that quality of inventiveness.
“What do the faculty think?” It's a question that governing boards and presidents ask routinely—or don't ask at their peril. It's also the question that, for nearly 15 years, has prompted nearly 300 colleges and universities to participate in the survey research project I direct to understand and assess the faculty experience.
But here's the problem: it's the wrong question. The seasoned college leader appreciates that there is no such thing as “a” faculty (“encamped just north of Armageddon,” according to Robert Zemsky) followed by a verb in the third-person singular. Rather, there are many faculties. Since Change's founding, the increasing diversity in the roles, demographics, and institutional homes of faculty is the most consequential factor bedeviling the leadership of the faculty enterprise and, therefore, any transformation of the academy.
For the chief academic officer or senior administrator in faculty affairs, there's little time to hunt for the latest research that could improve the practice of academic leadership. This time-scarcity problem steers decision makers, in the interest of expediency, to revert to the status quo--doing things the way they have always been done. It's no surprise, then, that we keep seeing the same results.