The forthcoming book, Success After Tenure: Supporting Mid-Career Faculty, offers a unique perspective on how to support mid-career faculty. The book focuses on issues faced by mid-career faculty and examines innovative programs and models that can be used to support their professional development, as well as best practices for effective faculty engagement. COACHE recently hosted a webinar, “Success After Tenure: Lessons in Engaging Mid-Career Faculty”, which discussed the trends and themes around mid-career faculty that were unearthed in the book. Lead editor of the book, Vicki L. Baker; contributing author, Todd Benson; and COACHE partners and faculty development practitioners from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Anne Marie Canale and Cheryl Herdklotz, offered their own insights and perspectives on the issue.
Studying Mid-Career Faculty
There is relatively limited research and practice devoted specifically to mid-career faculty as compared to pre-tenure faculty. That is why, in 2009, the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) modified our existing survey instrument to study the full range of full-time faculty, including associates and non-tenure-track faculty.
The results of our research indicated that mid-career faculty were struggling. According to data collected by rank and tenure status at 50 COACHE research universities, the average age of an assistant professor and associate professor is 38 and 48 years respectively. Given their typical age group, mid-career faculty members are likely to be facing personal as well as professional challenges and transitions. A COACHE survey of over 5,000 associate professors in the rank for more than six years showed that 45% of respondents do not believe that their department has a culture where associate professors are encouraged to work towards promotion to full. Furthermore, 40% said they do not have a plan to submit their dossier for promotion to full professor.
Lessons from Editing Success After Tenure, and From the Field
Instead of categorizing the book by institution type , the editors wisely chose to organize it by theme (leadership development, teaching and learning, scholarly development, and special topics) to show that these topics transcend institution type and are crucial for supporting all mid-career faculty. The book provides specific examples of problems that mid-career faculty are facing, how those problems were addressed through programming at various levels, and what ongoing improvements can be made to the programming.
COACHE partners at RIT have been providing professional and personal development opportunities to their mid-career faculty, and the data reflects the success of these efforts. Their framework is based on three different areas – organizational development, functional development, and personal development. The Faculty Career Development team works closely with the faculty, and designs programming based on faculty ideas. Calling themselves facilitators, their programs are “by the faculty, for the faculty.”
The presenters agreed that there is a need to create more programming around mid-career faculty to ensure their personal and professional growth. Despite earning tenure, faculty should be provided with resources, mentoring or any other support they might need to evolve in their careers. And, most importantly, data should be used to institutions that mid-career faculty development is crucial. Data driven ideas that aligns with faculty needs as well as with institutional priorities have a higher chance of being implemented.