Where the Faculty Affairs Things Are: Conferences and Convenings

by Kiernan Mathews

This blog post was republished in 2019 with an updated list of resources: "Where the Faculty Affairs Things Are (Now): Conferences and Convenings Updated"

A group of colleagues around a conference tableEvery so often in my work at COACHE, I meet a brand-new vice provost or associate dean responsible for faculty affairs (or faculty development, or faculty excellence, or so on) at his or her university. Nine times out of ten, these are faculty who demonstrated their leadership as department chairs or on important university-wide committees and now find themselves as academic administrators without a community of peers on campus. It can be a difficult transition. Where do they turn to find support, professional development, and comfort that they aren't alone?

Like Max in Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, these souls set sail to distant places to find a rag-tag band of misfits who are both diverse and just like them. With their belief in human development, that is, in our capacity to change, these faculty affairs leaders form intimate bonds and gain precious wisdom that sustain them during their darkest hours back at home.

I've assembled here a few of my favorite organizations and conferences where you can find assembled the vice, associate, and assistant provosts and deans and associate deans for faculty affairs.

Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network

POD’s annual meeting has traditionally been dominated by issues faced by centers for teaching and learning, but since I have known it, POD has evolved into the de facto association for faculty developers of all ranks throughout their institutions. The spirit of this conference is wonderful—it is my favorite association meeting in terms of the welcoming atmosphere and the shared sense of mission.

Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U)

American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD)

The AAC&U annual meeting has a track for academic administrators sponsored by ACAD, which historically focuses on issues of general education and liberal arts. Their track through AAC&U’s annual meeting has, over recent years, increasingly yielded worthwhile information generally on managing the whole faculty enterprise. Their sessions on data use--recently standing-room only--are particularly helpful. ACAD membership also comes with access to a members-only discussion list, where faculty affairs professionals might find a virtual community, too. Also, the POD Network (mentioned above) now hosts a “New Faculty Developers” workshop on the day before the AAC&U annual meeting every January.

Academic Chairpersons Conference

Most of those attending are department chairs themselves, but not exclusively so. Content includes sessions like, “Succeeding with Problem Faculty: A 6-Step Guide,” “Essentials for New Department Chairs,” “Positive Academic Leadership,” and “Team Work, Decision Making, and Working with Your Dean.” They meet in warm climates during the winter, so attendance is a nice break for us New Englanders.

Keeping Our Faculty of Color Symposium

This conference, operated by the University of Minnesota, is intermittent—it was even canceled one year—but I have attended or presented at it twice and found it to be refreshingly focused on matters of faculty diversity. I have heard diversity described as "a top five priority, except that the top four keep changing."

Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC)

This is the national HERC website, which offers resources both for recruiting faculty (especially diversifying the pool) and for academic administrators' own professional development. I strongly recommend checking out their slate of webinars and the events mounted by the growing array of regionally-focused HERCs. 

Association of Public Land-grant Universities / Council on Academic Affairs (CAA)

For those faculty affairs administrators at land-grant universities, APLU's Council, comprised of provosts who meet each year in July (provosts only) and November (at the open-door Annual Meeting). At the summer meeting, the Committee on Faculty leads one session for all in attendance. One year, the committee chair organized a panel on “Faculty Roles: Why Do Title and Rank Matter and to Whom”? (My own project, COACHE, provided some data on non-tenure-track faculty to help frame the conversation.) At the fall meeting, each Council has a track. While the CAA offers a track through matters of academic affairs, not all are focused on faculty issues; that Committee meets once or twice at the meeting to discuss their business.

The American Council on Education

This organization puts together an annual meeting attended by the “who’s who” in university leadership. Though the names, the agenda is not specific to faculty issues, but faculty affairs administrators can pick and choose enough of a program for themselves. They will also be interested in the "faculty issues" resources featured on their website, as well as a number of leadership development programs for provosts and presidents.

The Colleges and Universities Work-Life-Family Association (CUWFA)

I was reminded of this resource by Sara-Jane Finlay, Associate Vice President for Equity & Inclusion at the University of British Columbia. She said that CUWFA conferences include faculty affairs types--and they have a LinkedIn group, too.

What am I missing? If you've read this far, just comment below and I'll update this list accordingly.