Where the Faculty Affairs Things Are (Now): Conferences and Convenings Updated

by Kiernan Mathews


People listening to a conference presentationSeveral 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.

That blog post, I have recently learned, has been one of COACHE’s most frequently visited pages. Today, I take a new look at the learning landscape for administrators in the faculty success space.


I have assembled here a few of my favorite organizations and conferences where you can find “our people,” starting with the latest additions:

Seminar on Leadership of the Faculty

The Seminar is a program run jointly by COACHE and the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education here at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I started this institute for provosts and deans because data I collect suggests that academic leaders struggle to be inventive, despite their training as faculty to be just that. The Seminar seeks to reconnect provosts and deans with that quality of inventiveness through interaction with each other and with my disciplinary colleagues who are leading scholars of the professoriate. (We feature other outside-the-box thinkers, too.)

Harvard Institutes for Higher Education

Speaking of the Harvard Institutes, they continue to adapt to the changing academy and the leadership development required to meet today’s challenges. The core offerings are three summer programs, each targeted at a certain level of administrative experience, each delivering a comprehensive developmental package. These programs take place across about two weeks in residence in Cambridge—a crucible for personal and professional growth where lasting networks are forged. There are also shorter, focused-topic programs like Women in Education Leadership, Crisis Leadership in Higher Education, Leading for Student Success in Higher Education, and Making Classroom Discussions More Inclusive and Effective. While none of these Harvard Institutes is exclusively designed for CFAOs, there are always enough of them in each cohort who form their own “birds of a feather” group.

APLU Faculty Success Community

In 2017, several CFAOs at public land-grant universities organized a community of practice for themselves, but they have not limited participation to APLU members. They host an excellent, fluff-free listserv and forum that has quickly become an essential resource for this class of administrator. A recent question posed to the group, which prompted multiple, on-point response and links to resources, was: “Do you have a promotion process for your non-tenure track faculty? Does the promotion package include evaluation letters from your campus or outside the institution?” I won’t post the registration page to keep the spambots and nonsense away, so interested parties should contact deprince@iastate.edu or meganmp@iastate.edu with a note including your credentials and a request for participation. This Faculty Success group also meets annually in May/June at various host campuses and in an “unconference” format—no vendors, no noise—as well as at the APLU Annual Meeting (see below).

ACE Engage

The American Council on Education, mentioned below for its annual meeting, has just launched an online community for leaders. Still in its early stages, it’s worth trying out as a potential virtual home for faculty affairs officers.

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, inclusive 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)

Faculty affairs administrators at land-grant universities can look to APLU's Council on Academic Affairs, 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. The CAA offers a track through matters of academic affairs, not always those with a focus on faculty, but the Faculty Success group (mentioned above) is developing more focused content. The annual meeting is expensive, but worth it for the networking and exposure to the key issues facing higher education leaders right now.

The American Council on Education

This organization puts together an annual meeting attended by the “who’s who” in university leadership. 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 Research & Insights featured on their website, although the faculty focus has blurred there in recent years.

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

CUWFA annual conferences include many faculty affairs types and a bounty of related content, like dual career policies and advice on attracting and retaining the millennial workforce. With a strong HR bent, CUWFA has a more “professionalized” aura than other higher ed conferences; its members have a lot to offer the professor who has just been “voluntold” to serve as assistant dean.


What am I missing? If you've read this far, Tweet or email your suggestions and I'll update this list accordingly.


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