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.
2018 here at the Collaborative brought with it growth far surpassing our faculty surveys. We collaborated with the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education (HIHE) to launch the first ever Seminar on Leadership of the Faculty, a three-day workshop for academic leadership. An introduction between Harvard Club of New York, HIHE, and COACHE partners at the CUNY system led to a $100,000 grant for CUNY to invest in developing diverse faculty leadership. Data from the Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey yielded an exploration of mid-career faculty, an going pursuit to prevent mid-career malaise and provide support. The Faculty Retention and Exit Survey revealed the risk that a “counteroffer culture” poses to faculties’ home institutions during salary negotiations. Finally, an overhaul of our data dissemination process has made it easier for researchers to access our data in order to implement institutional changes.
Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in upstate New York, wanted to understand climate and leadership challenges within their academic departments. As faculty groups rarely had the opportunity to collaborate, it became increasingly difficult for faculty and administrators to address shared challenges in a unified manner and arrive at meaningful, campus-wide solutions. In an absence of a common group that could bridge this gap, Skidmore College partnered with the COACHE to conduct the Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey on their campus.
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.
This year's annual meeting of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities (APLU) runs from November 11th through 13th in New Orleans, LA, and we can’t think of a more appropriate place to explore this year’s theme “Resilience: Turning Challenges into Opportunities.” Public opinions of higher education have waned to a bleak perception, leaving many parents and potential students asking, “What’s the point of college?” High student loan debts, low starting salaries, and numerous sleepless nights leave many students averse to university. The negative perception of faculty is just as threatening to the success of higher education. The oft asked question of faculty is, “What do you do if you only teach two classes?”
Today, higher education institutions are using more and more data to drive decision-making. This is a good thing, however, when leaders need to include faculty in decision making and execution offering the right amount of data is of paramount importance. Faculty are, by their training, critical consumers of data and not sharing everything could be interpreted as the administration spinning the results. On the other hand, sharing every single data point can lead to an unfocused discussion. It’s no surprise then that one of the most frequent, and challenging, questions that comes up as we work with our partners is “How much of the report should we share with faculty?” Our standard answer is “Everything!” but full transparency presents its own set of challenges and concerns.
Recently I had the chance to speak with Berit Gundersen at the University of the Pacific. As the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, Gundersen lead the initiative to bring the COACHE Faculty Job Satisfaction survey to the University of the Pacific in 2014. In our discussion, she mentioned that even years later, faculty and administrators are discussing the results - even during a dinner at the President’s home this past spring. It made me wonder what aspects of their approach allowed the work to sustain itself for so long, so Berit and I dug in to try to understand what worked. Some themes began to appear that might be valuable for other institutions that wish to engage their faculty in data driven discussions.
As we near the end of our survey administration cycle, our team has begun working on institutional reports. The reports that COACHE providesare distinctive in that they allow our partners to select five peer institutions for more direct comparison. That kind of nuanced comparison can be both a blessing and a curse for our partners. The benefit of having near peer comparators comes from the ability to see beyond the national benchmarking. They provide context that helps explain why your institution may be over- or under-performs in the national landscape. The challenge that comes with this sort of data is that it can create the opportunity to dismiss the findings when the peers aren’t “perfect.” In truth, there are no perfect peers. There are choices with consequences that need to be considered and communicated throughout the rollout process. To that end, I wanted to share some thoughts about peer selection based on my experience with our partners.
During the past month COACHE launched its annual national Faculty Job Satisfaction Survey. It is by far our largest initiative every year and this year is no exception. We have over seventy institutions in our project with some campuses as small as seventy-five faculty and others with several thousand faculty. As soon as we launch, I immediately receive emails wanting to know how to track response rates and whether one institution is performing above average compared to others. Before examining these questions, it is important to consider why response rates matter and perhaps, why they should not matter quite as much? Which strategies tend to generate higher response rates? And, perhaps most importantly, how we can use the exercise of driving up response rates to effect real change on your campus?