• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Title

Supply and Demand

I was talking with a friend of mine who is a long term highly regarded faculty member. This person has stood the test of time for decades: an excellent teacher who is also a published scholar and is always willing to serve his department and his school.

March 29, 2015
 
 

I was talking with a friend of mine who is a long term highly regarded faculty member. This person has stood the test of time for decades: an excellent teacher who is also a published scholar and is always willing to serve his department and his school. We were talking about the next generation of faculty and their commitment to service as well as the next generation of administrators. It clearly has become harder over time to interest faculty in administrative positions or providing more than a limited level of service.

From the vantage point of a faculty member, I completely understand the reluctance to be overly involved in University service or to pursue an academic administrative track. Success — and marketability -- as a faculty member is often measured by the quality and quantity of scholarship. Excellence complements and is informed by the scholarship but service above a certain threshold is more or less neutral in its impact. A faculty member’s record is often not enhanced by adding to the number of committees served or governance involvement, or admissions events attended, or students advised. And one’s marketability is often not strengthened by serving as department chair and/or as an assistant/associate dean. These are critical positions to the success of the academic arena but they are typically not critical to strengthening marketability or sometimes promotion prospects at your home institution. We all want and look for the best individuals to serve in these positions but we need to recognize that there are systematic deterrents to faculty accepting them.

If you look at other areas of a university, for example student affairs and athletics, there is a ready supply of involved individuals looking for opportunities to augment their qualifications. These individuals serve in important roles and their job prospects are enhanced by their greater involvement. Their marketability depends on their overall performance whereas a faculty member’s marketability may be based primarily on a part of what they are expected to do (the research agenda) with less weight on the totality.

How then do you convince the faculty to become fully engaged above the minimum threshold in service, in committee work, or in administrative responsibilities? How do you substitute for the clearer benefits inherent in focusing to the greatest extent possible on research? If your main goal is mobility even teaching quality comes second to scholarly productivity. The answer to this question involves either a change in the recognized weighting system for various aspects of performance, which will be challenging to achieve, or economic incentives that add benefits to under-weighted areas.

The market as it currently operates may not generate the needed pool of future academic administrators or future faculty governance leaders. Given the importance of these roles, we need to enhance the supply of interested faculty by enhancing the desirability by concentrating on those areas.

 

opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

 

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