Getting In on the Ground Floor

Even in the tight job market, new academic units are hiring. Would their positions be a good fit for you? Daniel Kennedy shares questions to consider.

December 6, 2010

As anyone who has recently been "on the market" surely knows, competition for tenure-track faculty positions has greatly increased in recent years. Long-tenured faculty members seem to be staying in positions longer; and when positions are advertised, they are often of the limited-term visiting professor variety.

Despite the fragile economy, colleges have expanded their offerings of certain majors and concentrations, for example forensic science and criminal justice, due to increased student demand in these areas. Expanded degree offerings generally require a college to hire one or two new faculty to complement, if not design, the program, presenting a unique opportunity to make a significant impact early in your career. However, the impact on the culture of a school is relatively minimal, as the new faculty members will likely be hired into an existing department that already has entrenched politics and cultures.

To truly get in on the ground floor, prospective faculty may want to explore opportunities at new professional schools of pharmacy, law, nursing and business. For example, there were about 80 pharmacy schools accredited by the Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education and programs in the United States 10 years ago. Now, 10 years later, the organization recognizes 120 accredited schools, with 7 more applying for accreditation this year. Similarly, in 2008, there were 10 new or proposed law schools, not including the takeover and expansion of Southern New England by the University of Massachusetts. The majority of these new schools will require at least 25 faculty to start their program. Furthermore, new schools may hire some faculty members who are outside of the specialty of the school, so there may be openings for someone who is expert in biochemistry or health policy at a pharmacy or nursing school – not to mention jobs in student affairs, admissions and so forth.

New schools present a blank slate for faculty to truly develop the curriculum and the culture of the institution, starting with its mission, vision, and values. While some of these new schools are stand-alone opportunities, the majority of them will be a part of an existing college or university. They can vary greatly in their focus, but new start-ups generally have teaching as a primary mission and guidance for tenure, so the research expectations can be much less than at a research driven university.

It may be difficult to know if a new start-up school is right for you. Here are some of the questions you might ask yourself.

How do you feel about "service"? Service can be derided by academics as something they must do, not something that they like to do. As a founding faculty member (that is, before I and my seven colleagues arrived, the school consisted of an administrative team of the dean, three assistant/associate deans and two department chairs and administrative staff) we were hired a year before students zre scheduled to arrive. Our current work focuses on the design and implementation of the curriculum, determining the student admission process, and writing the faculty and student handbooks, with the overall goal of not only receiving the appropriate approvals to be accredited, but of being proud of our preparations in enrolling our inaugural class. This has involved hours of meetings a day, and though it obviously will not be this way forever, a larger portion of your time will be your service component than might generally be expected.

Are you flexible in your pedagogy? A new school has the luxury to start a curriculum based on the latest educational research in teaching, learning and assessment. The curriculum might consist of integrated courses or case-based learning, which could be in contrast to the way a prospective faculty member has instructed previously. Assessment at a new program is crucial since the program and curriculum has yet to be validated, so it is imperative to appropriately assess all aspects to ensure program success. Thus it is important to consider whether you are willing to adapt or change your approach to teaching, learning and assessment based on the new program or whether you will hold on to previously held beliefs and assumptions. Of course, as a founding faculty member, you'll have the ability to provide input on methods of instruction, the curriculum, and the pedagogy of the school program-wide, not just at the course level, where new instructors can typically make adjustments.

Do you have multiple areas of expertise? Typically, a traditional faculty search is looking for someone with specific expertise who will teach an upper-level course and one or two general courses. In the initial stages of a new school, the ability to teach in numerous subject areas is highly valued, as the entire faculty may not be hired until the school has a class in each year of the curriculum.

Finally, are you risk-averse? A new school, like any new enterprise, is inherently more risky than a long-established institution. This is where you really need to do your homework and ask questions. What is the reason the school is opening? Did the school require and receive the support of its state's Board of Higher Education to open? Do you have confidence in the qualifications and honesty of the administration? Are the president and provost fully supportive of the new school opening? How do the community and local professionals feel about the new school? What are the general views of the idea of a new school in that location by the profession and the community? This final question is very important, for example, while as a proposal for a new law or pharmacy school in Alaska, which currently has neither, would likely be viewed more positively by the local community than in a place where the competition would be steeper.

For the service-oriented, pedagogically flexible, multi-experienced, risk taker, a new school can be a wonderful opportunity to utilize all of your skills with other new faculty members, working together to create the learning environment and culture that many established institutions dream of.


Daniel Kennedy is founding faculty member and assistant professor of pharmaceutical and administrative sciences at the Western New England College School of Pharmacy.


Back to Top