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Essay calls for new model job of faculty member-administrator

Higher education could benefit from moving away from the dichotomy in jobs between those who teach and those who manage, writes Michael J. Cripps.

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Essay on partnerships between Western Governors U. and community colleges

Competency-based education has been available to students for several decades, but there’s been a jump in interest over the past year. The White House is encouraging innovation in new delivery models. Federal agencies and foundations are weighing in with studies and grants. And think tanks and higher education associations are organizing convenings and webinars.

Meanwhile, more colleges and universities are beginning to offer competency-based education (CBE) programs and many others are considering them. There has been plenty of attention, at the 30,000-foot level, concerning the potential benefits and risks of CBE, but little has been shared about what the programs entail on the ground, particularly for traditional institutions.

Over the past year, Western Governors University (WGU) has been working with 11 community colleges in five states as they create new competency-based programs (with support from the U.S. Department of Labor’s TAACCCT programs and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). We found that faculty are creatively adapting to CBE based on their students’ needs and within their existing practices.

The colleges and programs

All these pilot programs are in information technology and most are starting with certificate programs that lead to degrees. The certificates range from computer system specialist and business software specialist to network+ and programmer training.

All the colleges provide traditional classes in brick-and-mortar settings, as well as online and hybrid courses. The group includes large and small, urban and rural colleges. They serve large numbers of working adults, part-time students and students with families (see box).

Austin Community College, in Texas

Bellevue College, near Seattle

Broward College, in south Florida

Columbia Basin College, in southeastern Washington State

Edmonds Community College, near Seattle

Ivy Tech Community College, Ft. Wayne, Indiana

Ivy Tech Community College, Lafayette, Indiana

Lone Star College - University Park, Houston

Sinclair Community College, in Dayton, Ohio

Spokane Falls Community College, in eastern Washington State

Valencia College, in central Florida

We interviewed faculty, department chairs, deans and vice presidents of instruction at the colleges about the development of CBE courses. Here are some preliminary findings:

What is competency-based education?

One critical characteristic that distinguishes CBE from other courses is that students can progress at their own pace. They progress toward course objectives and toward a certificate or degree, based on demonstrating the knowledge and skills required at each level. That is, learning becomes the constant -- and is demonstrated through mastery of learning objectives, or competencies -- and time becomes the variable. Some students can accelerate their progress as other students might take more time and practice to advance.  This requires faculty to think differently about how they support learning. Course materials need to be available whenever the student is ready for them. Faculty will work with a variety of students who are learning different things at any one time.

Course development

At all 11 colleges, faculty are responsible for course development in the pilot programs, based on their college’s policies. Working mostly in teams and sometimes through processes that included industry representation, faculty modified existing course templates, enhanced course mapping to learning objectives and changed assessment processes so that students could progress at their own pace. There was a broad range, however, in how the faculty handled course development.

Prior to beginning course development, faculty at Sinclair Community College revised the curriculum to align with new Ohio standards in information technology and with industry certifications, which entailed submitting changes through the college's curriculum approval process. Faculty then worked in teams of two or three with instructional designers to develop the courses, with each template redesigned to support CBE delivery. For each course, they mapped competencies to content and assessment items to ensure that all required competencies were met. At the end of each semester, faculty review assessment results to ensure students are achieving all competencies, and adjust assessment and content items if needed.

In comparison, faculty at Columbia Basin College are making fewer modifications. This approach is about changing a delivery mode rather than developing a new curriculum. They are using existing student objectives for their courses, with existing textbook chapters serving as course units that students draw from to master the learning objectives. Each faculty member takes on all the course roles, including collecting learning materials, delivering all content and developing assessments.

The pilot programs are gathering data, and faculty will assess student outcomes and make adjustments over the next year. So far, the following elements appear to be important decision points:

The mapping of content and assessments to student learning objectives (or competencies)

Faculty at many colleges preferred the term “student learning objectives” to “competencies.” They said it was more familiar. Most existing courses already have student learning objectives, but not all content or assessments are aligned with them. At Lone Star College in Texas, faculty are working in a committee process to rebuild courses for a competency-based approach. “Mapping course objectives to student learning outcomes to achieve student success; that is not new,” said Gina Sprowl, workforce education chair and professor of accounting. “But taking the course and building it to achieve specific outcomes from the outset, that was new.”

Alan Gandy, assistant professor at Lone Star, said the idea is not to compartmentalize learning, but rather to show students how each competency relates to the overall curriculum. He said faculty are “breaking down the competencies, matching them to the assessments, so the student will see what piece they are working on in the puzzle. They’ll see the big picture, why they’re studying this and how it matches to the overall competency.”

Student supports

Each program is developing its own systems for supporting student learning. For example, faculty at all the colleges are serving their traditional roles as content experts and mentors. But these roles have shifted, as they often do in online courses, from delivering lectures to providing timely academic tutoring and engagement with students individually and in groups -- online, by phone or in person. The role is closer to that of a tutor than a lecturer.

In addition, some colleges are developing new roles to support student retention. Edmonds Community College has hired a “student mentor” to contact each student weekly to check in, find out how they’re doing, provide them with feedback and advice, and direct them to additional services as needed. The mentor serves as coach, troubleshooter, strategist and enthusiast, to address each student’s challenges and encourage their progress in these self-paced programs. Some colleges use faculty in this type of role and others use student services professionals.

Why do it?

Students attending community college in the United States are diverse, and there’s no single delivery system that serves all of them well. The faculty we interviewed described CBE not as a panacea or big risk -- but rather as another way to provide students with high-quality programs that meet their needs. Tom Nielsen, vice president of instruction at Bellevue College, said of his college’s new pilot program: “This feels like the transition when we started talking about online instruction 15 to 18 years ago. Many people at that time said we couldn’t do it. To me, it’s just another evolution. It’s another choice, another avenue for our students.”

Deborah Meadows, a dean at Columbia Basin College, said she wants to target the CBE program in information technology to women: “Our distance program tends to have more women. They tend to be working and have kids, so they're looking for ways to go to school and build options for the future.”

As colleges gain experience with competency-based programs, we’ll learn more about its impacts. Meanwhile, the programs appear to be popular at some campuses. As Suzanne Marks of Bellevue College said, “Students are voting with their feet. There’s definitely demand. Students are already asking about summer classes in this model.”

Sally Johnstone is vice president for academic advancement at Western Governors University. Thad Nodine, a novelist and writer specializing in education policy, is tracking the colleges’ experiences in creating competency-based education programs.

A professor describes her mother's influence on her job (essay)

Jessica Wells Cantiello’s mother drove her slightly crazy with mountainous packets of news clippings. Now her students are the beneficiaries.

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Why teaching developmental English breaks my heart (essay)

His name was Bobby. He sat in the front row. He paid attention and asked smart questions; he engaged his classmates in debate. He wrote his first paper about pistol-whipping another 20-something in his trailer park over a drug deal. Bobby had so many stories. He wrote about rescuing a woman after she had been raped by a neighbor. He wrote about being homeless after he left gang life. He rode a beat-up bicycle five miles one way to the college in all types of Minnesota weather, then sat wet and shivering in the front row, his hoodie pulled over his head. In late November his girlfriend gave birth, and all we had left to remind us of Bobby was that empty front-row seat.

Next came TJ. He dressed like Eminem and sported white sneakers, floppy and unlaced. He smelled funny, an overpowering bodily odor that I would learn to recognize as meth recovery. His classmates avoided being put into groups with him; they gave him space around the table. Between classes, he chain-smoked in the courtyard. When he visited me during office hours, his hands shook from nicotine.

TJ wrote about dropping out of school to join a circus. He had worked as a carnie and developed a nasty addiction. TJ wrote intoxicatingly about his past; he wrote convincingly about his new, sober life. He had no license, so his grandmother drove him to and from campus. But she was afraid to drive in snow or sleet, so TJ missed a lot of class.

TJ brought me an early draft of his essay to read. He also brought along his notebook from last semester’s remedial writing course, in which he had taken copious notes. He referred to those notes as he explained what he knew about paragraph structure, thesis placement, and the use of examples. We discussed voice shifts, tense shifts, and where to break up paragraphs. I encouraged him to visit the writing center, which I direct, and a tutor discussed his second draft with him.

The day I handed back these papers, he walked in late and slid into the back row. I walked to the rear of the room, still talking, and handed him a paper with a large blue A- circled at the top. I was already back at my teaching console, showing items on the course website, when TJ approached shyly and stopped me in mid-sentence by holding up his paper.

“Is this my grade?” he asked.

“Yes, TJ, that’s your grade,” I replied.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Yes, TJ, you earned that grade through hard work and good revision,” I said, loud enough for the class to hear.

We all watched TJ walk, beaming, back down the aisle to his seat. TJ was my model developmental writing student. But three weeks later, he vanished from my class.

I have 60 to 80 developmental writing students in my classes each term; many of them lead precarious lives. They come to me, to college, to the hope of a brighter future, but they are wounded and vulnerable and unprepared. They lack self-confidence in general; they lack academic confidence in particular. And if one thing tips the scale out of balance in their precarious lives, they will disappear.

I lie awake at night, worrying about them. Not them collectively, as one-third are doing fine and another third are squeaking by. It’s the final third, the vulnerable ones, that rob me of sleep.

As a lifelong educator, I used to worry about paper-grading burnout. Now that my teaching load is largely remedial English, I worry more about emotional burnout: the accumulated psychological toll of caring for so many.

Because the more I care about my students, the more they break my heart.

I wish that I knew less about them, that they could simply be students to me. But the best subject matter for fledgling writers is their own lives, and my students love to tell their stories. While my colleagues in other departments are feeding multiple choice bubble sheets into Scantron machines or ticking off points for math equations, I am scribbling comments in the margins of my students’ papers. I am writing things like, “Do you know how to get a restraining order? Please ask me; I will help you” and “Here’s the counseling #. Ask for Robert.”

I am also writing letters and emails, to both these students and their advisers. I am seeking student services and support agencies for them. I am trying to put a finger in every hole in the dikes of their lives so that they can stay in my class, they can learn, they can move on to college level English and the rest of their lives.

I am teaching the disciplinary material which I was trained to teach, but I am also serving as a life coach, student success skills instructor, and amateur therapist, and I have no training in these areas.

Jeff is my latest heartbreak. The last day he came to my class was a much-publicized workshop day, and I was unhappy with him for arriving without his draft. When I asked him to retrieve it from his car, he stood up and nearly keeled over. He told us he felt funny, he felt tired; he slurred his words and the sentences trailed off. His classmates looked frightened. I told him to forget about the writing assignment and go see the school nurse. I wish so badly that I had walked him to the nurse’s office myself. He never went there. But she followed up, on my request, and has since told me that he is “under the care of mental health professionals.”

I will never forget the shock on TJ’s face, followed by intense pleasure, when I confirmed his A-.

Am I the only person to ever recognize TJ’s academic aptitude, to ever tell him that he did a good job? I hope not. But so many of my remedial students hover on the brink of “I can’t do this” that I work mightily to find qualities to praise, to point out aptitudes, even as I tough-love them with sentence structure, journaling, grammar quizzes.

I cannot say that these students disappear from the world; rather, they cease to attend my class. They are still members of my community. I saw Bobby in Walmart last spring, looking as happy-go-lucky as ever, as his friends shoplifted.

TJ may be the man putting my child on a carnival ride at next summer’s county fair. Even if my female student does get that restraining order I mentioned in the margin of her last draft, she could still become a city statistic, another assault victim or death.

I live with my students perpetually on my mind. I worry about the stories that they’re not telling me. Sometimes, teaching them how to write college essays seems trite in comparison with the other challenges of their daily lives. I wish I could pour the knowledge into their brains, test them on it, and go home. I wish I could see them simply as students.

I know the way out of my dilemma. I could go back to teaching courses with names like Writing Poetry and Women’s Perspectives.

I could teach the students who are college-ready, who passed that arbitrary, high-stakes placement test, or who have already schlepped their way through a remedial course like mine.

But then who would encourage John to get tested for dyslexia? Who would ask my Hmong student about her pregnancy, or my Somali student about her father’s heart surgery? Who would watch the 30-year-old veteran’s face for signs of anxiety and reassure him?

When I was a graduate student, teaching freshman comp, I used to walk home each day, asking myself one question: “Did I do a good job?”

At the end of a day teaching remedial English, I still ask myself one question, and it’s always the same one: “Did I do enough?”

Pam Whitfield is an English and equine science instructor and writing coordinator at Rochester Community and Technical College, in Minnesota.

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Essay asks why White House efforts to combat sexual assault aren't more focused on alcohol

Last week, the Obama administration released an important report, “Not Alone,” addressing the daunting problem of sexual assault on college campuses.

The report was accompanied by an extensive set of  helpful questions and answers to guide colleges and universities in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that provides the legal framework for oversight of how colleges and universities assure that all students are free from sexual harassment and assault. It was also accompanied by an advance summary of a systematic review of the literature on primary prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a public health physician, I was surprised and disappointed that the word “alcohol” literally does not appear anywhere in the chapter on prevention. And in fact the word occurs only once in the text, in a section referring to future online technical assistance from the Justice Department.

To the administration’s credit, links to reports and guidance related to college drinking were included in the excellent, comprehensive “Not Alone” webpage and within the preliminary CDC report.

Studies suggest that at least half of all sexual assaults on college campuses involve the use of alcohol. I wonder if the administration chose to ignore in its report this important and common link in the chain of causal and correlated factors that often leads to sexual assault because officials were concerned that merely noting the association might lead to unfair blaming of the survivors of sexual assault when they have consumed alcohol or other drugs.

While I applaud the sensitivity to the tendency by some to wrongly blame survivors of sexual assaults when they have been drinking, omitting any discussion of the admittedly complicated issue was a serious mistake if we hope that the report prompts colleges and universities to use every possible avenue of intervention to prevent sexual assault on our campuses.

When the college that I lead began to address this issue, specialists in the prevention of sexual assault on college campuses were very blunt in their direction to us: They told us that we would never address the problem unless we also addressed the issue of excessive drinking. Our student leaders echoed that conclusion as they took a leading role in developing new initiatives to reduce sexual violence among our students.  For example, our students suggested that we create an alcohol-free space where students can linger for food and conversation after parties end. This provides students with an opportunity to “disengage” from the party, as well as time that is helpful in making good decisions.

The omission in the report is especially surprising because the federal government’s own National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which I had the privilege of directing when I worked at the National Institutes of Health, has devoted significant resources to build the evidence base to help colleges reduce the human costs of excessive drinking on campuses. Many of these resources are readily available at www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov.

The inclusion of the word “first” in the title of the week’s report suggests that there will be other reports. I am optimistic that future reports that address sexual assault will take on the important and complicated issue of excessive drinking and drug use as one part of this deeply troubling issue.

 

Raynard S. Kington is president of Grinnell College. Before coming to Grinnell in 2010, he served in a range of positions at the National Institutes of Health, including principal deputy director and acting director, NIH associate director for behavioral and social sciences research, and acting director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Academics in Ireland hope to create an online education brand

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Would a joint effort allow the universities to find a niche in digital education?

The Pulse podcast interviews Ray Henderson of In the Telling

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The technology entrepreneur Ray Henderson discusses his latest venture, In the Telling, in this month's edition of The Pulse podcast.

Two novelists discuss their experiences as adjuncts

Adjuncts Interviewing Adjuncts

Two novelists discuss their careers off the tenure track.

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Essay calls on college administrators, trustees and faculty to work together

Although to my knowledge no one has tracked in a given year much less over time the number of faculty votes of no confidence in their presidents, readers of Inside Higher Ed will observe that such votes appear to be taking place all the time. The reporting of these votes reveals that faculty members generally are protesting what they judge to be their presidents' failure to honor shared governance, particularly when it comes to academic matters. Such votes often also condemn what the faculty see as a campus culture that is top-down and corporate rather than collaborative in nature, particularly when budgets are being cut.

This complaint that colleges have embraced business values and practices at the expense of academic values and practices is not a new one. Robert Margesson in A Rhetorical History of Academic Freedom From 1900 to 2006 noted that the American professoriate has been claiming at least as far back as 1908 that colleges and universities had become too corporate and that presidents had too much power.

This history notwithstanding, as I argue in my new book, Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Seniors Administrators and Faculty Can Help Their Institutions Thrive (Jossey-Bass), many presidents (and their boards) are in fact now minimizing and even ignoring the notions of shared governance in unprecedented ways. For example, increasing numbers of presidents whose institutions are facing significant financial pressures have — without the involvement of the faculty — eliminated, added or reorganized academic programs and altered how funds for departmental budgets and faculty lines are allocated.

Others have sought to create greater efficiencies and increase faculty “productivity” as defined by the number of students and/or class hours taught and, in the view of the faculty, moved too quickly, thereby violating the faculty’s wish for extended deliberations. Moreover, nearly 75 percent of faculty currently teaching at our colleges and universities today are “contingent,” (i.e., not on the tenure track and often part-time) compared to roughly 22 percent in 1969. Since contingent faculty generally have no role in governance, the reality today is that the majority of those teaching at the college level have no opportunity whatsoever to contribute to institutional decision-making.

Believing themselves under siege, many tenured and tenure-track faculty are assuming a more adversarial stance toward their administrations and sometimes their boards than I believe was previously the case. Even more specifically, because many faculty members believe that their traditional prerogatives in terms of academic matters and their established processes for faculty deliberation (which many see as their protection) are being ignored, the traditional tensions between faculty and administration are being aggravated.

Although these trends may be understandable, they are also having the very damaging consequence that a number of presidents whom I would judge effective and who do in fact embrace academic values and seek to foster shared governance, are questioning the very viability of the college presidency. I have been startled in my recent informal conversations with presidents at higher education meetings and/or in phone calls that so many presidents, already troubled by the many external challenges facing higher education, have contemplated leaving their position because of their contentious relationships with some members of their faculty. Typically, these presidents were considering either returning to teaching, retiring early or moving out of academe altogether.

Despite the fact that these presidents are located across the country and in institutions of various sizes with an array of different missions, their refrain has been consistent. In addition to citing the unrelenting demands of the job and the extraordinary financial challenges facing their institutions, both of which require an inordinate amount of presidential time and energy, most were more discouraged by what they characterized as persistent and often public criticism from a very vocal minority of faculty members on their campuses. To a person, all were dismayed that most members of their faculty, including those who privately expressed their support for them, were intimidated into silence by a small number of vocal and often vitriolic opponents who dominated the discourse in faculty meetings, in hallways and in lots of dark corners.

Most of these presidents have multiyear contracts. Only one of those with whom I have spoken recently has experienced anything approaching a formal protest from faculty colleagues, after which his board gave him a new five-year contract. Thus, none were worried about job security. Rather, their legitimate worries about the external environment were compounded by their worries about the climate on their own campuses. In addition, in a few instances, their concerns were magnified because they were uncertain that their board would be united in its support of any unpopular actions on their part, even in cases when the board had approved those actions. Several noted that their most vocal critics argued that all administrators were untrustworthy and/or incompetent. Sometimes, faculty members shared these views with their students, inspiring student dissent and distrust. Some faculty involved alumni.

Several presidents talked about how their colleagues always viewed the present through the lens of their memories of the past. On a number of campuses, presidents told me, when they looked into ongoing complaints about “the administration’s actions,” they learned the actions being criticized came from prior administrations. (I confess that sometimes when I am visiting campuses as part of consulting projects and hear such stories, I am reminded of Faulkner’s line in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”)

The presidents with whom I talked were all also aware that any conflict on campus today could readily attract a great deal of negative public attention that might harm their institution and garner support for their critics, both in social media — often through Facebook pages — and also in the local and sometimes national press as well. Although these presidents recognized that such media campaigns were often mounted because faculty and students had legitimate concerns, they were nevertheless nervous that such campaigns might be successfully mounted against them for what they believed to be less compelling reasons. (See the following Inside Higher Ed pieces for examples of media campaigns and related controversies that led to presidential resignations at places as diverse as Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Louis University and Florida Atlantic University.)

Of course, such tensions are occasioned today by the fact that so many colleges and universities, sometimes for the first time in their history, are facing declining or unpredictable enrollments, rising financial aid discounts and structural deficits that have led to higher than standard endowment payouts, which threaten the sustainability of the institution over time. Because these problems seem to defy easy answers, many campuses are extremely anxious about their future. As one faculty member told me this fall, he understood that he and his colleague were unlikely to find other positions in higher education, if their institution closed.

Even so, he observed, most of his colleagues were in denial about the seriousness of the problem and instead were focused on what he called “the blame game.” He expressed regret that few on the faculty were willing to work with the administration to try to find solutions. On another campus suffering declining enrollments and where the faculty had not had a pay raise for years, faculty members refused to meet with prospective students and their families unless they were paid stipends to do so. The institution responded that it would only have the funds for such activities if enrollments increased. When last I checked, they were at an impasse.

Presidents and faculty members both should be nervous about the future. Perhaps most importantly, because the majority of American private college and universities are overwhelmingly tuition-dependent and because the funding of so many public institutions is based on enrollment, the financial impact of reduced enrollments can be devastating. Some recent statistics illustrate the volatility of enrollments:

  • Total undergraduate enrollment was down at 45.6 percent of all institutions in 2011-12 from the previous year and down at 41 percent of private institutions.
  • In 2012-13, the enrollment declines continued with declines of nearly a half million students, compared to the previous year, with approximately 90 percent of this decline coming from those who were over 25 years old.
  • Graduate enrollment too has softened. For example, in 2012, first-time graduate student enrollment declined 1.7 percent and more strikingly, enrollment of U.S. citizens at American graduate programs declined 2.3 percent.

A few specific examples will illustrate the serious consequences of declining enrollments.

  • Iowa Wesleyan College, despite its 117-year history, plans to close 16 of 32 academic programs (including studio art, sociology, history, philosophy of religion, communication and forensic science), to shrink its faculty from 52 to 22 and to reduce its staff from 78 to 55. Its new focus will be exclusively on business, education and nursing. The college will also seek to enroll greater numbers of adult students. 
  • University of Maryland University College, serving nontraditional students, such as members of the military, the federal government and working adults recently announced that it would lay off 70 employees. Its enrollment was 43,000 in 2011. For 2013, UMUC anticipates 37,000 students.
  • The University of Maine System announced plans to lay off approximately 165 faculty and staff members. This follows the elimination of 520 positions (one-tenth of the faculty, one-fourth of administrators and one-sixth of hourly employees since 2007).

Today’s financial pressures are so serious that Moody’s in 2014 issued a negative outlook for all of higher education, essentially exempting only the most affluent and selective colleges and universities. In reaching this judgment, Moody’s was influenced by the stressed business conditions in higher education, especially that revenue growth was anticipated to by much lower than had previously been the case at a time when “pent-up institutional needs” were requiring expenditures greater than revenue. Moody’s also cited uncertain funding from the public and private sectors and the current regulatory environment.

But despite the fact that these pressures are affecting the entire higher education sector, most of the presidents with whom I talked believed that they had failed to persuade their faculty colleagues that their institution was being challenged by external forces that generally were beyond their control. Rather, most of these presidents told me, when they shared information about the higher education landscape with their colleagues (and sometimes their boards), what they hear in return is that their own institution is immune from such circumstances because they are better than those being affected, that their institution has survived in the past and so will continue to survive in the future and/or that the problem really is not external but internal, i.e., that if the administration simply functioned more effectively, everything would be fine.

If in fact our colleges are to thrive in these difficult times, members of the faculty and the administration must overcome this growing divide and intentionally become partners in thinking about their institution’s future so that their institution can benefit from the best thinking of all of its members. They need to abandon the position that they are natural adversaries.

What might such a new partnership look like? For their part, I believe that presidents and boards must commit to and act on the notions that education is the institution’s reason for being, that faculty members ultimately are the heart and soul of the institution and that faculty voices do need to be at the appropriate tables. Thus, I believe that when boards select nontraditional presidents who come from outside the academy, they be sure that their choice has had an experience of some sort — as a student, a faculty member, an administrator or a board member — at a comparable institution and that they value the academic enterprise.

I am equally persuaded (although many faculty members will not welcome this suggestion) that professors understand that if they wish to contribute both to the conversation and decision-making, they need to act in a much more timely fashion than has been previously the case, sometimes even immediately. They will also need to embrace new approaches to governance that focus on institutional health rather than solely on their individual or departmental interests. For example, despite the difficulty of doing so, faculty members need to be willing to partner with the administration to make often-painful decisions about the allocation of resources. Without such collaboration, many administrations will act unilaterally.

One such example occurred a few years ago at a university where several departments enrolled at the most only a handful of students, who were taught by an equivalent number of faculty members. The president established a program prioritization process in which a committee comprising faculty members and the vice president for academic affairs spent the academic year analyzing course offerings and enrollment patterns. The committee ultimately recommended that the university phase out several majors and one minor that they judged were not central to the institution’s mission and that in the committee’s judgment were not financially sustainable. Their recommendation called for the tenured faculty to be reassigned to teach in other departments if those departments so approved and/or to teach interdisciplinary courses in the freshman and senior seminar programs. The untenured faculty would be retained only for the duration of their current contracts. Thus, although the savings would not be immediate, eliminating these programs would free up resources over time. The president was pleased with the recommendations. However, the entire faculty spent the following year debating the matter, ultimately voting down the recommendations overwhelmingly because they did not want to set the precedent that any major or any minor at all should be abolished. Board members are considering instructing the president to make such decisions administratively going forward.

For colleges and universities to chart a successful future going forward, I believe that faculty members and administrators alike must move beyond constituency politics. They and their boards must also embrace their academic mission, see themselves as partners and act in the best interests of the institution as a whole. Short of such a partnership and such an institutional perspective, I fear that the best of those in leadership positions may step down, that contentiousness will lead institutions to an unhealthy and unsustainable paralysis and that prospective students and potential donors may make other choices.

Susan Resneck Pierce is president emerita of the University of Puget Sound and president of SRP Consulting. Her latest book, Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Senior Administrators and Faculty Can Help Their Institutions Thrive, has just been published by Jossey-Bass.

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Coping when your mentors move on (essay)

Ulf Kirchdorfer offers a paean to the retired professors who mentored him -- and wonders if other people miss their senior colleagues as much as he does.

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