Promoting Career Flexibility

A novel idea from Simmons College: If you want professors to learn management skills, you need to give them some time. Plus other awards for creative ways to help faculty.
January 30, 2008

Many professors worry that colleges these days prefer a professional class of administrators to promoting faculty members. In turn, many administrators complain that faculty members -- however good at their teaching and research -- may lack key skills for more responsibility.

A new program at Simmons College -- one of six master's institutions receiving grants Tuesday to promote "faculty career flexibility" -- aims to provide professors with a path to pick up administrative skills, without just adding on to their workloads. The grants are being awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which last year awarded similar grants to research universities.

The key part of the Simmons program is that it does not just expect professors to take on extra duties without any release from their regular responsibilities. Simmons will use its Sloan funds (and other funds) to enable each of the college's five divisions to offer one faculty member release time for one course (switching faculty members from a 3-3 workload to a 3-2 workload). Departments will get support to cover the missed courses, and a series of services will be offered to the participating faculty members to allow them to explore an administrative career path.

The participating faculty members will then get a range of opportunities: shadowing administrators, attending workshops on specific skills in fund raising or financial management, mentoring from top officials, the opportunity to play a key role in some project outside the professors' normal areas of expertise. While many colleges have mentoring programs and other parts of this effort, the key is that those participating will be able to do so instead of some of their regular duties, not on top of them.

"We're using the Sloan Foundation funds to be able to buy out faculty time, so people can have truly dedicated time for professional development," said Susan C. Scrimshaw, president at Simmons. "We're trying to say that if you have an interest in developing other areas, we'll swap some of that for teaching."

Scrimshaw said that still has the notes from and remembers a workshop she attended while a faculty member at the University of California in 1990, when she was beginning to shift from the faculty to administrative ranks.

She also noted that because Simmons is unusual in its faculty demographics -- 65 percent of full-time professors are women -- she hoped that the effort would diversify the administrative ranks.

The other five institutions that will each receive $200,000 from Sloan are:

  • Boise State University, which plans to develop mentoring programs for faculty members to address the work-life balance issues in all career stages; to create policies and processes that allow for part-time tenure-track and tenured appointments for faculty at all stages of their careers; and to educate promotion and tenure committee members about policies and procedures that encourage career flexibility.
  • Canisius College, which will adopt several new policies, including creating a second extension of the probationary period; establishing a half-time or part-time appointment with proportional salary; and allowing faculty members to count summer teaching as part of their annual course load.
  • San Jose State University, which plans to promote an "academic career life cycle approach" for all phases of faculty careers. An example is the development of a retreat for tenured faculty members who are evaluated in the post-tenure review process. The retreat will focus on a "development option," to reinforce the importance of reflection on past achievements and to plan for future academic accomplishments.
  • Santa Clara University, which will create undergraduate courses focusing on work-life balance for both female and male students. The courses will include both cognitive and experiential approaches to helping students develop the knowledge base and the skills needed to navigate issues associated with work-life. Students will also engage in simulated work-life decision-making exercises, requiring them to make and explain their choices in career planning, budgeting, partnership or marriage, child care, scheduling, and housekeeping.
  • The University of Baltimore, which will create programs for "Generation X" professors, with an emphasis on dual-career support. Additionally, the University of Baltimore will set up a liberal policy of phased-in retirement for faculty members.


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