Academic administration

Essay urges academe to rethink tenure

Institutions, faculty members and (most important) students will be better off with other forms of job security for professors, writes Chris Palmer.

Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 

Florida community college faculty contracts again under review

Smart Title: 

A year after community college faculty members fought off a challenge to their tenure-like contracts, a new proposal surfaces.

Essay on teaching veterans

Tyro Tracts

Instructors shouldn't generalize about their veteran students, but should be aware of the issues they may face, writes Nate Kreuter.

Editorial Tags: 

Conference considers issues associated with higher education systems

Smart Title: 

While flagships nationally have been bristling of late over being grouped with other institutions, SUNY conference focuses on advantages of working together.

Essay on how recruitment and retention are now part of all academics' duties

Many professors and even department chairs pay little heed to enrollment, believing it falls under the purview of admissions. However, enrollment plays a substantial role in professorial workload and even salary. If enrollment keeps dropping, an entire department can be put on the chopping block.

These days everyone needs a little R&R: recruitment and retention, that is.

The new emphasis on R&R has to do with money. This is not news. Everything these days has to do with budget.

In the past, when higher education was better-funded, faculty lines were replaced when people resigned or retired. Now positions typically revert to the college or university for redistribution. Because most budget models are in part entrepreneurial, those professorial positions usually are assigned to units with stable or increasing enrollment.

Loss of a position means more professors teach extra classes; moreover, the breadth of offerings may shrink as experts in subfields are not replaced. But the bill for falling enrollment doesn’t stop there. Everything is affected from dining (fewer students in cafeterias) to lab fees (someone has to pay them) to residence hall bills (too many vacant rooms).

Other fees and tuition may rise as enrollment falls.

Declining enrollment occurs for a variety of reasons. At pricey institutions, including public ones that aren’t household names, the recession may be to blame. Student debt is another consideration. There are also perceptions about job opportunities in certain disciplines like mine (more on that later).

While lower enrollment affects everyone, it can have a devastating impact on the liberal arts and sciences.

At public universities, those colleges typically provide general education for other colleges, such as engineering, business and agriculture. As such, the liberal arts and sciences not only must serve their own majors but also everyone else’s.

There are a couple of ways to accomplish this budgetarily. Liberal arts deans can argue for a budget model that rewards student credit hours or they can advocate curricular streamlining (e.g., eliminating sequences, pedagogical duplication, outdated courses, etc.).The savvier deans argue for both. But at institutions that count only the number of majors, liberal arts disciplines that play a key role in providing general education can end up with the short end of the stick.

Problem is, central administration controls the budget model and professors control the pedagogy. Often it is easier to persuade central administration of the service role of the liberal arts than it is to convince faculty of the benefits of streamlined curriculums.

In the short term, a budget model that rewards student credit hours means more tuition flows to the liberal arts and sciences to cover classes for other colleges. But there’s a downside. If units are being rewarded for credit hours, there may be little incentive to recruit and retain their own dwindling cohorts of majors.

The worst possible world for a liberal arts and sciences department is to provide general education for other colleges while increasing curriculums for its own majors. Not only will little attention likely be paid to recruitment and retention, but resources will be stretched to the limit to advance majors in degree programs. The result can deteriorate to five- and six-year graduation rates, mammoth gen-ed classes, and increasingly smaller major classes — some of which are canceled due to low enrollment, further delaying graduation for majors.

That scenario can spell soaring student debt, workload inequities for continuing professors and low adjunct pay for temporary employees.

Every department in every college should pay attention to recruitment and retention. Some programs have an added responsibility because their majors may find it difficult to secure employment or do so at low starting salaries, insufficient to pay off typical debt.

That’s the perception these days of journalism schools like mine — and the reason we have stepped up efforts to recruit and retain as many students as possible.

For the past several years, we saw the number of our majors remain steady but discovered a trend of declining levels of pre-majors. We looked into that immediately and found that in part our requiring a rigorous English usage test had something to do with that in an age of texting. We also learned that admissions had been sending some of our possible recruits to communication studies. We addressed those problems and did more.

And to our surprise, we not only have been able to increase enrollment, we had a record year, with 131 incoming students majoring in journalism and advertising. That was an increase of 19 percent in journalism and 52 percent in advertising over the previous year, securing the highest total incoming class in the largest college at Iowa State University.

Here are some of our best practices, easily adapted to any discipline:

1. We created prospective student informational packets for high school advisers. These included copies of award-winning student media publications along with other literature about our program, touting our near 50 percent four-year graduation rates and 97 percent placement rates within six months of commencement.

2. We created a prospective student blog with videos of our exemplary faculty, staff and alumni.

3. We sent regular e-mail blasts to prospective students, keeping them informed about student awards, financial aid, media organizations and other news of interest.

4. We created the Greenlee School Ambassador program, training and assigning our top majors to meet with prospective students and their families.

5. Our advisory council created a PowerPoint about successful journalists and advertisers from our school, which we show to all pre-majors.

6. As director, I took over our two orientation classes to help with retention efforts, letting students know how important they are to our program and helping them design four-year undergraduate plans of study to defray student debt and graduate on time.

7. We hosted ice cream socials to welcome new students to the program and give them the opportunity to interact with faculty, staff and student organizations.

8. We focused on recruitment and retention during our signature events such as our nationally recognized First Amendment Day, inviting busloads of prospective students to our celebrations.

9. We made student scholarships and internships a priority, raising more than $1 million in academic year 2011-12 in direct funding, bequests and apprenticeships with high-visibility media companies like Meredith Corporation and the Scripps Foundation.

10. We also are designing a transparency page, with vital statistics about average student loans and debt for our majors as well as updated graduation and placement rates, among other assessment data essential for students and their parents to be prudent consumers of higher education.

Perhaps our best recruitment tools are the enthusiasm of our students and alumni. Recently I polled my ethics class about their journalistic passion and recruitment recommendations. You can view their responses on my class blog. We are in the process of using this in the current academic year to recruit high school students interested in media and technology.

Alumni also have an active role not only in our school but also in our institution. For instance, CNN anchor Christine Romans was enlisted to make this video.

Phil Caffrey, our director of admissions operations and policy, used my name as an example in the video to showcase a new initiative that involves sending a “Congratulations, you’re admitted!” email to each undergraduate applicant approved for admission.

A similar video in the applicant’s name is sent a day or two after she or he submits an online application for admission.

“We asked Christine Romans for help with this project and she really came through!” Caffrey said. “She and her colleagues at CNN volunteered their time and resources to shoot their portion of the video, and they did an incredible job.

“The video is getting rave reviews from our admitted students and their parents. In fact, a very large number of the admitted students are posting the video on Facebook for their friends and relatives to see.” He added, “This project would never have happened without Christine’s help!”

And success with our recruitment and retention efforts would never have happened without our focusing on the new R&R with the same intensity that we give to research, teaching and service.

You can do the same.

Michael Bugeja is director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University.

Editorial Tags: 

Growing populations of underprepared students provide a new challenge for private colleges

Smart Title: 

Small private colleges are preparing to deal with demographic shifts in their student populations.

Essay on the need for meaningful post-tenure review

I often hear complaints from legislators, the press, the general public, and even other provosts that it is difficult to hold tenured faculty accountable for all the jobs they agreed to do when they sought tenure: teach well, conduct path-breaking research, and bring the results of their research to the wider community through extension and outreach. I believe faculty members can be held accountable – and that doing so will strengthen the tenure system..

While my colleagues do not suggest we eliminate tenure, many outside the academy do. Yet, when administered well, tenure serves a very important societal purpose. The best faculty members are often working on research that pushes the boundaries of knowledge and challenges established orthodoxy. Sometimes faculty members are mocked by their own colleagues for the generation of novel ideas that challenge such orthodoxies.

An excellent recent example is my esteemed colleague, Danny Shechtman (of Iowa State University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology), who discovered quasi-crystals and won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for that discovery. Yet, for years Professor Shechtman was shunned by other researchers who did not believe that quasi-crystals could exist, primarily because two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling disbelieved the revolutionary work. Tenure allowed Schechtman to persevere until proof of his discovery had been verified.

Even the American Association of University Professors, in its statement on tenure, recognizes that tenure is not a right. Tenure carries a responsibility to contribute fully to the life of a university. The challenge is to use tenure wisely to foster the creation of new knowledge, while also enforcing an ethic of responsibility that each faculty member contributes fully to the college or university where she or he works.

Over the past five and a half years, while serving as executive vice president and provost at Iowa State, I had the privilege of working with the Iowa State Faculty Senate,  a body that understands that tenure comes with responsibility. During that period, we negotiated three substantial policy changes that are described in detail below. But first, I need to describe a policy change that predated my tenure, but set the stage for the recent shifts.

More than 10 years ago, the Faculty Senate began a process of transforming faculty responsibility by creating a new tool, the Position Responsibility Statement (see section, and by redefining scholarship to include the Boyer model, broadly defined. According to the model, scholarship may be disseminated through traditional refereed journal articles and books, but also through textbooks and course materials, refereed conference proceedings, extension publications, and juried artistic productions. The scholarship of teaching and learning and the scholarship of professional practice were elevated to equal status with the scholarship of discovery. The main criterion was demonstrated progress toward an established national or international reputation in the candidate’s field of scholarship.

The PRS has developed over the past decade into a negotiated contract between a faculty member and his or her department chair and must be signed by both to be in effect. Disagreements go to a departmental mediation process that can be appealed up to the president. The contract can be renegotiated annually, but usually stands for a number of years. The PRS has allowed for differences among faculty members regarding teaching loads and courses taught, research/scholarly expectations, and service or extension/outreach expectations, mutually agreed-upon between faculty members and their respective department chairs. In addition, it has evolved to specify expectations for faculty in expensive fields to eventually fund their own research through grants.

Faculty accountability has become dependent on adequately fulfilling the terms of each faculty member’s PRS contract. By the 2012 promotion and tenure season, faculty were being granted tenure with PRS terms ranging from 80 percent of their time spent on research with high expectations for research output and external funding to 80 percent teaching with high expectations for quality of teaching, number of courses taught and students advised, and research output of high quality but lower quantity than a typical faculty member. Faculty have been denied tenure because they have not fulfilled the terms they agreed to.

The recent set of policies evolved in part in response to the economic downturn that started in 2008 and ended with a cumulative 25 percent decline in state funding. The faculty leadership, working with me and the provost office team, came to the realization that programs might have to be closed as state funding declined and student interests changed. They also realized that tenured faculty who were not fulfilling the terms of their PRSs should not continue to enjoy the privileges of tenure, especially in light of the challenging economic environment.

What about faculty performing excellently on all their responsibilities — research, teaching, extension or outreach, and service? I offered to support a special salary increase for faculty who were performing at superior levels after a post-tenure review if the Faculty Senate would support strengthening post-tenure review outcomes for colleagues performing below expectations. From 2010 to 2012 the Faculty Senate passed three new or significantly revised policies:

  • Termination of appointment due to elimination of academic programs.
  • A strengthened post-tenure review policy, requiring oversight by deans and the provost and allowing for special recognition for superior performance in all aspects of a candidate’s PRS and mandating improvement plans for performance below expectations in any aspect of a candidate’s PRS.
  • Unacceptable performance of duty as a faculty conduct violation subject to sanctions up to and including termination.

The termination of appointment due to elimination of academic programs policy requires the faculty senate, the president, and the board to first approve the elimination of a program, which may be a degree program within a department or an entire department. Approval triggers the formation of a faculty senate committee to determine which faculty members are associated with the program. The policy then calls for making a good-faith effort to relocate faculty to other departments or programs first. Any faculty members who cannot be appropriately relocated are then given one-year termination notices, regardless of rank or tenure. Tenure contracts at some universities require that all untenured faculty members be terminated first. The ISU policy recognizes that junior faculty may be better able to change direction and join other programs than more senior tenured faculty members. It is a major step in the direction of better faculty accountability.

The revised post-tenure review policy, which went into effect for the 2012 promotion and tenure cycle, requires that every tenured faculty member undergo a post-tenure review at least once every seven years. While post-tenure review has been a requirement since 1999, the previous policy did not require that a department send its results to the dean and provost and did not allow for any enforceable consequences for poor performance. This is no longer the case.

The new policy starts with the PRS and asks the departmental committee to review each faculty member’s performance relative to the expectations set out in her or his PRS. Each aspect of the PRS (teaching, research/scholarship, service, extension/outreach, and/or professional practice) is reviewed separately and evaluated as: 1) superior; 2) meeting expectations; or 3) below expectations.

A faculty member demonstrating superior performance in all aspects of his or her PRS may be recommended to the dean and provost for an overall superior post-tenure review performance. Full professors deemed superior receive a special salary increase that is half the salary increase associated with promotion to full professor. Associate professors deemed superior are presumed to be ready for submission for promotion to full professor the following year. A faculty member performing below expectations on any aspect of his or her PRS is required to develop an action plan and show improvement within 2 years. A faculty member demonstrating below expectations on all or the most important aspects of his or her PRS may be subject to a finding of unacceptable performance of duty if adequate improvement is not made.

The unacceptable performance of duty policy, which went into effect July 1, 2011, considers faculty performance relative to the PRS as a matter of faculty conduct. On the basis of either annual reviews resulting in evaluations of performance below expectations or a below-expectations post-tenure review, a department chair may recommend to the dean that a formal charge of unacceptable performance of duty be brought.

Faculty conduct cases begin with the formation, jointly by the president of the Faculty Senate and the provost, of a faculty review committee. The review committee investigates the charges and makes a recommendation to the provost. Recommendations can range from a finding that unacceptable performance of duty is not warranted to a major sanction.

A minor sanction may result in a letter of reprimand, training, or loss of pay. A major sanction may result in termination. If the review committee and the provost agree there is no finding of unacceptable performance of duty, that recommendation is documented and the proceedings stop.  The faculty member is counseled on any action plan that might be warranted. If the review committee and the provost agree that a finding of unacceptable performance of duty is warranted, the next step is the formation of a major sanctions committee of peers that re-examines the case and makes a recommendation, which can range from no sanction to termination.

A major sanction requires concurrence of both the president and the provost. All outcomes can be appealed all the way to the Board of Regents. If the review committee recommends a finding of unacceptable performance of duty, but the provost disagrees, the process stops. If the review committee does not recommend a finding of unacceptable performance of duty, but the provost disagrees, the next step is still a sanctions committee of peers.

While this process may seem cumbersome, removal of tenure is serious business, requiring the highest level of due process and respect for the rights of a faculty member who has previously been granted tenure. Readers can legitimately ask at this point whether any of these new policies actually work to enforce faculty accountability. The following data from the 2012 post-tenure review cycle, the first under the new policy, provide initial evidence regarding the new policies.

Of the 82 scheduled post-tenure reviews, 81 (99 percent) were completed on time. The results were:

  • 4 = below expectations (5 percent)
  • 59 = meeting expectations (73 percent)
  • 16 = superior (20 percent)
  • 2 = postponed (2 percent)

I recommend that provosts, presidents, and faculty leaders read the policies and contact the Iowa State faculty leaders who developed and brought these policies through the system for assistance in developing policies that result in real faculty accountability. Micheal Owen, professor of agronomy, was Faculty Senate president when the post-tenure review and unacceptable performance of duty policies were passed. Steve Freeman, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, was Faculty Senate president last year (2011-12). Suzanne Hendrich, University Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition, is the current Faculty Senate president.

To summarize, it is possible to hold tenured professors accountable, as long as responsibilities are clearly spelled out and reviews are carried out with careful attention to due process.

Elizabeth Hoffman is professor of economics and former executive vice president and provost at Iowa State University.

Editorial Tags: 

6th Annual Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium

Tue, 04/09/2013 to Thu, 04/11/2013


3667 Las Vegas Boulevard South Planet Hollywood Resort
Las Vegas , Nevada 89109
United States

Essay calling for new skills to be added to liberal arts disciplines

Up to half of new graduates, by some estimates, are finding themselves jobless or underemployed. Why? As Andrew Sum, the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University said, "Simply put, we’re failing kids coming out of college." Recent pieces in The Atlantic and The Weekly Standard (claiming that the proponents of the liberal arts have "lost the war" and the liberal arts has been "killed.") and elsewhere place much of the blame on liberal arts programs.

Let it be known, I was a student of the liberal arts (geography, Asian studies) at a liberal arts college (Clark University) and I founded and run a technology company in Silicon Valley. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want our so-called "soft" studies (humanities, social sciences) to show some spine and create a response. The typical defense of the status quo involves spinning the value of a liberal arts education, pitching the curriculum as promoting the ability to problem-solve, learn to learn, and thrive in a knowledge economy. If the curriculum is teaching such skills as adapting to a knowledge economy, why can’t the professors that teach such great skills to thrive in a changing world employ them with some grace and poise? How can the liberal arts, itself, adapt to a changing world?

Simply put, we need to rethink what our students do to demonstrate their understanding. I’m not suggesting that we stop teaching literature and history and economics and psychology – or that students stop majoring in these fields. But we need to ask students to create, to experiment, to be bold and possibly fail with projects and deliverables relevant in today’s world. We’re too limited by Blue Book short essays and term papers -- in which success is easily measured and bell-curved. If we shift the way we ask students to demonstrate their knowledge within liberal arts fields, we can prepare students for employment by advancing the liberal arts.

We can achieve this revitalization by asking students to acquire and demonstrate 21st-century skills as the activities and assessments within the liberal arts curriculum. No longer can we assign formats that are isolated exercises; they need to be projects that communicate with and potentially affect the wider world. While peer-reviewed journal articles and regression analysis may be the way that professors communicate, the rest of the world has updated its formats. Academe, and in particular liberal arts programs, may be on the verge of being left behind.

What skills could we teach and measure in a new liberal arts?

Visual Communication

Common ways to communicate now include snappy blog entries, reports, collateral material, diagrams, visualizations, illustrations, and infographics. Even scholarly think tanks that discuss the unemployability of undergraduates, such as the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce and the Institute for Higher Education Policy, publish white papers and reports with distinct efforts in graphic design to be distributed for free on the Internet. The Bain Report that famously said a third of all colleges are in poor financial health was released with an interactive website. The term paper should be a dying artifact, and I’m not sure that it is.

Let’s put it this way: as a businessman I wouldn’t pay anyone for a well-written literature review, but I would pay quite handsomely for a brochure that resonates with the audience I am trying to reach. I’d pay more for someone to code it up into a website. Presentations in the work world now model Steve Jobs’ keynotes and TED talks. The governing book on presentation style, Resonate, is filled with directions on communicating bold ideas with simple story structures. The last presentation I saw by an academic was mind-numbingly complex in research and statistical methods. You know what? Nobody paid attention to the research methods; they wanted to understand the key points they should take away, remember, and discuss with others. They were also confused as to why anyone should care in the first place. People walked away feeling like the academic may be thorough and erudite, but that they forgot to communicate in the process.

Liberal arts programs should start with a course on visual communication, and then develop these skills by requiring they be used and demonstrated across the curriculum. These skills include:

  • Graphic design
  • Illustration and animation
  • Photography
  • Oration, rhetoric and narrative
  • Video production
  • Sketching and drafting

Numeracy and Data Literacy

There are broad advantages to people who can hold their own with math, and this is no longer just about understanding the basics behind a calculator and being able to do accounting. We need to face facts: we teach mathematics as if we’re preparing bookkeepers for the pre-computer world, analysts for big banks, or math and physics professors. But there’s an explosion of jobs that need advanced numeracy and data literacy, with data storage, management, analysis, and visualization techniques all as fundamental skills.

This isn’t a back-room skill set anymore. The job of "data scientist" is being created everywhere simultaneously. If you think the only careers for mathematics are in finance and academe, you can just read about what Facebook expects people
on its research team to know. It’s not just tech, either: The New York Times is increasingly using infographics that connect with readers so much someone made a page devoted to them. There is even a startup called that’s entirely devoted to producing infographics at scale. If you’ve met anyone going into policy or business after having "thematic" undergraduate coursework, they’ll likely tell you their job encounters statistics and data in ways that make them wish they’d learned more statistics, spreadsheets, analytical software, and other tools that help generate meaning out of all this data.

The new liberal arts should start with and continually ask students to acquire and practice mathematics as a form of analysis and knowledge creation. The necessary skills include:

  • Data analysis (statistics) and experimentation
  • Data storage and management
  • Applied mathematics and mathematical literacy
  • Algorithms
  • Information design

Application Development

Estonia just decided all of their first-graders are going to learn to code, and an article in Venture Beat claims that the country will as a result "win the Great Brain Race." The same article says our education system is described as "running on empty when it comes to tech literacy, leaving too many young adults unprepared to compete in a digitally driven economy." Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Wordpress, openly and repeatedly explains, "scripting is the new literacy." Yet, the degrees awarded in computer science dropped in the last decade, and the recent uptick isn’t happening fast enough.

Alternately, we don’t necessarily need more graduates with arcane knowledge of computer science; we need all graduates to be familiar enough with code to use the computer, the Internet, and mobile devices as tools. Academe and the American public need to quit viewing computer science as a geeky back-room endeavor. It has little to do with science, or even computers. Coding is about manipulating information to create meaning, which is likely how you would define writing. After all, there’s a reason they call it a computer "language." Students should understand how to develop these applications on the Web, on mobile devices, and even native to the operating system.

A Call to Action

If you agree with Brian Mitchell from the Edvance Foundation, that "the value of a liberal arts degree ... must be that it is as vital, dynamic, and complex as the civilization that values it," then one must agree that the liberal arts must ask students to engage in work and produce end products that our newly digitized civilization values. And the liberal arts must be as dynamic and vital as its academic proponents claims it to be. I believe it is.

Many liberal arts colleges require a foreign language – not because they believe their history majors will land jobs in France or Mexico, and not because they are being trained as translators, but because they believe the skills learned in a new
language create global citizens who are open to and comfortable with interacting in a multicultural, multilinqual world. It’s the same with the above skills. They need to be understood not as a way to turn philosophy majors into geeks, but into telling the world that a philosophy major can be open to and comfortable with, daresay even take advantage of and thrive in a technologically changing world.

Students who graduate with a degree in liberal arts should understand the basic canon of our civilization as well as their place in the world, sure, but they also need to understand how to explore and communicate their ideas through visual communication, data manipulation, and even making a website or native mobile app. If they can’t, they’ll just understand the global context of their own unemployment.


Michael Staton is founder and chief evangelist of Inigral, Inc. Follow him on Twitter @mpstaton



Editorial Tags: 


Subscribe to RSS - Academic administration
Back to Top