By Dr. Chet Haskell March 9, 2020 – Institutions of higher education around the world face some similar challenges. The search for enrollments, the quest for resources, the impact of technologies on teaching and learning, and the changing nature of accreditation and regulation are merely some of the themes often heard. Less commonly acknowledged is the need to assure that institutions have the faculties they need for an uncertain future. Yet, in many ways continuing to attract, build, and support a faculty of quality appropriate for an institution is an absolute prerequisite for addressing most of the other problems.
What is so difficult about building a faculty? After all, most institutions have sufficient numbers of candidates who apply when they conduct a faculty search. Doctoral programs in the US and elsewhere continue to churn out qualified talent. This essay will examine some further considerations in this matter based on the author’s direct, contemporary experience, as well as decades of US and international experience as a senior academic administrator and consultant.
For many years, US higher education and much of the world operated on a simple model. Tenure systems, although structured to protect academic freedom, were structured to winnow out faculty members based on certain norms, typically scholarly research production and a modicum of teaching capacity. Once tenure was gained, stability ensued for both the individual and the institution. However, it has long been understood that this model simply is not relevant for many institutions today, especially non-elite universities with heavy teaching demands and limited research capacity. Indeed, tenure systems exist only in a minority of US institutions.
Antioch University is one such teaching-oriented institution. Its clear mission is professional education in selected fields, largely at the graduate level. Its vision is one of the pursuit of social, economic, and environmental justice for the common good. Its principal programs in applied psychology, counseling, education, leadership, and environmental studies are all focused on preparing students (typically older students) to go into the world to serve and affect change.
Antioch’s most senior faculty members – those who have three-year rolling contracts, as Antioch does not have tenure – have long been central to the university’s success. Yet, more than 40% will likely retire in the next five years given age demographics. This means that even without planned enrollment growth, Antioch must hire at least 50 new faculty over the coming few years. Addressing its mission in this context has led Antioch into a serious internal discussion about the proper roles of the faculty, faculty responsibilities, professional growth and development opportunities, and overall faculty composition.
This discussion is framed by several principles. Significantly, Antioch is hardly unique — such principles and their implications are central to the context of many universities. First, a faculty is always a portfolio with different perspectives, skill sets, career trajectories, and expertise. The question becomes how to find and appoint the best possible mix. Second, the faculty must be the core of the institution. Its work with students is the reason for the university’s existence, and academic administrators must always see their own purpose as supporting this effort. Third, expectations of individual faculty members may vary, but must always include, first and foremost, an emphasis on direct student engagement, as well as appropriate and varied forms of scholarship, institutional citizenship and community engagement.
There is little debate about such principles, but their implementation is more problematic. As is common in enrollment-dependent institutions like Antioch, faculty salaries are often inadequate, while total faculty compensation (through overloads, stipends, release time) is typically inequitably distributed. More financial resources are undoubtedly necessary.
But there are numerous problems that will not be solved simply by providing more money. Too much of the teaching load is carried by part-time faculty, often without adequate vetting or quality control. Faculty professional development is largely seen as providing small sums for conference attendance. Emphasis on faculty evaluation and assessment can be sketchy and detached from institutional decision-making. Shared governance is often misunderstood and commonly inauthentic.
Such realities – far more common than generally admitted – have a direct bearing on the challenge of building a faculty for the future that combines new faculty members with the foundation of those already part of the institution. Furthermore, many students coming out of doctoral programs are seeking alternatives to traditional tenure-based academic careers.
Professor Adrianna Kezar of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education reports the increasingly common experience of students nearing completion of their graduate work who express frustration with and apprehension toward traditional models of the professorate. Instead, many seek an academic institutional setting with different purposes and meaning. University missions are not mere rhetoric for them. Additionally, such students seek a balanced quality of life, a goal that includes not only adequate compensation but also the opportunity for work and life balance and integration. Finally, flexibility is highly prized. The perceived rat race of tenure track systems with low pay in expensive locales simply is not that attractive to many.
What options are there? Most universities do not have the financial resources to fully fund a solid lifestyle in the expensive cities that are most attractive to many. Are junior faculty resigned to comparative penury in order to have academic appointments? Must they avoid the dynamism found in intensive urban areas that attract so many others? Must they repress personal values based on inclusiveness, tolerance, or political or environmental activism in order to have a career in higher education? And what about somewhat older, more established colleagues? The ones who have sought and achieved stability and who now find themselves chained to an institution, still feeling inadequately paid for their work or feel trapped in boring career boxes with little room for creativity in scholarship or practical engagement outside the academy?
There is, of course, no magic answer. Even better salaries will not resolve all such issues. But there are some things institutions might consider, steps that would improve institutional odds of attracting and retaining the mixture of faculty members they want and need.
Mission clarity and commitment is a valuable asset to an institution. Many younger faculty members are looking for an institution that has clear values and acts on them. Such a commitment must be more than words. It must be a shared set of vision and values common not only to a faculty as a whole but to the entire institution starting with its board and most senior leadership. Antioch has been fortunate to have such a shared commitment, a historic and powerful legacy that most faculty (and staff) members will acknowledge as personally important.
True shared governance is vital. Universities are not properly seen as hierarchical institutions. The traditional sharing of governance typically calls for the faculty to manage curricula and instruction, while others do the business of university administration. Such a division has merit but does not provide faculty members with a sense of engagement or agency, a sense of empowerment, or capacity. If the faculty truly is the core of the institution, should not faculties have further opportunities for involvement in governance.? Antioch has been moving gradually to a model where faculty representation is clear and direct at all levels, including with its Board of Governors. Such a model requires not only policy and process but also demands authentic understanding of faculty norms and values instead of lip service.
Shared governance also leads to faculty responsibility. Most faculty do not want administrative jobs, but it is being engaged forms of governance beyond a department can lead to a better understanding of institutional issues and can encourage clarity within the faculty as to the ways they can contribute to decision-making and their individual and collective obligations to each other and the institution.
Antioch’s dispersed locations across the United States and experience with distance modalities (especially hybrid, low-residency models) provides a less common advantage: in many cases, faculty need not congregate in a physical location. While not all programs are conducive to this structure, many are, and these latter programs are often much more successful in attracting both younger and more established faculty members. (Consider also that today’s doctoral students are basically digital natives; uses of technologies in education do not scare them. Indeed, they are eager to utilize the best technological opportunities. Location and time zone flexibility, when practical, can be powerful for both academics and students. Declining demographic patterns for traditional 18-22-year-old students combine with the need for instructional and modality flexibility in order to meet the needs of older working students. The same is true for many faculty members.
Institutions the world over would do well to think about their faculty requirements. How might they attract and retain academic talent that is not site-bound and can work remotely? Thinking about what might be possible — given an institution’s particular environment, needs, and trajectory – could help mold a more expansive strategy for managing the uncertainty.
The next quarter-century in higher education will not mirror the past or the present for many academic institutions. As universities cope with retirements and the need for effective management of change, they must think creatively about achieving the best possible faculty portfolio and what they can offer – besides money – to attract and retain the faculty of the future.
Dr. Chet Haskell is Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and University Provost at Antioch University. He also has been deeply engaged in matters of faculty development, quality assurance and accreditation, serving as a consultant to the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (US) and the Council on International Quality Group (US). He has served as a peer reviewer for the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC) assessing institutions in California and internationally (Dubai, Abu Dhabi, India, Mexico). His WSCUC service also includes evaluation of the leading Mexican accreditor of nonpublic institutions (FIMPES). Further, he has served several years as a member of the international advisory committees of ANECA (Spain’s national accreditation body) and ACAP (the accreditor for the autonomous region of Madrid).
Dr. Haskell has had extensive experience in university leadership in the United States, having served in several senior positions over 13 years at Harvard University, as dean and defacto provost at Simmons, president at both the Monterey Institute of International Studies and Cogswell Polytechnical College.
Dr. Haskell received the DPA (Doctor of Public Administration) and MPA degrees in public administration from the University of Southern California, an MA degree from the University of Virginia and the AB in Government (cum laude) from Harvard. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors for Al Ghurair University in Dubai and the Board of Directors of Edu Alliance Group, Inc located in Bloomington, Indiana.