Is faculty career flexibility the next disruptive innovation?

Group of university presidents say university lifespan now dependent upon faculty work-life balance options; give list of 10 issues to consider.

faculty-career-flexibilityThe first stage of a faculty career should last 30 years. Then all subsequent stages could come in five-year intervals, with reevaluation at every stage in order to allow for readjustment of career goals.

Sound radical? Not according to Charles Middleton, president of Roosevelt University, Ill., who said this idea would help fit faculty’s desired goals and accomplishments before entering the culminating stage of their career, finally transitioning into early retirement.

Middleton’s “radical proposal,” which the American Council on Education (ACE) says addresses the “poverty of imagination” often surrounding the status quo of academic life, was one of many ideas part of a leadership conference on how to restructure faculty roles and requirements to allow for greater flexibility.

The conference, hosted by ACE Institutional Group to further the National Challenge for Higher Education initiative, and funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, brought together dozens of college and university presidents to discuss faculty career flexibility.

The need to redefine faculty career flexibility is derived from an urgency to not only innovate college and university offerings for students to remain competitive in higher education, but also support evolving faculty needs.

“Educational institutions will endure,” said Middleton, “and the forces which contribute to this continuity are found specifically in the work of faculty and the professional enterprise that they create. This continual learning and desire for improvement are at the core to the identity of a faculty member. Faculty are not only a workforce, but the best-educated workforce that exists within any industry.”

According to Middleton, faculty must have both control over the quality and content of degrees generated by their institution, and also great flexibility in connecting their role to today’s student learning and the ways in which it is delivered (i.e. MOOCs).

The conference, held last summer, aimed to be more than just suggestion box, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of ACE. Therefore, the organization this week released a list of 10 issues every institution should consider for faculty career flexibility, as well as “how to make these commitments sustainable amid the ongoing changes affecting academic institutions today.”

(Next page: 10 issues regarding faculty career flexibility and best practices from institutions)