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)

According to the executive summary on what was discussed during last summer’s conference, college and university presidents and leadership say these are the 10 issues on faculty career flexibility:

1. Legal issues: According to Joan Williams, distinguished professor of law and Hastings Foundation Chair at the University of California, Title IX compliance and enforcement provides an opportunity for institutions to improve their campus climate while retaining talented faculty. More information can be found in “Effective Policies and Programs for Retention and Advancement of Women in Academia,” as well as ACE’s recently developed legal issues brief regarding faculty retirement, here.

2. Working within systems: How do systems share resources across campuses, and how can effective policies multiply faculty utilization of workplace flexibility? According to Susan Carlson, vice provost for academic personnel at the University of California Office of the President, the University has a Faculty Family Friendly Edge program, which offers services and benefits to support faculty and their families; for example, stopping the tenure clock to allow time for newborns, a flexible part-time option for ladder-rank faculty with care-giving responsibility, and one year of unpaid leave for sickness for self or family member.

Laura Koppes Bryan, professor at the Division of Applied Behavioral Sciences, and dean of the Yale Gordon College of Liberal Arts at the University of Baltimore, explained that her University has some of the same system-wide initiatives as Carlson, but also includes a phased retirement policy, which allows professors to shape their own course for transition from work to retirement.

Becky Warner, senior vice provost for academic affairs at Oregon State University noted that the University is part of the Greater Oregon Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, which is a service that lists jobs from member institutions throughout the northwest that are committed to diversity hiring and dual-career couples.

3. Retaining a diverse faculty: The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) said it has a flexible work arrangement policy to try and recruit and retain talented faculty. UMBC’s provost convened an executive committee on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority faculty that “guides the development and implementation of initiatives to recruit and retain a diverse faculty: UMBC’s ADVANCE Program.” Currently, UMBC STEM faculty—both male and female—use a family leave policy, which faculty candidates identified as one of the top three reasons they accepted their faculty appointment.

4. Mentoring faculty: To improve career satisfaction, Luanne Thorndyke, vice provost for faculty affairs at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said that a survey of faculty uncovered a “mentoring gap” where faculty were not able to seek out appropriate individuals to give them the guidance they felt they needed. The development of a checklist for determining needs, the creation of a website, and dedicated mentoring workshops are all part of the University’s mentoring program. One-hour mentoring consultations are also available. Thorndyke emphasized that mentoring is most successful when guidance occurs between a faculty member with specific needs and a mentor with the expertise that a mentee can use.

5. Meeting mid-career faculty professional renewal needs: Amy Strange, assistant vice president for faculty development at San José State University, noted that the University created a “theoretical framework, grounded in adult development and psychology, addressing the need for faculty members to continue to be generative and vital in order to identify meaningful and professional goals.” The goal is that once renewed and engaged, faculty can adjust their work-life balance to achieve goal and career advancements. The university asks faculty to articulate personal and professional goals, improve their perception of their work, see value in constructive criticism, and re-frame their professional objectives to include reflection and intentional planning.

(Next page: Considerations 6-10: STEM, liberal arts, retirement)

6. STEM-specific issues: Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director for education and human resources at the National Science Foundation (NSF), said that in STEM fields particularly, the U.S. needs more diversity in the workforce while also increasing the number of STEM individuals overall–and that learning and career environments within the college or university can achieve these goals. In 2012, the Career-Life Balance Initiative began, a series of policies designed to “clear the obstacles” and create a pathway “leading from graduate education through to full professor.” Implemented to support work-life balance for the principal investigators of NSF awards, these policies aim to help graduate students, post-doctorates, and early-career faculty to sustain their science careers. They offer “preferred start dates for the awardees, no-cost extensions for parental leave, lowered bureaucratic barriers in using the policies, financial resources to principal investigators who need additional technology support in their labs, and supports for dual-career choices and opportunities.”

7. Liberal Arts-specific issues: Beverly Nagel, dean of the college of Carleton College (MN), said that there are roughly three unique considerations that liberal arts institutions should take note of: 1. In rural or less developed areas, dual career couples may be an especially challenging issue, due to limited local job opportunities and the inability of most small institutions to create positions for spouses/partners. 2. At smaller institutions, it’s typical that all faculty serve on one or more college committees, and some of these committees can be very time-consuming. However, efforts to reduce the number of committees can be met with faculty resistance as faculty worry about losing their voice in administrative decisions. 3. There is an expectation that liberal arts faculty are more involved in student life outside of the classroom. Not only do these expectations involve an additional time commitment, but they also occur at times that can create difficulties for families.

8. Transitioning faculty: This past year, Georgetown has focused on creating greater flexibility for faculty to plan for their personal transition to an active retirement, said Robert Groves, provost of Georgetown University. This new option provides time to plan for financial and health-care needs as well as intellectual pursuits. It allows eligible faculty to work up to two years at 50 percent effort, while receiving 75–100 percent of full-time base salary. For the university, it allows for succession planning and balancing of the composition throughout the faculty. The phased retirement plan is designed to be financially sustainable and budget neutral, said Groves.

9. Faculty retirement and options: According to a 2012 ACE survey of faculty, the top three concerns of faculty regarding this transition period before retirement are: 1) lack of transparency of available options, 2) lack of communication from the administration, and 3) psycho-social aspects connected to faculty member’s academic/work identity. The majority of faculty were satisfied when they could continue to use their institutional email and library privileges, but would also prefer to have an office on campus after retirement.

According to Sandra Johnson, associate dean at the Office of the Dean of the Faculty at Princeton University, an additional retirement policy began three years ago and was designed to incentivize tenured faculty, through bonuses, to embrace the age range of 65–70 as a time of transition. The new policy has three characteristics: First, the age of faculty entering into the program must be between 65 and 70, with at least 10 years of service at Princeton in order to qualify for retirement benefits. Second, faculty are paid either a bonus upon retirement that is a multiplier of the faculty member’s salary, or the average salary of all faculty at that rank at that point in time, whichever is greater. Third, after signing a retirement agreement, faculty members may continue to teach half-time for half pay for up to three years—dependent on their age at the time of signing—or they may sign an agreement before the age of 67 and continue to teach full time until age 70, then receive a bonus equal to one year of salary.

10. Engaging retired faculty in collaborations with the community: George Mason University has developed several means to assist its retiring faculty. Through its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, faculty are offered opportunities to explore intellectual and cultural subjects as well as share their expertise and talents. George Mason also offers a full-day course called “Your Next Chapter: Charting a Course to Retirement” that is administered by the Department of Psychology, and operated with the nonprofit organization Leadership Fairfax and Fairfax County, which provides funding. The course, which runs each semester, offers the ability to “create a retirement plan with choices that may include community involvement, new career directions, leisure enrichment activities, and healthy aging and lifelong learning to energize faculty to face the challenges that come with major life changes,” said Peter Stearns, provost emeritus at George Mason. The University also hosts a seminar series that addresses the preparation of the “whole person” for the various aspects of retirement by “exploring personal resources, attitudes, preferences, motivations, skills, and interests.”

For more information on the executive summary from the conference, as well as further consideration and resources, click here.

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