From the Director: 21st Century Faculty – are we there yet?

February 9, 2017 / By: Dr. Ann Johnson, Director of Faculty Development & Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement

How often have you been frustrated at the suggestion (coming from someone outside academia) that you must enjoy your “summers off,” or queries about what you do with your time when you’re not in the classroom? Somehow we’ve not done a good job of communicating to constituents outside the academy just what faculty do and how hard they work at it.

Higher education experts are increasingly concerned about the disconnect between what actually happens in (and out of) the classroom on university campuses and public perception. As it turns out, there’s something we can do about it.

My J-Term reading list has included an edited collection of excellent essays: Envisioning the Faculty for the 21st Century, which includes a compelling chapter on the importance of community for defining new faculty models. In short, the authors suggest that 1) we need to demonstrate the crucial role faculty play in determining student learning outcomes and student engagement, and 2) this will happen when we embrace collaborative methods for demonstrating faculty impact on student learning.

Who can disagree? Collaboration is often cast as a natural good. And we’ve seen recently while engaged in Strategic Planning groups just how powerful collaboration across units and across university roles can be.

These authors point out that effective collaboration among 21st century faculty will also entail, however, giving up some of the autonomy that attracted people to the professoriate in the first place. This is particularly true when such autonomy gets in the way of institutional efforts to reach and serve a diverse student body while maximizing learning and engagement. For example, some faculty are more comfortable than others with using Blackboard or other promising forms of academic technology. Deciding to tolerate that discomfort in order to support initiatives that reach students more effectively is an example of choosing collaboration over autonomy in the service of fulfilling our mission.

Another type of collective effort at maximizing student learning is engaging in department- or college-based assessment activities. Putting into place effective measurement activities and interventions usually requires that individuals downsize autonomy by incorporating collectively-determined texts, readings, or assignments. The goal is promoting discipline-specific outcomes, and the payoff in terms of student learning can be tremendous. Another payoff – it documents faculty success while making visible the hard work invested in high quality teaching and learning.

As these authors point out, in order to advance our mission, “groups of faculty members -- rather than any single faculty member – must work together” (p. 73) and the collectivist model requires that we re-think the work faculty do. This will require a move “from an individualist understanding of academic work to a more collaborative perspective” (p. 73).

Providing strong evidence of success to those outside higher education will serve everyone by demonstrating faculty commitment and the hard, year-round work that goes into maximizing learning goals. Another way to tap into collectivist efforts to engage all our students: Please join us in our efforts to create an inclusive and engaging learning environment in all our classrooms by participating in the Faculty Development Inclusive Classroom Institute.

Wishing everyone a fantastic Spring semester ahead.

Book: Kezar, A. & Maxey, D. (2016). Envisioning the Faculty for the 21st Century: Moving to a Mission-Oriented and Learner-Centered Model. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Austin, A. E. & Trice, A. G. (2016). Core principles for faculty models and the importance of community. In A. Kezar & D. Maxey (Eds.), Envisioning the Faculty for the 21st Century: Moving to a Mission-Oriented and Learner-Centered Model (pp. 58 – 80). New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.