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Lessons Learned from FIPSE Projects IV - May 2000 - American Association for Higher Education
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Forum on Faculty Roles and Rewards


It is difficult to think of a way to improve learning that does not have the faculty at its core. In view of this, the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) established the Forum on Faculty Roles & Rewards to begin a national dialogue on strategies to engage faculty more fully in their work.

The dialogue began at a time when colleges and universities faced diminishing resources, anticipated mass retirements and subsequent faculty shortages in many fields, and felt intensified public demands for increased access and accountability. The threat of outside controls on such issues as student testing, faculty workloads, and fiscal management loomed larger than ever.

While these troubles darkened the academic skies, however, they also created an ideal climate for the forum; faculty and administrators, disciplinary associations, and other higher education entities joined in the dialogue with an intensity born of the conviction that the essence of academic life was at stake.

Innovative Features

The forum was proposed in 1991 to address an emerging national issue: colleges and universities across the country were reexamining faculty expectations, evaluation and rewards, and legislators and boards of regents were beginning to raise serious questions about faculty workload and productivity. The mismatch between the fundamental missions of many institutions—particularly the commitment to quality undergraduate teaching—and the rewards being provided to faculty was of primary concern. The forum set out to provide direction and practical guidance for campuses, especially those with complex missions, interested in reexamining faculty priorities. The forum sought to address the needs of institutions that wanted to expand the notion of scholarly work beyond the traditional research-focused model to include teaching, research, and service. The forum also sought to provide additional career-path options to new faculty and to face the issues presented by the impending generational changing of the guard among the faculty.

But the forum did not simply hope to emphasize the need to reward fine teachers with external perquisites such as salaries and tenure. Its real intention was to find ways of integrating teaching, research and service so that faculty would receive internal rewards as well and would reap the sense of personal engagement and fulfillment that is the only guarantee of lasting quality.

Concerns about evaluating and rewarding teaching had been growing since the 1970s. The forum, however, envisaged a national conversation around fresh formulations of these problems. Thus, for example, it determined to reexamine the old scholar-researcher model not just because more attention must be paid to teaching, but because the model has proven unnecessarily unidimensional. By rewarding only a narrow range of behaviors, the scholar-researcher model cheats academia of some of its most creative and talented contributors. It ignores the "ways of knowing" that expert practitioners develop over a lifetime, for instance, or the special talents required not only to create knowledge but to present it in a meaningful manner to audiences both in and outside the university.

To stimulate and sustain the national conversation on faculty work the forum relied on tools that had served AAHE well in the past: annual conferences, publications, and the services of a clearinghouse of information.

The conferences were designed to attract the academic leadership (i.e., the chief academic officer and the leader of the faculty governance body) of institutions whose faculty were expected to function as both teachers and scholars. To influence perceptions of the seriousness and importance of the forum's work, the conferences featured nationally recognized authorities.

In addition to numerous articles in AAHE publications, the project yielded three monographs: Jon Wergin's The Collaborative Department, on departmental responsibilities in defining and rewarding faculty work; Ernest Lynton's Making the Case for Professional Service, on the need for rethinking the service component of faculty duties; and Robert Diamond and Bronwyn Adam, eds., The Disciplines Speak, on the definition of scholarship. AAHE has recently published a companion volume to the Lynton monograph, Making Outreach Visible: A Guide to Documenting Professional Service and Outreach, by Amy Driscoll and Ernest A. Lynton, and discussions are underway regarding the publication of follow-up monographs to both the Wergin and Diamond and Adam publications.

Finally, the forum built a clearinghouse that includes campus documents and articles from the press and answers hundreds of requests annually. Its staff are in wide demand as consultants on campuses where the dialogue on roles and rewards is being translated into practice.

Evaluation and Project Impact

The forum's timeliness as well as the quality of the conversation it instigated earned it an enthusiastic response in the higher education community. In fact, the problems that the project encountered had mostly to do with the volume of the response. The annual conferences attracted many more participants than anticipated—the fourth one reached the 1,000-registrant mark—and many institutions sent teams of faculty to each one. Over three years, more than 800 requests came in to the clearinghouse for resources, speakers and information.

Some institutions that sent representatives to the conferences, such as the University of Wisconsin, have since started their own meetings on faculty roles and rewards. Others, such as the University System of Georgia, have integrated forum concerns into their planning documents. Forum topics and conclusions also inform the programs of bodies such as the American Association of Schools of Business, the American Association of Medical Colleges, and the Council of Independent Colleges.

As the forum continues with a second three-year grant from FIPSE (see below) and its conclusions are applied on campuses across the nation, it will gradually become possible to judge its concrete effect on the lives of faculty and on their students' learning.

Lessons Learned

The forum's creators were surprised to find that the group they had expected to be the most recalcitrant to their ideas-academic administrators—was in fact the most eager to embrace them. Well acquainted with external pressures for accountability, budgetary realities and a shrinking faculty market in many fields, deans and provosts readily grasp the need for change.

What resistance there is lies at the discipline and department level, which most faculty consider their professional "home." Recognizing the importance of making progress in this area, during the second three-year project the forum is focusing on the disciplines and the departments.

With regard to affecting the views of individual faculty, the forum's organizers quickly realized that having institutional teams attend the conferences allows faculty to exchange ideas with each other and generates a level of enthusiasm that administrators would have difficulty creating on campus.

During the course of the project it became apparent that one of the main uses of the forum is as a link among campuses that are trying out new ideas in relative isolation. It also became clear that although it was desirable for the forum to expand to include a variety of institutional types (and at present it is doing just that—see below), the nature and needs of two-year colleges call for a separate discussion of roles and rewards for their faculties.

Finally, the creators of the forum concluded that the concept of "service" is in need of revision. The higher education community must come up with a broader, more flexible definition-one that will encompass the many ways in which faculty members can engage in their professional as well as their social communities.

Project Continuation

With a second grant from FIPSE, the forum has nearly completed its second three-year period, focusing on disciplines and departments in the hope of achieving a direct impact on faculty. It has broadened its appeal to include "New American Colleges"—former liberal arts colleges with newly-diversified missions—and professional schools. The forum is expected to become self-sufficient at the close of the grant period.

Dissemination and Recognition

Two additional projects originated from the forum's agenda and are in progress. "From Idea to Prototype: The Peer Review of Teaching" continues the examination of teaching portfolios among other strategies and has obtained funding from the Pew and Hewlett foundations. "New Pathways: Faculty Careers for the Twenty First Century" is expected to yield 14 working papers by its completion, on such topics as career transitions for senior faculty, and reconciling work and family.

Available Information

Further information may be obtained from:

R. Eugene Rice
Forum on Faculty Roles & Rewards
American Association for Higher Education
One Dupont Circle, Suite 360
Washington, DC 20036-1110
Telephone: 202-293-6440 ext. 37

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Last Modified: 09/10/2007