"Building the Tenure-Line Faculty"

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October 2008

panelOn October 30, 2008, the Quality Advocates met to hear David H. Monk, Dean, College of Education and Karen Wiley Sandler, Chancellor, Penn State Abington, share ideas about best practices in hiring and developing faculty. Michael J. Dooris, Director, Planning Research and Assessment, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, moderated the session.

Wiley Sandler opened by providing background on Penn State Abington’s strategic priority of increasing the percentage and number of tenure track faculty at Abington. More information on this research can be found at http://www.ed.psu.edu/educ/for-current-faculty-and-staff/deans-office/athens-policy-briefAs the number of tenure track faculty at the campus declined in years past, some programs that depend on tenure-line faculty (such as undergraduate research) and some majors were weakened by a lack of tenure track faculty with a commitment to integrating their research and teaching. Monk pointed out during his remarks that research shows that since 1993, the majority of new full-time faculty hires both at Penn State and at peer research universities have been non-tenure track. To increase the number of tenure track faculty, Penn State Abington began two years ago converting fixed term positions to tenure track positions in strategic programs where the presence and engagement of tenure track faculty has the greatest impact on the quality of student outcomes. This put them in the position of being able to take advantage of hiring opportunities when they arose.

Within this framework, the discussion focused on three phases in building the tenure-line faculty: defining the position, hiring, and development following the hire. Much of the information Wiley Sandler and Monk shared can be applied to all faculty hires, whether they are tenure track or fixed term, multi-year, full-time or part-time.

David MonkMonk spoke about the factors in creating or defining a position. Retirements provide opportunities to rethink what a unit is doing or where a program is going. Deans, department heads, and faculty members have a responsibility for being on top of what is evolving in a field. Monk pointed out that the diversity of the pool can be impacted by how the position is defined and described. A narrow definition and ‘required’ rather than ‘desired’ capabilities can lead to little diversity in the search pool.

Both Wiley Sandler and Monk emphasized the importance of a well thought out hiring process. This includes who is on the search team (including those from outside the unit or program, and possibly including a graduate student), the diversity of both the pool and the search team, and actively searching (rather than just screening applications received). When you’re transforming a culture or in our case building a college culture… hiring is really the most important function… [leadership]…need[s] to be as hands on as possible.

Karen Wiley Sandler

Both mentioned the importance of checking references, and cautioned not to hire if there were any ‘red flags’ about possible problems with the candidate getting through the promotion and tenure process.

Wiley Sandler, with tongue in cheek, used the term ‘meddling’. Monk called it ‘expressing interest on a day to day basis’. Both were referring to the importance of the dean or chancellor being involved during the planning process, staying in contact with the search team during the hiring process, and asking questions throughout to keep in touch. For Wiley Sandler, this included her meeting with candidates both in the morning as they began their day on campus, and at the end of the day to hear the candidate’s observations. It also included attending presentations by or meetings with the candidate, or having someone attend who could provide observations.

Both Monk and Wiley Sandler stressed the importance of a cultural fit for the new hire. Monk pointed out that the most relevant culture in large institutions is in departments and programs, rather than at the college or institutional level.

Monk commented that in making an offer, one never knows what the response will be. He cautioned to look for signals during the offer that this was not the right person, maintain confidentiality in the event that the first choice did not accept the offer, and be humane in notifying those who are not selected.

Karen Wiley SandlerWiley Sandler and Monk both discussed the importance of taking steps to ensure success once a faculty member is hired. Recognizing that many new hires are not tenure track, a general orientation is offered at Abington for all new faculty hires to bring them into the culture. A separate session is scheduled to discuss the promotion and tenure process with new hires on the tenure track, and Wiley Sandler meets with them individually at the end of their first semester at Abington. Mentoring is important, and Wiley Sandler mentioned the benefit of having a mentor from outside of the faculty member’s program to give them more insight about the campus culture. Penn State Abington also makes use of summer faculty fellowships for research, multicultural fellowships to interest minority candidates in teaching, and encourages early leadership development by having new hires on committees. Monk pointed out that, while there may be a focused effort in getting new assistant professors started, often associate professors and professors may be largely left on their own, even though career development continues to be necessary for mid-career and senior faculty.

Several questions were asked about the perceived pressure on new hires to publish right after they are hired. [Tenure] is not about bean counting. It’s not about how many publications…It’s primarily about your growth as a scholar, your intellectual growth…a long term process…how you’ve evolved to a different phase in your career…Are you able to move beyond your dissertation research?

David Monk

Wiley Sandler pointed out how well the promotion and tenure process was constructed for development, with its two, four, and six year review: at two years, a review of the pace of research; and at four years a blueprint for the next two years. She emphasized that the individual faculty member controlled what would be in their packet of work at the six year mark. Monk emphasized the importance of encouraging recent Ph.Ds to move beyond the goal of publishing their dissertations.

Dooris mentioned that all departing tenure track faculty are given the opportunity to complete a faculty exit survey to provide Penn State with feedback on their experiences at the University.More information on Penn State’s Faculty Exit Surveys can be found at /planning_research/reports/facultyexitsurvey/ Data gathered over the past 10 years indicate that while there are many factors (salary, diversity, the local community), faculty place great importance on items such as an academically strong department and professional autonomy.

In closing, Dooris mentioned former Vice Provost Bob Secor’s saying that hiring was a million dollar decision. Both Wiley Sandler and Monk commented that, due to their thorough hiring processes, they had made few hires that they regretted.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.