Peer Review

Supporting the Development of the Professoriate

Higher education institutions, regardless of mission or purpose, are evermore challenged to seek innovative ways to recruit, retain, and develop their faculty, particularly in light of new economic realities. All of our institutions share a commitment to attracting and supporting scholars who are critical to fulfilling our institutional missions in teaching, research, and service to our communities. This paper provides an overview of how the institutions we represent provide faculty support through the development of policies and practices that align institutional goals with faculty needs. Although we each brought perspectives from quite diverse institutions, we were struck by the similarities in the challenges we all face as we try to meet the professional and personal expectations of our faculty.

The Needs of the New Faculty

In all of our institutions, we have struggled with supporting increasingly diverse members of the faculty workforce, who enter our institutions under a variety of circumstances. Faculty members’ roles are rapidly evolving, requiring institutions to think strategically about providing them with opportunities and resources for professional development (Sorcinelli 2007). All of us continue to make significant commitments to tenured and tenure-track faculty, but we also have a growing cadre of nontenured faculty who are often disproportionately responsible for teaching our students. Some of these nontenured faculty members include lecturers, preceptors, adjuncts (part time or full time), visiting faculty, and instructors who are hired by institutions on a contractual basis.

Faculty orientation activities for new hires have been effective in ensuring that all faculty members are adequately informed of institutional resources, expectations, and unique academic cultures within schools and departments. As an example, new faculty members begin their employment at the U.S. Air Force Academy by attending a six-day short course called Faculty Orientation. The new hires are placed into a learning community consisting of eight to ten new faculty members and two experienced academy faculty (who serve as mentors and learning facilitators). During the orientation, each faculty member spends about two hours each day in the learning community and discusses a wide array of topic areas. They also attend a variety of workshops and seminars, all designed to introduce new members of the faculty to the academy’s expectations, culture, and teaching and learning strategies.

Another example of a faculty orientation activity is Harvard’s New Faculty Institute, designed to provide Harvard’s new faculty members with an easy transition into academic life. The institute is an opportunity to welcome new faculty members to the community of scholars at Harvard and provide them with opportunities to meet other faculty colleagues from across the university. Faculty panels during the orientation also allow new faculty recruits to meet senior and recently tenured faculty members from across a wide range of disciplines, with ample time to have questions addressed in a relatively informal setting. At Spelman College, the Junior Faculty Caucus introduces new faculty members to colleagues across the university through brown bag lunch discussions, which provide them with avenues to find mentors, get oriented to the institution, and raise concerns about challenges that are unique to new faculty.

Supporting Faculty Research and Scholarship

In constrained economic climates, institutions often seek more innovative and cost-effective approaches to supporting the research and scholarship of their faculty. While funding is an important requirement, developing an infrastructure that fosters dialogue and collaboration among faculty members from across the disciplines is equally important and highly valued by the faculty participants. For example, there are various institutional initiatives that provide substantive support for faculty scholarship and development, including cross-disciplinary research support groups, as well as a series of grant-writing and other skill-building activities.

Institutions continue to seek new ways to support faculty research. For example, Wagner College has lowered its teaching load from eight to six courses a year in order to allow faculty members more time to pursue research during the academic year. At other institutions, new pretenure faculty members are not required to teach in their first term so that they are able to focus on jump-starting their research and scholarly activities. Institutions increasingly make research and conference travel funds available to new faculty hires so that they have ample opportunity to attend conferences and develop new research collaborations at other institutions. For instance, Dillard University offers travel grants for its faculty to attend discipline-specific research, assessment, and technology conferences and workshops. Dillard also promotes collaborative participation and membership in programs sponsored by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) faculty development programs, the Faculty Resource Network (FRN), and the HBCU Faculty Development Network.

The UNCF offers several faculty development programs for professors at its member colleges and universities. These programs, designed to strengthen and advance the academic careers of junior faculty, include the Mellon Faculty Career Enhancement Program, the Faculty International Summer Seminar, the Faculty Residency Program, and Faculty Enhancement Mini-Grants. Each provides opportunities for UNCF professors to continue their development by furthering their research and training, pursuing advanced degrees, and improving their curricula and teaching skills.

Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Academic Environment

Colleges and universities with varying levels of resources are very much committed to helping faculty develop their professional skills in teaching and learning at all points of the academic pipeline.

Some of these resources have been organized into centers for teaching and learning, such as Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Spelman College’s Teaching Resources Center, the Air Force Academy’s Center for Educational Excellence, and Dillard’s newly developed Center for Teaching, Learning and Academic Technology. Dillard’s new center is supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and was designed to support professional development opportunities for faculty, including activities organized through faculty learning communities.

Spelman College convenes commons meetings for faculty members to pursue collaborative course development. These meetings resulted in the implementation of courses for the Free Thinking Women’s Seminars, which expose students to the tenets of academic excellence, leadership, and service. At Wagner College, pedagogical circles provide collaborative and mutually beneficial opportunities to engage in discussions about teaching and learning, and each faculty member is provided with some funding each year to support pedagogical activities. At the Air Force Academy, where there are significant numbers of new faculty members each year, considerable energy and resources are focused on these new arrivals and on the more long-serving civilian faculty members who provide much-needed continuity. The Center for Educational Excellence at the Air Force Academy has two full-time faculty members who lead a comprehensive faculty development program at the institutional level. In addition, each academic department designates at least one faculty member within the department to lead department-level faculty development programs.

Work–Life Issues

The changing demographics of the faculty at our institutions have made it imperative for us to pay close attention to work–life balance and quality of life issues. We all recognize that the quality of life of faculty members across the university—how they feel about their workload, professional climate, opportunities, ability to manage work and personal responsibilities, and overall satisfaction with the environment—has a huge impact on their career success. Our institutions are committed to providing effective policies, benefits, and services to help faculty members achieve their career goals while meeting their family responsibilities.

At the Air Force Academy, for example, almost all faculty members are on twelve-month appointments, eliminating the need for faculty to spend time securing funding for one or more summer months. Childcare is available on the academy grounds, and all faculty offices and classrooms are housed in a single academic building, facilitating teamwork and a sense of community.

One challenge of recruiting and retaining faculty members is the difficulty of helping them achieve a balance between their responsibilities as faculty members and their roles as dependent care providers for children or aging parents. Members of the Wagner College faculty can take advantage of the excellent early childhood center run by the education department. Furthermore, department chairs are generally flexible in arranging the teaching schedules of faculty members with family responsibilities, and the provost has on occasion given new parents a reduced teaching load.

Harvard University’s Office of Work/Life Resources (in Cambridge), the Office of Work and Family (in Longwood, at Harvard Medical School), and the Harvard School of Public Health Work/Life Liaison provide information and expert referrals to address concerns ranging from workplace stress to caring for a young child. These offices also maintain a childcare Web site that serves as a one-stop resource for Harvard affiliates looking for information on center-based care, family daycare, in-home providers, school/vacation summer camp programs, and regional public and private school information. The offices are staffed with work–family specialists, who operate in concert with affiliated childcare, eldercare, and social service providers. In addition to these resources, Harvard also provides a wide range of childcare scholarships, dependent care travel funds, and research-enabling grants for faculty members with dependent care responsibilities.

Mentoring and Developing an Inclusive Community of Scholars

Mentoring and creating an inclusive academic climate is critical to developing scholars at all stages of the academic career ladder, which contributes to building academic excellence at our institutions. Mentoring is also an essential element in ensuring a productive and innovative faculty (Blau et al. 2010). Faculty mentoring programs that contribute to a supportive academic environment take many different forms, reflecting the values and traditions of individual schools and departments (June 2008). Successful faculty mentoring programs are attentive to differences across gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and generational lines, all of which can affect whether and how faculty receive mentoring and career guidance. Each faculty member has a role in creating and sustaining departmental cultures that support academic excellence.

Wagner College has taken steps to make the campus climate more welcoming to junior faculty. In 2004, the provost introduced a mentoring program that matches new full-time faculty members with mentors outside their department and schedules two receptions each semester, to which department chairs as well as new faculty members and their mentors are invited. To address concerns of junior faculty members more directly, the college also introduced a September workshop, sponsored by the Personnel Committee, to answer questions about the reappointment, promotion, and tenure process and to offer advice on portfolio preparation.

Other examples of mentoring programs include the Junior Faculty Caucus at Spelman College, which provides guidance to junior faculty members on navigating the culture and policies at the institution, and Dillard’s faculty mentoring program, in which each new faculty member is assigned to a tenured faculty colleague who can provide help with tenure issues.

In spring 2008, the provost’s Office of Faculty Development and Diversity (FD&D) at Harvard launched a university-wide program on mentoring for Harvard pretenure faculty members, with a particular focus on the issues of concern for pretenure women and faculty of color. The goal of the project is to foster active mentoring relationships within an engaged, supportive network of faculty colleagues, meeting a need identified by women and other underrepresented groups. The FD&D staff works closely with the schools to develop and implement a broad array of opportunities for faculty members to receive mentoring support in a number of areas that are critical to their growth as scholars, such as understanding the promotion and tenure review process, book publishing, grant writing, managing a laboratory, and developing effective scholarly collaborations.

Using materials and information developed through the consultation, the FD&D office has also begun a major effort to collect and disseminate materials and information about mentoring on its newly redesigned website.

Recognizing Faculty Contributions to Research, Teaching, and Academic Community

It is vital to the productivity and well-being of the faculty at our institutions that we appropriately recognize the many contributions that faculty members make to the academic community in small and large ways. It starts with ensuring faculty salary equity at all levels. The primary challenge to recruiting and retaining qualified and committed faculty, especially in highly competitive fields, is salary compensation. Salary equity studies need to be performed at our institutions to ensure that both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members are valued and given every opportunity to be supported professionally within their departments and at the institution as a whole.

Beyond compensation, there are numerous ways that faculty members can be recognized for their hard work and important contributions to the academy. At Spelman College, for instance, Presidential Awards are given to both senior and junior faculty members at the end of each academic year for their outstanding contributions to teaching, research and/or service. Other institutions have hosted faculty recognition ceremonies, such as an Annual Grantsmanship Ceremony, and organized book signing parties for faculty members who recently published books.

The policies and practices described above reflect the unique ways in which our institutions are addressing the challenges our faculty face. As institutions, we must be vigilant in identifying the changing needs of our faculty so that we can help them to thrive as scholars and teachers.



Blau, F. D., J. M. Currie, R. T. A. Croson, and D. K. Ginther. 2010. Can mentoring help female assistant professors? Interim results from a randomized trial. NBER working paper no. 15707. New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.

June, A. W. 2008. A helping hand for young faculty members. Chronicle of Higher Education 55 (3): A10.

Sorcinelli, M. D. 2007. Faculty development: The challenge going forward. Peer Review 9 (4): 5–8. 

Liza Cariaga-Lo is the assistant provost for faculty development and diversity at Harvard University; Phyllis Worthy Dawkins is an associate provost at Dillard University; Rolf Enger is the director of education at the United States Air Force Academy; Anne Schotter is a professor of English and dean of the faculty at Wagner College; Cynthia Spence is an associate professor of sociology at Spelman College, and director of UNCF/Mellon Programs.

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