Millennial Faculty Are Coming. Are You Ready?

There’s been quite a lot written about students who are part of the Millennial generation (people born in 1980 and later), and their impact on teaching and learning throughout the higher education community.

Don’t look now but it won’t be long before Millennial faculty arrive on your campus as well. For four-year institutions, the first wave of Millennial faculty should arrive by 2013. For community colleges, where many faculty often are not required to have doctorates, the wave will arrive even sooner.

Are you ready? Probably not, according to John O’Brien, vice president of academic affairs at Century College in Minnesota. In an interview with Academic Leader O’Brien said it’s important to consider these future faculty before they arrive because the planning that needs to occur to handle the changes associated with this new generation will take years, and will have implications with regards to technology use, faculty recruitment and development, and collaborative work and decision making.

Expectations of Millennial Faculty
One of the most obvious difference between Millennials and previous generations is in the area of technology. There have always been some faculty members who enthusiastically adopted new technologies, but for many new technologies have been something to deal with rather than to embrace. As Millennials enter the academic workplace, the conversation will likely shift from faculty coping with new technologies to faculty pushing the envelope and advocating for ability to incorporating emerging instructional technologies in their teaching, O’Brien says.

Although technology is a key difference, it may not be the most important. “Technology is easy to point to, but most of the research on Millennials talks about things like collaborative learning and collaborative work environments, and I think a lot of these new faculty will be interested in things like learning communities, team teaching, and service learning,” O’Brien says.

Demonstrating this commitment to collaboration will be an important factor in recruiting faculty. Interestingly, O’Brien did an informal analysis of advertisements for faculty positions listed in the Chronicle of Higher Education and has found that few institutions tout collaboration in their ads.
Based on research and anecdotal information on Millennial students, Millennial faculty will likely respond better to a collaborative governance structure than an authoritative one, O’Brien says.

In addition, Millennial faculty likely expect more clearly defined faculty roles and policies than currently exist at many institutions. “These faculty are going to expect to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, and they want to know what the rules are, and then they’ll follow them. But if you’re a campus that doesn’t have intellectual property policies but expects faculty to generate a number of online courses, then there may be a disconnect there,” O’Brien says.

Preparing for the next generation of faculty needs to be an institution-wide effort, and each perspective is essential. The deans, who are doing the hiring, will need to find ways to communicate with faculty candidates that the institution has the characteristics they’re looking for, and department chairs will be directly involved in creating collaborative environments within the departments.

The administration needs to facilitate a strategic planning process that ensures Millennial faculty’s unique needs are considered. “Changing a campus culture is a three-to-five-year process, and the best way to start is within the context of strategic planning. Instead of starting with the question ‘What are our goals?’ perhaps this conversation should start with, ‘What kind of environment do we want to have for our students and faculty?’” O’Brien says. “And what kind of campus culture is needed to attract and keep excellent new faculty?”

With excerpts from Now is the Time to Prepare for Millennial Faculty, Academic Leader, Feb. 2007.