June 23rd, 2009

Creating a Faculty Investment and Reward Model

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What obligations do faculty members have to their institutions beyond their disciplines and departments? It’s a question that is sure to get a lot of play as higher education institutions deal with the pressures brought about by increased scrutiny from outside constituents and other factors such as changing student demographics and a shift from a faculty-focused to a learner-focused orientation.

In an interview with Academic Leader, Marietta Del Favero, professor of educational leadership, counseling, and foundations at the University of New Orleans, talked about faculty investment in their institutions and the factors that encourage and inhibit it.

Del Favero noted that the literature does not have a consistent definition for faculty investment. She refers to “investment” in this context as “the extent to which faculty are engaged in, and proactively contributing to, the collective concerns of the institutional community… [which] involves social activity related to institution-building, which may be related to, but is often apart from, one’s individual scholarship.”

New Faculty Investment Expectations
The accountability movement has placed increasing pressure on faculty to do things beyond the teaching, research, and service faculty were expected to do 20 years ago. “It used to be that the faculty were responsible for what goes on in their classrooms, Del Favero says. “Now there is pressure … to involve the faculty in various kinds of programs and activities important to the development of the whole student.”

The growth of distance learning and interdisciplinary programs has also gotten faculty to look beyond their disciplines and make more contributions to the institution. In many cases, involvement in these programs is expected; however, faculty members sometimes get mixed messages when it comes to the value of participating in activities outside their disciplines.

Obstacles to Faculty Investment
Contributing to these mixed messages are faculty reward systems and the socialization process. As institutions seek more investment by their faculty members, one of the obstacles they will face is the ambiguity of their faculty reward systems. “The reward system is very problematic because depending on how faculty members’ contracts read—and often such contracts are not very specific—they don’t really spell out what is expected, particularly in the service role” Del Favero says.

A faculty contract might call for 50 percent research, 40 percent teaching, and 10 percent service. “But they’re still pretty vague,” Del Favero says. “Junior faculty come in and say, ‘Gee, what does this mean? I’ve got a 10 percent service obligation, but then senior faculty are telling me to try to limit my service and get my research going.’”

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As mentioned earlier academic community plays a role in faculty investment in the institution. One trend in higher education that harms this sense of community is the increasing use of adjunct instructors. “When you have a large proportion of contingent faculty—at some institutions it’s more than half—you lose that sense of belonging, that sense of community,” Del Favero says.

Getting faculty to invest in their institutions cannot be a top-down endeavor. Faculty need to take the lead in changing the reward system and culture to reflect the importance of faculty investment, Del Favero says.

Faculty Rewards
The faculty reward system “needs to be totally revamped,” Del Favero says. One solution would be to incorporate Boyer’s matrix of talent, which consists of four types of scholarship:

  • Scholarship of discovery—the traditional type of research involving the pursuit and discovery of new knowledge
  • Scholarship of integration—interpreting and connecting original research across various domains
  • Scholarship of application—applying research to practical problems
  • Scholarship of teaching—includes pedagogical research and the advancement of teaching

By creating a reward system based on this matrix, faculty could emphasize one or more types of scholarship more than the other types, resulting in faculty doing the things they are best at and have the most interest in. “It’s the notion that not everybody has to be invested equally in each type of scholarship, but that a matrix of talent will ensure that institutions are better served. Such appreciation for a broader valuing of faculty contributions opens the door for valuing of faculty investment in their institution,” Del Favero says.

Excerpted from Understanding Faculty Investment in their Institutions, Academic Leader, April 2007.