Simplicity Gives Sustainability

What do new faculty need?

Term and adjunct faculty?

Faculty of color?



Focus on the big four

We follow the lead that Robert Boice has taken in his work Advice for New Faculty Members. Faculty members need to succeed at:

  • Teaching effectively with reasonable effort
  • Being productive scholars with paced work and output
  • Becoming socialized to their institution by making professional connections within and outside of their department
  • Maintaining a work/life balance that helps sustain them.
  • We remind new faculty that these are the simple keys to success. We ask mentors to help new faculty achieve them by asking about them, helping new faculty set short-term goals, and providing accountability for progress toward those goals.

    What about contingent faculty?

    Even at selective small colleges, where instruction is the priority and tenure-track faculty predominate, contingent faculty in the form of leave replacements, post-docs, and part-time or short-term visitors, are more and more common. These faculty contribute a considerable amount to the education of our students, and their success is part of our institutional success. Yet transitional support at most institutions is spare and second class.

    With luck these faculty will go on to permanent positions at other institutions. We want them to leave with positive impressions of our institution that they will share with others--students, faculty, and administrators at those other institutions. And nothing affects a person's attitudes toward an institution more than the support--or trauma--of the transition.

    Additionally, we find that new term and tenure-track faculty come in as a cohort, and are likely to connect with one another--in a professional way, or in a social way, or both. As a result, a bad experience for a term faculty member has a high likelihood of "infecting" the attitudes of tenure-track colleagues, even if those experiences are not directly shared experiences.

    Do faculty of color have special needs?

    The answer here is not simple. We like to say "All faculty members have special needs." But don't take that as a glib response that overlooks the extra burdens that most, if not all, faculty of color have to bear: an extra heavy service load because "this committee should include a person of color" or extra advising loads because students of color are more likely to seek out faculty of color. However, we also believe it is counterproductive and stigmatizing to suggest that other faculty may not share some of these needs. LGBTQ faculty members may face some very similar burdens. Faculty members hired in interdisciplinary fields may face a similar feeling of separateness from their departmental colleagues, and the microagressions associated with skeptical colleagues who suggest "you were only hired because you are X, not because you were the best candidate."

    We think it is good to listen carefully to the concerns of all new faculty, but keep our ear particularly tuned to listen for issues of discrimination or alienation that are more likely to occur for those faculty who represent embodied or intellectual diversity. We then can respond to expressed needs, rather than reinforcing negative stereotypes by presuming challenges that haven't been expressed. At the same time, we look for opportunities (new faculty orientation, mentoring meetings, e-mail communications, faculty development events) to acknowlege and discuss the prevalence of these discriminatory effects so that all faculty are aware of them, and can help defeat them regardless of what they look like and what groups they identify with (social, intellectual or other).

    Why is simplicity important?

    We are continually floored by the kindness and support that our mentors show to their protégés. Some folks offer to visit classes, or write letters of recommendation, or introduce new faculty to friends in town, or read over grant proposals. All of these actions are truly going above and beyond--and that is exactly what they should be: going above and beyond.

    Let us explain that in greater depth--first from the perspective of the mentor. The fact is, most protégés would benefit from any and all of these actions, but mentors can't possibly be expected to have the time, expertise, and temperament to do all of these things. We want mentors to have a very narrow, prescribed, easy to accomplish agenda so that they can justifiably feel successful. After all, the real keys to success are the four central areas: teaching, scholarship, socialization, and work/life balance. Providing the accountability to a protégé is the most important work the mentor can do, and it requires little special skill beyond being a successful faculty member. Beyond that, there may be some fortuitous overlap between a protégé's needs and the sort of support that a mentor enjoys, or benefits from giving.

    From the protégé's point of view, we believe the development of self-sufficiency is the critical step that must be achieved in the first year. Our simple framework emphasizes that. In fact, the biggest risk in the first year is being overwhelmed by trying to do everything at once, and trying to instantly reach such a high level of achievement in the classroom, or as a scholar, that they risk exhaustion and burn-out. Keeping a focus of balance and accountability can help surmount that risk. And if the expectations are clear, and simple, this means that any extra connections that develop between mentor and protégé are a bonus. Protégés are more likely to feel cared for if they receive something extra rather than a universal expectation of the program.

    All of this leads to a program that is effective and sustainable. Mentors are not asked to do things they are uncomfortable with. Protégés are grateful for the extra efforts that mentors might choose to do. And new faculty take a big step toward self-sufficiency that enables them to take advantage of the range of support and resources Grinnell can offer.