ATLANTA, Ga. — Being a faculty member requires a commitment to the job beyond what is expected of professionals in many other fields. To earn tenure, professors must demonstrate research productivity, effective teaching, and service to the community during a time when many of them become parents.
And retirement is a challenging time for tenured faculty members.
Those are some reasons the American Council for Education and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation created an award program to recognize institutions with good policies and practices for providing flexibility to faculty members at the times they needed it most.
While lack of flexibility impacts both male and female professors, effective policies can be particularly beneficial for retaining women, who more often take on caregiving responsibilities for children and elderly parents. “Workload policies often have a disparate effect on women,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College.
Officials from several institutions that won the ACE/Sloan award explained their institutions’ best practices at the Association of American Colleges and Universities Annual Meeting.
Administrators at Mount Holyoke College had the following three goals in implementing flexible policies, said Caroline Clauss-Ehlers, visiting special assistant to the president:
1. Providing increased career flexibility to new faculty parents and for those caring for family members. Faculty members could be in both those situations at once, with new babies and elderly parents, Clauss-Ehlers said.
2. Making phased retirement more attractive. Aside from the financial concerns professors may have about retiring, they wonder how they can stay intellectually engaged if they retire and whether they will lose their academic community.
3. Altering the tenure clock during parental leave. And officials wanted to provide support to help faculty members restart their research after having a child.
Administrators worked with constituents throughout the college, Clauss-Ehlers said. “We found that this is work that really needed to be done all across the campus,” she said.
To reach their goals, officials developed or expanded the following policies and programs:
• Revising parental leave. Mount Holyoke grants two course releases with no decrease in pay, Clauss-Ehlers said. New parents can take both course releases in the same semester or they can teach half-time for two semesters. The flexibility lets them determine what works best for their families and situations, Clauss-Ehlers said.
• Stopping the tenure clock. The tenure clock stops by default during parental leave and restarts when faculty members return to campus.
• Offering phased retirement. Faculty members have some flexibility in their course load and research expectations as they move into retirement. In some cases, the college provides grants to celebrate the professors’ work and help them complete the last project so that they can retire.
• Increasing awareness. Officials created a new page on faculty flexibility on the Dean of Faculty website. You can find it at www.mtholyoke.edu/
• Training chairs. All department chairs receive training so that they are aware of all the policies related to faculty flexibility.
• Providing professional development programs for faculty. Mount Holyoke officials developed a seminar that is offered annually to new faculty members. They also brought in experts to offer two workshops for all faculty members. One was on gender, family formation and tenure. The other was on protecting your time and energy.
Besides these initiatives, Mount Holyoke officials conducted a campuswide survey of faculty and staff members on work-life challenges and opportunities, Pasquerella said.
That effort pinpointed specific problems that make balance difficult. For example, faculty meetings were held from 4 to 6 p.m., but the on-campus child care center closed at 5 p.m. Officials arranged for the center to stay open later.
Also, officials closed the campus between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That gave everyone time to step back without missing anything, Pasquerella said.
Learn more about the ACE-Sloan faculty flexibility project at www.acenet.edu/leadership/
Base decisions on research
At Albright College in Pennsylvania, decisions about how to increase faculty flexibility were based on data gathered from surveys and interviews with faculty members, said Andrea Chapdelaine, provost and vice president for academic affairs. About half of the college’s professors participated in 90-minute interviews, she added.
The information administrators gained led to a number of revised policies and new initiatives, including:
• Reducing course load. Faculty members are eligible for a two-course reduction without loss of pay if they become the primary caregiver for a child, parent or domestic partner.
• Stopping the tenure clock when faculty members take leave. To keep professors from feeling a stigma about stopping the clock, that happens automatically. But they can request that it not be stopped if they wish to, Chapdelaine said.
• Promoting social interaction among faculty members. In the survey and interviews, professors said spending time together was difficult with all their responsibilities. So the college hosts “soup socials.” Those events are well attended, and there is no agenda, Chapdelaine said.
Also, faculty members are given a small food allowance each semester — about $10 — on the condition that they spend it on a colleague, Chapdelaine said.
• Creating a new position to handle faculty governance responsibilities. Professors said that administrative work such as booking rooms for meetings took a lot of their time. The new staff member will handle those details.
• Designating a suite for retired faculty. The professors often had offices that they rarely used. The new room gives them access to a computer, printer and other supplies. Plus, they have a chance to interact, Chapdelaine said.
Learn more about Albright’s policies at www.albright.edu/sloan/