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Understanding Senior Faculty Needs

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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We found that senior faculty members are motivated and satisfied through opportunities for intellectual inquiry, membership in a meaningful academic community, opportunities to have institutional impact, and recognition for their work.


The posting below looks factors impacting the professional development of senior faculty. It contains the executive summary and an excerpt, "Understanding Senior Faculty Needs," from Faculty Development Programs by Carole J. Bland and Kelly R. Risbey in the monthly series Effective Practices for Academic Leaders. The series is available in an electronic publication that can be networked on a campus system to enable everyone on a campus to access the briefings at their desks when needed, for use both as guidance for administrators and as a development materials for faculty and others. The electronic license allows individual copying without need for permission, thus the individual briefings lend themselves to use in workshops ands seminars. For online subscription information go to: . Volume 1, No.7, July, 2006. Copyright ? 2006, Stylus Publishing, LLC. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Understanding Senior Faculty Needs

Executive Summary

Few things are more essential to the success of an academic institution than vital faculty members. Vital faculty members are passionately involved in and committed to their work; committed to the goals of their institutions; continually developing their teaching and research abilities, and consistently growing in and contributing to their disciplines. These desired faculty characteristics must be nurtured over the career continuum, a responsibility that often falls on the shoulders of busy department chairs and deans. The goal of this briefing is to assist academic leaders with the critical task of maintaining their faculty's vitality-a task otherwise known as faculty development.

We begin this briefing by describing the changed societal conditions that make continuous faculty vitality essential not only to institutional success, but also to national welfare. Next, we describe how faculty development initiatives have changed in focus and form over time, as well as what themes and methods have persisted. Then we outline the key steps undergirding any successful faculty development program, offering more detailed guidance on two steps in particular: (1) assessing faculty and institutional vitality needs, using either a broad or targeted assessment approach; and (2) tailoring faculty development strategies to best meet the specialized needs of specific faculty groups, using case examples of new, midcareer, and senior faculty. We conclude with guidelines for designing and maintaining an institutional office for faculty development that can support and coordinate department-level initiatives.

Understanding Senior Faculty Needs

In this section we explore the less understood, but equally important, needs of faculty during their senior years. We report on a needs assessment of a broad cross section of senior faculty and offer advice and suggestions on ways to create initiatives that boost senior faculty vitality. From this examination, you are encouraged either to undertake a more detailed needs assessment at your own institution or to use these data for a more targeted approach based on critical issues for your own senior faculty.

Senior faculty are typically defined as those who have achieved full professor rank and/or are fifty years of age or older. Senior faculty are a critical, but often ignored, group in faculty development. We say critical because they are the ones whom we are counting on to recruit and mentor the new faculty, and many of the features of a vital organization depend on them, such as leadership and maintenance of a cohesive culture and a positive climate. They are also critical because they may be contemplating retirement, and their reasons for delaying retirement or retiring earlier than expected underscore important faculty development issues that need to be addressed. Although there is not a great deal of literature about existing development programs for senior faculty, there is some. Recently, we participated in a survey of the needs and perspectives of senior faculty conducted at the University of North Carolina (sixteen campuses), the Association of New American Colleges (twenty campuses), and the University of Minnesota (four campuses) (Berberet, Brown, Bland, Risbey, & Trotman, 2005). We found that senior faculty professional development needs are intertwined within three issues: (1) motivation and satisfaction, (2) stress, and (3) retirement plans.

Motivation and Satisfaction

We found that senior faculty members are motivated and satisfied through opportunities for intellectual inquiry, membership in a meaningful academic community, opportunities to have institutional impact, and recognition for their work. Intellectual stimulation (98 percent overall agreement) and making positive contributions to the institution (94 percent overall agreement) are great sources of motivation and satisfaction. Favorable peer and student evaluations were other important sources of motivation and satisfaction (with 90 percent and 88 percent overall agreement, respectively). Senior faculty members also strongly agreed that they felt motivated and satisfied as a result of receiving merit pay based on performance, having their research published, and receiving recognition from their professional organizations. These findings suggest that faculty development strategies such as the following would be useful to senior faculty:

o Career development and goal-setting workshops

o Targeted grant monies to present at scholarly conferences and to network with colleagues within and across disciplines

o Department-wide recognition of faculty accomplishments related to research, teaching, and service

These strategies mirror those that have been effective with new and midcareer faculty.


Senior faculty in our study also underscored many ways in which academic work contributes to faculty stress. These sources of stress are very similar to those reported by new faculty and described earlier in this briefing. Faculty members in our study indicated that lacking the time to give a piece of work the attention it deserves (86 percent overall agreement) and inadequate institutional acknowledgement and rewards for service (84 percent overall agreement) were significant sources of stress. They also reported that the difficulties associated with balancing time demands of teaching and research and the challenges inherent in institutional processes and procedures (e.g., "red tape") were also key sources of academic stress. These sources of stress suggest that senior faculty would benefit from the following faculty development strategies:

o Time management workshops and updated "balanced workload" policies

o Recognition of faculty service roles and accomplishments in newsletters, on Web sites, and through interdepartmental correspondence

o Targeted monies for teaching or research leaves as rewards for productive faculty

If the goal of a faculty development program is to decrease senior faculty stress-and similar stress felt by other faculty-one strategy would be to implement department policies that promote more effective personal time management. These policies could include (1) training for efficiently handling the increasing quantities of e-mail; (2) flexible workload assignments, such as allowing individual faculty members to "stack" teaching into one semester, leaving more uninterrupted time in the other semester for research or for new course development; and (3) increasing graduate assistant support for teaching and/or research.

Retirement Plans

Academic leaders who implement faculty development programs that are designed to increase satisfaction or decrease workload can impact senior faculty members' retirement decisions. Faculty members in our study indicated that they would likely retire earlier than expected if they were dissatisfied with their work environments, not performing their jobs up to their expectations, feeling unappreciated by their departmental or institutional colleagues, or facing increased workload and productivity expectations at their institutions. Conversely, our senior faculty respondents reported that they would be influenced to retire later if they experienced high satisfaction from their work and if flexible workload policies existed that would allow them to focus their efforts on areas of greatest professional interest. Faculty development strategies targeted at senior faculty nearing retirement could include the following:

o Retirement planning and career trajectory workshops

o Explicit recognition of faculty accomplishments within the department and across the institution

o Flexible workload arrangements offered as a reward to highly productive faculty

Senior faculty would benefit from faculty development programs designed to address their long-range planning decisions, which also cultivate discussion and debate on issues that could impact their retirement decisions. Departments and institutions that help faculty members develop a planned and dignified transition into retirement are most likely to get the reciprocal benefit of senior faculty support and counsel in organizational planning for the future.

Our survey revealed a hardworking, institutionally motivated, and flexible senior faculty cohort. This profile suggests that institutions could benefit in a myriad of ways from tailoring development initiatives to the needs, interests, and issues of senior faculty. Chairs need to think of how to address senior faculty needs in the context of the department's structures for governance, management, leadership opportunities, workload flexibility, professional development support, and rewards. All of these structures can be modified in order to maintain late career vitality and satisfaction and to strengthen the department's relationships with its senior faculty members as they remain valued colleagues, transition into retirement, and even after they retire. Moreover, faculty and institutional vitality can be enhanced by capitalizing on the fact that senior faculty members have keen interests in new academic and leadership roles and a willingness to cooperate in retirement transitions beneficial both to institutions and to faculty members. The following texts are key resources for those who plan to develop programs specifically addressing senior faculty vitality:

o The Vitality of Senior Faculty Members: Snow on the Roof-Fire in the Furnace (Bland & Bergquist, 1997)

o "Planning for the generational turnover of the faculty: Faculty perceptions and institutional policies" (Berberet et al., 2005)

o "Senior Faculty Renewal at Research Universities: Implications for Academic Policy Development" (Crawley, 1995)


Berberet, J., Brown, B.E., Bland, C.J. Risbey, K.R., & Trotman, C.A. (2005). Planning for the generational turnover of the faculty: Faculty perceptions and institutional practices. In R. Clark & J. Ma (Eds.), Recruitment, retention, and retirement in higher education: Building and managing the faculty of the future (pp. 80-100). Cheltenham, UK: Elgar.