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Help New Faculty Become Oriented

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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It is a full orientation session. It pays off. They don't remember everything, but it gives them a chance to ask questions and raise issues and to get a feel for the fact that they're going to be supported by their colleagues, their chair, and other personnel.


The posting below looks at some useful points to consider in orienting new faculty to your department and campus. It is from Chapter 5, Help New Faculty Become Oriented, in the book The Academic Chair's Handbook, Second Edition, by Daniel W. Wheeler, Alan T. Seagren, Linda Wysong Becker, Edward R. Kinley, Dara D. Mlinek, and Kenneth J. Robson. Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-1741 [] Copyright © 2008 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Careers


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Communicate Expectations for Performance


A discussion about expectations can begin with the interview. Ask questions that allow you to understand the goals of the new faculty member and to determine if they align with your department goals. Include clear and precise communication in the letters of appointment and statement of expectations to help the new faculty member understand the expectations of your department. Review your tenure process, if you have one, with the candidate during the interview and early in his or her experience on campus. Be sure there are no surprises when the faculty member arrives on campus. However, there might be difficult questions regarding specific publication guidelines, particularly to obtain tenure, which cannot be answered at the time of the interview. Where there are ambiguities, explain them, and, if possible, set a date when those issues will be clarified. Met expectations are one of the best means of satisfying a faculty member.

When the new faculty member has arrived on campus, meet to determine that what is needed to succeed is in place and to clarify what you, the department, and the institution expect of the new faculty member. Also, recognize that new faculty might not always be aware of what he or she needs. This point was conveyed best by a physical sciences chairperson at a major research university:

We ask [beginning faculty] for a very definite list of their needs. But you have to realize that we also know, perhaps better than they, what they're going to need. It's coaching them to what they really need. We have a very good idea of what it's going to take for a person's development.

During an early conversation with a new staff member, find out what that person perceives his or her needs to be. The following categorization of potential needs, drawn from the literature about new faculty, might be useful to organize your thoughts:

* Intellectual companionship

* Support and encouragement from colleagues

* Identification with the institution

* Knowledge about the formal and informal operations of the institution

* Knowledge about role expectations

* Released time to become oriented and adjusted to a new work situation

It might also be helpful to familiarize new faculty with the institution as a whole and to your department through formal and informal orientation processes. During this orientation, routine operating procedures and more subtle cultural expectations can be explained. New staff might view orientation as another hurdle before getting on with other tasks, but you should keep in mind that this is part of the preparation to prevent future problems. Remember that an orientation helps the individual identify with the institution and learn about its formal operation. It sends a message to faculty that they will be supported and encouraged. When done well, it builds faculty ownership for departmental goals and mission. How new faculty respond to an orientation program will be strongly affected by the attitudes of the faculty and chair. If they follow up and discuss concepts and information presented, the experience will be perceived to have been of value. If either the faculty or chair conveys the impression that orientation is a waste of time, it is unlikely that the new faculty member will value it. If the present orientation is ineffective, then you should urge that it become more useful or find effective alternatives.

If you are considering revamping your existing orientation program, you might wish to consult the following checklist for ideas about what to include:

* Responsibilities of the chair

* Responsibilities of the faculty

* Relationship of the department to the dean's office

* The faculty handbook

* Tenure and promotion criteria

* Academic standards

* Program and graduation requirements

* Grading procedures

* Services available for advising students

* The drop-and-add process

* Use of teaching assistants and research assistants

* Appeal and grievance procedures

In summarizing the orientation program at his institution, one chair commented:

It is a full orientation session. It pays off. They don't remember everything, but it gives them a chance to ask questions and raise issues and to get a feel for the fact that they're going to be supported by their colleagues, their chair, and other personnel.

Departments with a small number of faculty can use other methods for orientation. For example, at small liberal arts colleges, deans often conduct formal programs while chairs support the deans by informally conveying the collegiate values, traditions, and history of the institution.

While the orientation of full-time faculty must, of necessity, be quite extensive, you might wish to consider implementing at least a basic orientation for your adjunct faculty. A chair at a community college told us:

My administrative assistant and I have developed a CD that we use for our adjunct orientations so we don't have to have the same old routine every fall and spring semester for the adjuncts. They take the CD and look at it, view it, and I have developed faculty handbook for all the sciences so that they have that. And [we also have] another little pocket size flip chart where they can have important telephone numbers and so on.

The orientation process is the first step in launching faculty on their new careers, and it deserves thoughtful planning and appropriate resources.