9 No. 6
The Greatness Game
Strengthening faculty distinction at Emory
“We have a distinctive institutional culture and history that is what we have to offer in the higher education world, and I don’t want to give that up in order to chase some abstract image of excellence.”
“I think in many ways some of the people who ask why this is this such a big deal are the very ones who are keeping the status quo.”
The End of Work?
Riding the Retirement Wave
Hard Money/Soft Money
The two cultures
Faculty shape the academic direction of the university in lasting ways—whether lecturing in the classroom, mentoring graduate students and post-docs in the laboratory, serving on search or selection committees, conducting research in the archives, providing health care, or applying our knowledge in community settings. The Emory faculty strives for excellence in teaching, learning, and scholarship. We attract outstanding students, serve as role models for the next generation of scholars, and are charged with creating and disseminating new knowledge for the advancement of humanity.
At Emory we have a long tradition of recognizing the central role of the faculty. In addition, we have a history of engagement in intensive and intentional reflection and action. In Choices and Responsibility (1994), then-Provost Billy Frye presented a compass for Emory’s growth as a diverse intellectual community. Teaching at Emory: The Report on the Commission on Teaching (1997) highlighted the importance of all forms of teaching to the creation of intellectual community. The commission members alerted the community to the need to prepare for emerging changes in the teaching environment, particularly those driven by increased diversity in the student body, technological developments, and interdisciplinary scholarship. The report also suggested an affirmation of teaching excellence as one of the university’s highest values and for the establishment of a university-wide teaching center. Emory’s research environment constituted the focus of Research at Emory: The Report of the Commission on Research (2003). Again, the interconnectedness between teaching and research was emphasized. The members of the commission highlighted the different “cultures of research” across the university, attending to their diversity in modes of inquiry, methods of collaboration, and scholarly outcomes. The commission’s recommendations targeted faculty growth; challenges in balancing research, teaching, and service; the need for programs and policies that ensure positive faculty development trajectories and flexible leave time; the role of graduate students and graduate programs in advancing the university; and the need for a supportive and efficient infrastructure in research and human resources.
More recently, Emory’s strategic plan, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads, reconfirmed the central role of the faculty, with “Strengthening Faculty Distinction” serving as a cross-cutting theme throughout the strategic plan. Faculty excellence encompasses the strengths of individual faculty members—scholarly achievement, potential, and passion—as well as institutional excellence. The latter is reflected in the diversity among faculty, students, and staff; in high quality undergraduate and graduate bodies; in optimal infrastructures for research administration and human resources; and in state-of-the-art physical facilities and an environmentally sustainable campus.
Individual as well as institutional excellence, however, are not about competing for accolades. What matters is the ability to contribute. We lead through our excellence, be it through new research, clinical delivery, or pedagogical advances.
Faculty excellence cannot be taken for granted. It requires a community of excellence—a culture that values and supports excellence at all levels of the university, not just among the faculty. From administration to library resources or from student aid to alumni involvement, in the end even the most accomplished faculty will be only as strong as its surrounding intellectual community.
As faculty we sometimes fail to recognize the multiple cultures that coexist in the university. Instead, we focus on our respective “local” cultures. This tension emerged as a salient theme in
the “Year of the Faculty” conversations in 2006-07. In order to build on faculty strengths we need to believe in a singular community of excellence, which, in turn, requires that we think anew about faculty differences—including titles, duties, rank, and academic backgrounds.
Is it possible, for example, for Emory faculty to strike a true
balance between research, teaching, and service? How can we enhance faculty development so that our programs meet needs at all career levels? What are the barriers to achieving a diverse
faculty? How might promotion and tenure practices be improved to ensure faculty excellence? What principles guide faculty recruitment and hiring? How can the university address work-life challenges? This is where challenges and opportunities meet.
We also stand at a distinct moment in the history of U.S. higher education, one in which an unprecedented generational turnover among faculty is beginning to take place. How we at Emory respond to this turnover will determine the shape and caliber of our intellectual community for future generations. As the professoriate, including that at Emory, ages, we find ourselves with faculty members who possess the experiences and insights to become significant shapers of the university’s future. These senior colleagues enhance the university’s broader intellectual community by providing a bridge between the institution’s history and the new generations of scholars and students.
Yet senior faculty members also will transition out of the academic workforce at rates higher than ever in the past. As such, the demand for new faculty is increasing, and the faculty labor market is much more competitive for faculty at all ranks. Recognizing this trend means that we need to be pro-active in ensuring that we retain outstanding faculty and thereby also procure the “best and brightest” students.
Across the United States, a common response to the need to fill faculty positions at a higher rate than in the past has been to increase the proportion of contingent or non-tenure track faculty. The national average for full-time faculty at private doctoral universities is 33 percent (excluding schools of medicine). At Emory 25 percent of the faculty hold contingent appointments. This percentage increases to 58 percent when including the School of Medicine, in which 74 percent of the faculty is not on the tenure track. We recognize that relying too heavily on contingent faculty can lead to a two-tier system unless we take steps to ensure an equitable intellectual community. The Faculty Life Course Committee and the Faculty Council are in the process of providing suggestions to do so.
In addition to the shifting distribution of academic appointments based on the type of appointment, we also have to be strategic about the disciplinary content of the positions for which new faculty are recruited. Supply and demand for new faculty will vary across and between disciplines. Some disciplines will need lines that other disciplines no longer require or merit. For example, English, mathematics, and nursing have been identified as having a shortage of faculty to fill the anticipated new lines. In addition, many areas in both the sciences and the humanities face the crossing of disciplinary boundaries in order to respond to increasingly complex research questions. At Emory, we have the opportunity to enhance faculty diversity not only by focusing on multi- and interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching but also by ensuring that the faculty body is diverse from a demographic perspective.
The Faculty Distinction Fund of the “Strengthening Faculty Distinction” theme provides funds for the retention and recruitment of faculty, including those with diverse backgrounds and dual career couples. The fund, which provides three years of partial support for faculty, serves as a bridging mechanism. In addition to our focus on faculty recruitment, we must address faculty retention. This means that we need to value those faculty members who have been at Emory for some time and who have helped make it what it is today. We need to find ways to achieve continuity between these groups through mentoring, legacy building, and shared institutional commitments.
For more information see www.emory.edu/PROVOST/year/feedback.html#I. To provide comments on the Year of the Faculty write to firstname.lastname@example.org.