University News

Committee looks to diversify, retain faculty with recruitment and support

Policy proposals include improved research assistance and recognition

By and
University News Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2013
This article is part of the series Planning in Progress

The Committee on Faculty Recruitment, Career Development and Retention advised the University to prioritize recruiting talentedfaculty members, nurturing them as scholars and educators, and maintaining their commitment to Brown in the face of recruitment efforts by other institutions, according to its preliminary report released Friday afternoon.

To achieve these goals, the committee presented three strategic methods designed to strengthen the faculty. These priorities include elevated support for faculty research, a specific and comprehensive plan to further diversify the faculty by gender and ethnicity and increased compensation and recognition for faculty excellence throughout and beyond the tenure process, according to the report.

In the report, the committee argued that the expansion of the University’s graduate programs is necessary for supporting research and teaching and for moving Brown “to the very top tier of the peer group.” The committee wrote that increased support for research should fulfill the goal of elevating Brown in the national rankings.

 

Support for research

The role of research under Brown’s university-college model was one of the main subjects committee members discussed, said Kristi Wharton, one of the members and associate professor of medical science.

At a university like Brown, the faculty research is centered around promoting the level of teaching, Wharton said, adding that a higher level of research increases interaction between professors and students.

To support faculty research at all levels of the tenure track, committee members recommended the University enhance the sabbatical program by mentoring junior faculty members before they go on leave and implementing a program of post-tenure sabbatical programs for professors to complete a second research project after receiving tenure.

Under the current senior faculty sabbatical policy, created in 2008, faculty members may receive 75 percent of their usual salaries for sabbaticals lasting for a semester or a full year, depending on how many semesters they have spent in residence. Full-salary sabbatical semesters are available only after 12 semesters in residence at the University.

Chung-I Tan P’95 P’03, professor of physics and former chair of both the Faculty Executive Committee and the Campus Advisory Committee that helped select President Christina Paxson, said he was pleased the committee was able to identify the specific and differing issues facing junior and senior faculty members.

“Over the last two or three years we’ve had a focus on tenure issues,” he said, adding that the report was “very appropriate and timely.”

Current sabbatical policy presents two problems, said Kevin McLaughlin P’12, dean of the faculty. First, many faculty members cannot afford to live on three-quarters of their normal pay. Secondly, this partial salary is at odds with the full workload expected of professors on leave.

But while a stronger sabbatical policy for tenured faculty members is attractive, it is also expensive. Rather than offer full-salary sabbaticals to all faculty members, the committee proposed that additional funding be supplied to the most high-performing professors, a designation that would be determined by the dean of the faculty and dean of medical and biological sciences.

“Maintaining a competitive aspect to the program would encourage stronger programs” in addition to making the plan more financially viable, McLaughlin said.

The committee also recommended the University further integrate undergraduates into faculty research. This could be achieved by providing more opportunities for faculty members to approach department chairs and request funding to hire undergraduates, McLaughlin said. While Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards already foster collaboration between students and faculty, McLaughlin said many faculty members find the program “restrictive” because it imposes inconvenient deadlines.

Future research should focus more on faculty engagement, Wharton said. This interaction between students and faculty research is directly in line with the University’s mission and will help faculty members who feel like they do not have enough time to complete aspects of their research, she added.

Students should know “they’re the central and foremost and the main concern” of the strategic planning committees, Wharton said, adding that faculty members focus both on teaching and maintaining competitive research that increases the quality of teaching.

 

A push for diversity

The report also outlined the long-term goal of increasing both the number of female tenured professors in the sciences and the number of tenured underrepresented minority professors across all academic departments.

Throughout the course of the Plan for Academic Enrichment — the cornerstone of former President Ruth Simmons’  academic agenda — the number of faculty members dramatically increased but did not sufficiently diversify, Wharton said. Though the committee was not ready to divulge the specific policies that could increase diversity, it did identify a specific desire to aggressively increase minority representation among the faculty, she said.

The committee recommended developing specific guidelines to be implemented in the hiring process at all levels of tenure, including using the Office of Institutional Diversity to discover promising minority candidates for specific positions and programs. Departments should receive specific criteria for minority hires and the resources to fulfill these requirements, the report stated.

Once minority faculty members are hired, they should be given support throughout their careers, including mentorship for research, according to the report.

Committee members highlighted a direct correlation between diversity among faculty members and diversity among students. “Diversity of the faculty is very key to the diversity of the student body and the diversity of thought on campus,” said Patricia Ybarra, a member of the Committee for Educational Innovation and an associate professor of theater arts and performance studies.

 

Recognition and retention

The report recommended recognizing existing faculty members for “excellence in research, teaching and service” to increase the strength of both research and teaching at the University. Supporting existing faculty members is crucial to retaining the high caliber of professors already with the University, according to the report, which also stated that a salary committee has been created in order to potentially raise salaries for tenured professors who have held their posts for more than seven years.

McLaughlin said faculty retention is “not a huge problem” at Brown, estimating a roughly 75 percent retention rate.

Nevertheless, as faculty members publish important works and are recognized for their discoveries, Brown must compete with other institutions vying for their talents, McLaughlin said. Rewarding high-performing faculty members with increased recognition and salaries will help keep them within the Brown community, according to the report.

McLaughlin said the University will shift its focus from acquiring new faculty members to supporting the faculty and departments it built under the PAE.

“There’s a tendency — it’s a bit of human nature — to overlook some of the things you have because you’re focused on the things that you don’t have,” he said, adding that more emphasis will now be placed on the University’s commitment to its current faculty.

While the faculty will not increase greatly in numbers, he said he expects significant turnover in the years to come.

“There’s going to be a demographic shift,” he said. “We have a significant number of the faculty who are older than 65. We will rejuvenate and reinvigorate the faculty as retirements take place.”

The report briefly addressed spousal hiring as another potential method to recruit and retain faculty. When Brown hires a new faculty member with an academic spouse or partner, McLaughlin said, it is customary to check if a position is available in the spouse’s department. A formal spousal hiring program, however, does not exist at Brown or at any peer universities.

“It would be a break with all past experience here to introduce the concept of spousal hiring,” he said, though he noted the issue may be discussed further at the coming faculty forum.

 

Finding the funds

Though the committee identified several areas where increased and dedicated resources could improve the faculty experience, the committee did not discuss actual efforts to raise funds.

“Our charge was to identify policies that could most likely lead to enhancement in faculty productivity,” McLaughlin said, stressing that not all of the “very hypothetical” ideas presented in the interim report will necessarily come to fruition.

“President Paxson is in a good position to make a decision on how to move forward and setting priorities,” Tan said.

The report will serve as the foundation for a faculty forum that will likely take place in mid-to-late February, he said. The discussion, hosted by the committee, will cultivate crucial faculty input before a final report is completed later in the spring, McLaughlin said.

The committee then plans to approach the Corporation “with ideas about what is of value to the University,” Wharton said, adding that this will be a chance to show what faculty members feel are the critical issues facing the University.