Redefining Faculty


simpsons professors

A number of years back when I left academia to return to industry, I had one condition for my soon-to-be partners: under no circumstances would I manage other people. I’d be willing to do just about anything for the new company – in a startup, that’s the very definition of “employment”—but when it came to management, in the immortal words of Meatloaf, “I won’t do that.” ( )

I’d spent 12 years running a digital agency and almost 3 years as serving as the founding Dean of a school of design and media at a small university in Philadelphia, I knew that while I could muddle through reasonably well, “manager” wasn’t in the top 5 (maybe not even the top 10!) of my “things I do well” list. I’d grown to understand that while I was pretty good at coming up with creative ideas, interacting with clients, and selling the company’s services to prospective clients I just didn’t have the detail-oriented temperament and organizational skills it took to really excel at managing people. And I was OK with that as were my partners who were more than willing to take me on so that I could contribute using the skills where I did excel.

In the end, it worked out pretty well. One of the founders, it turned out, was pretty good at managing people and he and I worked out a mutually-beneficial symbiotic relationship that accentuated our individual strengths and compensated for our individual weaknesses. He did what he was good at, I did what I was good at, and everyone was happy (and successful).

I thought about all this recently when I read this article ( on Inside Higher Education about a new report ( (PDF download) from The Delphi Project at the University of Southern California Earl and Pauline Pullias Center for Higher Education. The report, entitled “Adapting by Design” looks at the current state of faculty roles and faculty work in higher education in America and how those roles and work will play out in the future of higher ed.

While the report examines a number of issues beyond the “adjunct/non-tenure-track faculty vs. tenure track faculty” debate, much of its focus is on this issue. But rather than delve into ground that’s already been covered in many other places (e.g. the value of tenure or the exploitation of adjuncts), Delphi’s effort is focused on the problems of where we are today in order to offer potential solutions for where higher education needs to go tomorrow.

The core of their argument is that the notion of what faculty should do – while once fairly well defined and respected—has devolved into a conflicting mish-mash of roles and responsibilities that serve no one – students, institutions, and the faculty members themselves—well. The result is the current situation of inequitable compensation, over-reliance on poorly paid itinerant adjuncts, financial mismanagement, organizational malaise, teaching that often doesn’t meet the needs of today’s students, and increasing difficulties in producing high-quality scholarship.

The end-game, the report asserts, is that by having to meet an ever-widening sphere or institutional demands, faculty “ will either sustain the gradual decline of [their] profession, or [they] will invite frustrated policymakers and outsiders, who lack the appropriate perspective to effectively direct change, to recreate faculty careers and roles.” In other words, things are going to change one way or another, and faculty either need to take charge of the situation or risk having the situation take charge of their futures.

While the report doesn’t offer a singular answer, it does suggest a number of intriguing models for reforming the system that seems to be broken (or in the process of breaking) in Chapter 7 of the report. But rather than go into detail on each one here, I do think it’s important to draw out the one element that they all have in common: we (and by “we” I mean the “collective we” of faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders) need to be willing to take a hard look at the University model in the light of today’s economic, societal, educational, and professional realities and be willing to ask one very hard question: what should faculty really be doing…and is there a single answer to that question?

Ernest Boyer identified four key aspects of faculty roles: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. Right now, faculty are expected to engage in all four. But what if the definition of “faculty” didn’t involve integrating all these activities into one job? What if faculty could move back and forth between these four roles every few years? What if some faculty were able to engage in one (or some) of these four roles every few years but were considered equal to other faculty? What if teaching involved a combination of faculty from different disciplines who combined forces to bring one or more aspects of the faculty role together to teach a single subject? What if it were OK to turn to others (in particular non-faculty “paraprofessional” specialists) to assist with one or more of these aspects in the course of doing one’s job? What if faculty weren’t expected to be good at everything at once?

I think that few would argue that today’s faculty are under an enormous amount of pressure from the pile of mounting responsibilities they’re asked to tackle. And few would argue, I believe, that it doesn’t seem that the pace of change – and the need to respond to that change—isn’t slowing down. Shifting demographics, economic pressures, technological developments, and the challenges of educating students with a variety of developmental needs are all combining to make the job faculty members face harder every day. It seems that unless we’re willing to take a hard look at ourselves and our professions, we’re not going to be able to face the challenges of today or the unknown challenges facing us in the future. The answer may not reside in this new report from Delphi, but it’s definitely worth the read for anyone who’s interested in asking the hard questions as we continue the conversation about the future of higher education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dear Student: No, I Won’t Change the Grade You Deserve


Dear Student: No, I Won’t Change the Grade You Deserve

Stacey Patton posted the question to various individuals associated with higher education on how to respond to a student requesting a grade change in a “C” paper because the student claimed to work very hard on the assignment. I was attracted to the article because the situation has seemed to become common in the past decade. I do not know if I am just getting older, or as the article suggests there seems to be a new generation of students that have a sense of academic entitlement. I am not going to lie, in that I found myself smiling and acknowledging some real truths regarding teaching and learning in the responses presented to the hypothetical “C” student, although at the same time the responses tended to be snarkish and condescending. In some ways the discourse revealed a clear divide in the lifeworlds of students and educators. A divide that should prompt institutions of higher education to further explore possible disconnects in the process of teaching and learning.

Posted in Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

Simming: Simulation as a Pedagogical Tool




Does this photo make you uncomfortable? Can you detect power relations in this situation? How do you feel about the white man wearing antebellum clothing standing over kneeling people of different races?

This image was captured during a public history experience called “Follow the North Star” staged by the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Indiana. Participants, who sign a waiver, are involved in a pedagogical technique called “simming,” where guests engage in simulations of historical experiences.  Since the participants are college students and adults who are prepped in advance, the Conner Prairie organizers feel they can take a real risk by putting them in an extremely uncomfortable situation: visitors portray escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. At the beginning of the evening, they are left in a vacant field in the dark where they hear gun shots and barking dogs. A museum staffer appears to guide them through the night where they meet other interpreters portraying sympathetic Quakers, helpful free blacks, and slave catchers. They discover that even some allies harbor racist views: people who want to help them escape encourage them to make their way back to Africa. Participants encounter complex scenarios that most likely challenge their received celebratory narratives of the Underground Railroad. Some visitors react emotionally. Many report feeling real fear, and one young man actually punched a museum staffer who tried to separate the man’s girlfriend from the group.

Probably that young man will remember his experience in the Underground Railroad for a long time. Studies show that when adults enter a “discomfort zone,” they actually learn more. Most of these studies looked at museum visitors, but professors could also incorporate simulations in their classrooms. Reacting to the Past has had great success with this approach. Later this month, my students in a general education history class at the University of Baltimore will stage a mock trial of the murder of Helen Jewett. The classroom will be filled with prostitutes, brothel owners, young male clerks and legal counsel from the 1830s.  I’ll let you know how it goes later this spring.


Posted in Experiential, Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

Service-Learning & Civic Engagement Proposal Deadline


Save The Date

The Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Conference examines the latest thinking about how colleges and universities interpret and advance their civic missions and how service-learning and civic engagement can strengthen the capacity of Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. campuses to create and sustain community partnerships.

Friday, February 6 - Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 workshop proposals are due. The conference will feature concurrent workshops led by faculty, staff, students, and/or community organization representatives. Find out more and submit a proposal Contact: Corinne DeRoberts (

Friday, February 6 - Service-Learning & Civic Engagement 2015 award nominations are due. Know a community service superstar? Have a favorite CBO? Submit an award nomination. Contact:

Posted in Community-based learning, Experiential, Teaching and Learning, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are Baltimore City Schools At Risk?


This January 28th Baltimore Sun editorial states that Baltimore City schools are expected to lose millions in state aid. “That’s not a reduction in the expected increase, it’s an actual honest-to-God cut, and it is in dollar terms more than six times greater than what any other jurisdiction is experiencing.”

The proposed fiscal cut to public education is multifaceted and we don’t have a crystal ball to see the consequences, if fully executed. But one could infer that laying off teachers, increasing the student to teacher ratio, and slowing school construction may result. Baltimore’s four-year graduation rate is now nearly 70 percent (still not on par with the national average, but a steady improvement over the past decade), according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Do these proposed cuts make sense just as Baltimore City schools are finally starting to rebound? What could the impact be on academic innovation, student success, and educational access?

What do you think?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Syllabus Design Aimed at Meeting Deadlines

This gallery contains 1 photo.

  Why do some students fail our classes? Usually, in my courses, students don’t pass because they don’t complete all the assignments. It is possible that the work is too hard for them, but in most cases students fail to turn in a paper … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

Best of SoTL Articles


Dr. Maryellen Weimer from the Teaching Professor Blog has compiled a list of top SoTL articles from her constant scan of pedagogical resources. You might not find all of these journals via our campus library, but they are worth looking for. Here is her list and rationale for why you should take the time to read each:

Boud, D., Lawson, R., and Thompson, D. G. (2013). Does student engagement in self-assessment calibrate their judgment over time?  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38 (8), 941-956.
Why read it: Despite its importance, self-assessment is not a skill that’s taught explicitly in most curricular programs. What more can we be doing?

Burgess-Proctor, A., Cassano, G., Condron, D. J., Lyons, H. A., and Sanders, G. (2014). A collective effort to improve sociology students’ writing skills.  Teaching Sociology, 42 (2), 130-139.
Why read it: Five faculty members decide they can do more to improve student writing collectively than they can individually.

Burkholder, P., (2014). A content means to a critical thinking end: Group quizzing in history survey.  The History Teacher, 47 (4), 551-578.
Why read it: Offers a quizzing strategy with substantial impact for learning and raises questions about content that we aren’t asking often enough.

Carmichael, A. M. and Krueger, L. E. (2014). An examination of factors and attitudes that influence reporting fraudulent claims in an academic environment.  Active Learning in Higher Education, 15 (2), 173-185.
Why read it: Prepare to be stunned by how easily and readily students reported making up excuses.

Corrigan, H. and Craciun, G. (2013). Asking the right questions: Using Student-Written Exams as an innovative approach to learning and evaluation.  Marketing Education Review, 23 (1), 31-35.
Why read it: Students write their own exams using a well-designed approach that grades their questions and answers.

Offerdahl, E. G., and Montplaisir, L., (2014). Student-generated reading questions: Diagnosing student thinking with diverse formative assessments.  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38.
Why read it: Want your students doing the reading and asking better questions? Here’s an approach that accomplishes both.

Rublee, M. R. (2014). Rubrics in the political science classroom: Packing a serious analytical punch.  PS, Political Science and Politics, 47 (1), 199-203.
Why read it: Rubrics can do so much more than expedite grading. You don’t have to teach political science to benefit from this article.

Seidel, S. B. and Tanner, K. D. (2013). “What if students revolt?”—Considering student resistance: origins, options and opportunities for investigation.  Cell Biology Education—Life Sciences Education, 12 (Winter), 586-595.
Why read it: Find here a veritable cache of wisdom on dealing with student resistance.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Risk and Innovation: The Most Important Elements of Honors Education


imageI’m attending the National Collegiate Honors Council annual meeting in Denver today, and I just participated in a workshop on faculty development in honors. Honors directors from across the US and Europe asked ourselves “How do we communicate what honors teaching is?” “How can we convince our faculty that honors teaching does not mean more, it means different?”

Workshop leaders Donnie Nobles, of Auburn University-Montgomery and John Zubbizarreta of Columbia College, South Carolina distributed a list of elements involved in learning-centered teaching:
Intellectual Engagement
Motivation, Self-Direction
Experiential Learning
Challenge (quality and process over quantity and products)
Risk, innovation
Discussion-based classes
Undergraduate Research
Freedom and flexibility

The honors directors in the room agreed that the most important element, and the most difficult one to implement, would be risk and innovation. These notions challenge both students and instructors. Students want to maintain a high GPA, so they avoid risk. Professors need good student evaluations, so any new assignment is inherently risky. Both groups are uncomfortable with ambiguity or even chaos.

How can we encourage risk-taking in our classes? Possibly by assigning ungraded activities that encourage risk? Possibly by encouraging peer review for professors so less emphasis is placed on student course evaluations? Maybe by embracing a culture of freedom and flexibility?

Posted in Honors | Leave a comment

Work. Play. Profit


As I sipped my coffee, watched Sunday Morning on CBS, and glanced through the Business section of the Washington Post (how elitist does that sound?); I could not help but notice a photo of some surfers with the headline, Work. Play. Profit.   It turns out the article was about Patagonia the sportswear company that I was familiar with because of their socially aware ways of doing business. The article focused on Patagonia’s flexible work-life culture, which is an idea that caught my eye given that in the Office of Academic Innovation, we like to think creatively about ways to motivate individuals to learn. Work, or learning for what it is worth, ought not be looked at as Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill. The article went on to note that Patagonia employees were encouraged to bring their children to the on-site day-care center, have lunch at company picnic tables, and go surfing in the middle of the day.   The company’s relaxed climate has led to happier employees who are less willing to leave the company, while profits have tripled in the past 5 years. Interestingly enough our own Dean Bryan and Dr. Wilson explore similar ideas in their book Shaping Work-Life Culture in Higher Education, which was published this past year. So, the article is not exactly noting a new concept. But, the Washington Post article made me question why such progressive ideas like daycare, telecommuting, and flexible work weeks are not the norm, and 1940’s ideas of manufacturing still cling to the popular workplace paradigm even in progressive institutions.

Posted in Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

A Grad Students’ Wonderings into Global Affairs & Wanderlust


A Grad Students’Wonderings into Global Affairs & Wanderlust

By: Janine Branch

My name is Janine Branch. I am a citizen diplomat, a change maker, a logistics coordinator, a mentor and coach, a trainer, a event planner, and a storyteller. This summer I traveled to Dominican Republic and Haiti for a experiential learning trip. I knew a long time ago from hearing stories from my grandmother of her worldly travels, that I wanted to travel through unique opportunities to be immersed into a different culture; educating my whole person through experience-based learning.

The primary purpose of my trip was to gain insight into the Haiti culture, with a short stop in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic to gain an understanding into the one island with two with worlds. After the day layover in Dominican Republic, I spent six days traveling to Cap-Haïtien, Port-au-Prince, Plaisance, and Labadee by way of bus, tap tap, and on foot throughout the country.

Traveling to Haiti was a rich, eye-opening, and perspective-building cultural experience. There is an awareness that is produced after an extensive experience (no matter how short), particularly when traveling to the developing world. The conditions of life most Americans get to enjoy—the immaculate streets, the broad array of stores, and the outright comfort of life, in my opinion, are taken for grated. And as another blogger, Tim Urban observes “suddenly the immense wealth of the First World is blatantly apparent everywhere you look and you remember that everyone you know lives like a king without realizing it.”

Despite the contrasts in values, there was a vibrancy and rhythm throughout the streets of Haiti. The beat was fast-paced, a structured chaos. The allure of dust kicking up from underneath tap-taps, piles of trash burning, mothers on the way to the market, the elitist traveling up the mountain to their mansions in Land Rovers, and men hustling to sell bags of water at the hottest part of the day. Even among the rhythm, varying levels of poverty were evident immediately as I crossed the border of Dominican Republic and Haiti. In the major towns and highways of Haiti; everything looks hungry – the mountains, the trash piles, the trees, goats, and people. The degradation of the land was very evident, and reflective of the tumultuous past of razing plantations after the slave revolt. Yet, the citizens of Haiti were proud of the valuables they have in possession. Laziness or taking a break was not an option or a way of thinking. Everyone had a hustle. Whether it was to sell water, shine shoes, suggesting restaurants, grounding cacao into powder, prostitution, or studying for school, etc. Everyone is doing something.

There are immeasurable observations that I made while I was in Haiti. Some of which I get to explore in my Individualized Study course, “Sustainable Development and Aid Effectiveness in Haiti.”Questions such as, why do women not drive? Where are the hospitals? Where does racism stem from and how does it affect global security? Where do donations really go? Why dont more blacks not travel or volunteer? Nonetheless, I realize there is so much to the world that I do not understand or have yet to learn. I am curious to explore these questions and more through the development of my curriculum.

The conclusion that I made, is that even with my resourcefulness – is that experiential learning is challenging. It is easy enough to travel the globe as a tourist, but it is not always easy to work and spend an extended time abroad so that you get to know another country in a way a tourist never does. While I was in Haiti, I was unable to gain the trust of the community members to due racial, cultural, and gender barriers. Or participate in the thorough volunteer experience that I desired, but I’ve learned how I want to contribute in the future. When I return to Haiti next summer, I would like to become involved in a sustainable development effort a cacao and vanilla processing farm and factory, called DeLaSol Haiti. I would like to fully integrating myself into the community –an opportunity that a typical vacation could never provide. By applying the educational philosophies and practical experiences gained in the work place and during graduate school–I hope to make a contribution to improve the lives of others. I am continually motivated by the responsibility to engage the rest of the world in a mutually beneficial dialogue.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment