The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

What Can HR Do to Support the Changing Faculty in Higher Ed?

In 1969, nearly 8 out of 10 faculty members in higher ed were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, more than 70 percent are non-tenure-track. The faculty model is clearly changing, but institutions are struggling to adapt — and it’s having an impact on student success.

In her session “HR and Support of the Changing Faculty” at CUPA-HR’s annual conference in San Diego, Adrianna Kezar, director of the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success at University of Southern California, shared some of the challenges non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty face and how human resources can help shepherd new policies and practices to better support them.

Challenges for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty
Although the faculty contingent has changed, most faculty-related policies and practices have not. According to research from the Delphi Project, NTTs at most institutions are experiencing:

  • A decentralized and unsystematic hiring process;
  • Lack of job security, short contracts, last-minute hiring and little commitment to rehiring (resulting in constant turnover);
  • Little or no orientation, professional development or mentoring;
  • No formal evaluation;
  • Limited opportunities for faculty-student interaction;
  • Little or no means for participating in curriculum development, department meetings and planning or campus governance;
  • Limited access to instructional resources, staff support and office space; and
  • No compensation for office hours, meetings, class prep or professional development.

What’s the Impact on Student Success?
Research has found that when faculty don’t have the support they need, student success suffers. Several studies have found that a lack of supportive systems, policies and processes for faculty results in:

  • Diminished graduation and retention rates;
  • Decreased transfer rates from two- to four-year institutions;
  • A disproportionate impact on students early in their undergrad careers;
  • Greater difficulty with major selection and persistence; and
  • Lower GPAs.

How Can HR Help?
According to Kezar, human resources organizations can be a driving force in helping academic departments rethink and redesign faculty policies and processes. While academic affairs leaders have expertise around certain supports and types of information faculty may need, they lack information on systematic hiring, onboarding and development. And while HR organizations are experts in those areas, most don’t know enough about the details of faculty life to fully implement policies around professional development or governance. This, says Kezar, is why collaboration is so important.

Here are some areas in which HR can provide guidance and influence:

Kezar recommends offering new faculty orientation (both in person and online) for NTTs on a rotating basis instead of once per semester, as people cycle in all the time. NTTs should be paid to attend orientation, it should be provided at the institutional and the departmental level, and department chairs should be trained on how to bring on board a new NTT faculty member. Kezar also recommends connecting new faculty members with a mentor or key contact within their department to answer any questions and provide guidance and assistance.

Professional Development
NTT faculty should be invited and encouraged to attend professional development opportunities, both in person and online. Consider offering in-person professional development programs on evenings and weekends when they can attend, and pay them to do so. Kezar also recommends including NTTs in campus awards for teaching and in seed funding to revise courses or teaching.

Evaluation and Performance Reviews
Most NTTs are evaluated solely by students. Says Kezar, “For this reason, many are hesitant to try new and innovative ways of teaching, for fear of receiving bad evaluations and losing their jobs.” She suggests using multiple measures to evaluate NTTs, including peer review and teaching portfolios, and rewarding the use of new pedagogies and experimentation.

NTTs should also be given the opportunity to advance in an institution. HR can help academic departments set up career tracks for NTTs, create advancement standards that are unique from tenure-track faculty, ensure consistent promotion standards and set up a process for review that includes NTT faculty in the process (both in creating the standards and in the review once the promotion process starts).

By collaborating with academic affairs, the faculty senate and individual academic departments across campus, HR can influence change around faculty policies, practices and systems and help support the success of the new faculty majority.