A View from Canada
From the March 2001 AAHE Bulletin
E.L. "Betty" Donaldson, director of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum at the University of Calgary and a board member of the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, attended her first AAHE Conference on Faculty Roles & Rewards this February.
She prepared this report for her campus colleagues and sent a copy to AAHE.
"How do we prepare graduate students, orient and mentor early-career faculty, conduct the tenure and promotion process, and maintain the vitality of mid-career faculty? How do we sustain the commitments of senior faculty and deal with the retirement transition creatively?"
In search of answers to these questions, I recently became a snowbird for a brief escape to Florida (it rained the entire time) for the AAHE Conference on Faculty Roles & Rewards. The trip was a productive opportunity to join our American cousins in focused discussions about "The Changing Professoriate." As Canadians always do, I returned with suitcases of new goods (books) and ideas to be adapted for our less hospitable environment. Trying not to be too envious of those wealthy Southerners and reminding myself of the virtues of being a country mouse, I offer the following vignettes as food for thought.
Conference Demographics. The American talent for organizing on a grand scale is an awesome dynamic regardless of the purpose of the activity. This conference was no exception. A day and a half prior to the conference, a series of three-hour thematic workshops were held. The meeting schedule was a well-paced combination of plenary and concurrent sessions. The catalogue was an exemplary communications tool, appropriately keyword and color coded.
Approximately 1,200 people attended (in Canada, the Society for Studies in Higher Education, of which I am a board member, is doing well if it attracts 100 registrants). AAHE attendees included representatives from the most prestigious universities, land-grant and private colleges, state institutions including community colleges, and a large range of affiliated organizations. The bookstore reflected many recent and international publications on topics ranging from retirement issues to classroom dynamics. Many pamphlets about further such scholarly activities and calls for papers were readily available.
Of the 1,200 attendees, approximately 40 were from outside the United States. They came from Australia and New Zealand, Sweden, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. However, the majority of this minority was Canadian; the University of Guelph had an impressive team (nine members including the associate vice president). We must have been a bit obvious because some presenters representing American higher education indicated they were Canadian, manifestations of the brain drain. Among the American group of scholars were many who knew about Canadian issues or who had visited campuses (including Calgary).
A subtheme of the conference was "New Technologies, New Generation" but most of the conference attendees reflected the old guard. They were senior white-haired males who have spent a lifetime in academia. When Shattering the Silences (a video that explores the ways diverse faculty enrich and expand traditional disciplines through profiles of eight minority scholars) was shown in the large ballroom, for the first time visible minorities were predominant, but the room was not full. Only one session about gender was scheduled; it attracted about 20 participants (two males).
The demographic shift is a concern for American higher education. One study, replicating a 1969 survey, indicated that the total number of academics in the United States (about 170,000) has not changed during the past 30 years but the numbers of women and "people of color" have changed the ratios. Tenured faculty are older. Few incentives effectively encourage retirement. Part-time instructor percentages have increased. There are more (highly paid) staff whose primary responsibilities maintain the institution itself, but they do not have a teaching and research (knowledge generative) mandate. Many very talented new graduates are choosing lucrative and challenging professional careers other than academic. Thus, some concerns about the ongoing quality of the academy itself is evident.
Conference Themes. The 2001 conference was organized around five subthemes that impact higher education: impact of technology on the faculty role; generational changing of the guard; honoring different forms of scholarly excellence; academic careers for a new century; and other faculty-related topics. Here are examples from each subtheme:
The rapid adoption of World Wide Web technology (from zero to dominance in less than six years) has everyone reeling. Stand-alone units are expensive and often underutilized. A successful strategy for many institutions involves training graduate students (especially prospective new faculty members) to support and facilitate the adoption of new technology within a disciplinary program.
The need to provide training for faculty members moving to administrative roles, including department headships, generates institutional mechanisms that provide periodic support. Recruitment and retention does not seem to be as much of an issue in Canada, although some disciplines are in competitive situations vis-a-vis the corporate workplace. Work conditions and benefits are generally not better than conditions external to the academy but some institutions are very obviously resource-rich from endowments. New research about the "seasons of an academic life" provides compelling evidence of a lifestyle in which intrinsic rewards are being challenged by increasingly external pressures.
Honoring different forms of scholarly excellence, especially the various dimensions of teaching activities, technological courses, and publications, and "service-learning" are high-priority issues. The University of Missouri, for example, has developed a "faculty performance shares" plan targeted to reward implementation activities that directly further the strategic plan.
A few sessions addressed academic career pathways; these focused on post-tenure reviews. It seems that private universities and disciplines requiring accreditation are leaders in this area, and this arena is quite a different type of conversation than the one that facilitates scholarships about teaching and learning or institutional strategic planning. In the United States, the new dialogue is about the scholarship of "engagement." It arises from concern that many citizens are alienated from the democratic process (low voter turnout) and from concern that the more fortunate are not assisting the less-advantaged. Thus, "service-learning" (a structured learning experience, usually off-campus) is an emergent priority. At least one university successfully increased local community support by developing an interdisciplinary project that illustrated the value of having a higher education and of having a university in the area.
Other topics included diverse titles such as building inter-institutional programs and projects, campus-based codes of conduct, transformative leadership, ongoing alumni involvement, and scholarship and spirituality. A well-attended session reported results from a survey on departmental leadership and management.
Final Comments and Suggestions. At the final plenary, AAHE president Yolanda T. Moses and AAHE Board member Sally Johnstone attempted to identify trends that will impact and characterize U.S. higher education. These included more cross-institutional partnerships; more collaborative teaching projects; more quality assurance mechanisms; more "consumer protection"; an unregulated World Wide Web; and life in a "digital civilization." As always, Canadians will be influenced by these trends, adapting to them at our own pace, with our own pressures, our own priorities. It is a requisite of our own culture's survival that we be alert to the subtle and seductive American one.
For a complete list of conference sessions and speakers, see the final conference program at www.aahe.org/ffrr/2001/update.htm. Audio cassettes and CDs are available from Conference Media Contractors, www.cmc-net.com/docs/aahe_ 2001_index.html; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum program at the University of Calgary, see www.ucalgary.ca/commons/tlc/.
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