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Decoding the language of faculty affairs: what we learned from an analysis of 50 universities

Topics in Higher Education

This is the second post in a three-part series exploring themes in faculty affairs, including unique and common practices and attributes of faculty affairs departments.

The initial results of our study of 50 faculty affairs department websites revealed useful insights into how institutions describe their faculty affairs services to their faculty. These findings, we hope, will spark discussion and, perhaps, further research.

After organizing all of the raw data into information types (e.g., staffing, resources, services, news, and events), we coded the information to identify significant themes in the data. What emerged from the coding process was three “orientations” that describe faculty affairs activities/services/resources.

  1. Policy and Procedures Orientation – focus on HR, forms, listservs, HR benefits
  2. Teaching and Research Orientation – focus on instructional quality, teaching, and research resources
  3. Professional Growth and Advancement Orientation – focus on faculty tenure, professional growth, and learning

These orientations are indicative of the various ways faculty affairs departments describe themselves to current and future faculty members. Each faculty affairs website we analyzed communicated all three orientations in one way or another, with some departments showing a strong bias for a specific orientation.

Which of these orientations is the most common faculty affairs approach? To answer this question and better understand the prevalence of each orientation, we analyzed the number of website resources that fit each orientation. Slightly over half of all resources were policy and procedure-oriented, one-third were best described as teaching and learning resources, and the remaining resources had a professional growth and advancement orientation.

These findings raise several key questions. While policy and procedures are important, are colleges and universities missing an opportunity to engage with their faculty more deeply by focusing so heavily on them? Would students benefit if more faculty affairs resources were dedicated to teaching and learning? Does the lack of professional growth and advancement oriented resources reveal a need for greater professional development support for faculty?

In addition to examining these three orientations, we also attempted to better understand department staffing. We found that the median ratio of faculty to faculty affairs employees is roughly three. Also interestingly, the most senior leader of a faculty affairs department typically has a Provost or Vice/Associate Provost title, holds a PhD, previously worked at an R1 institution, and is female.

While our survey of faculty affairs departments (the Faculty Affairs Inventory Research project or “FAIR”) does not offer a conclusive view of faculty affairs departments, it is a first step that we hope provokes a conversation about faculty affairs services, staffing, and how such departments communicate with those they seek to serve.

In the third blog of this three-part series, we will share key takeaways from the May 29, 2019 Interfolio Convening on Faculty Affairs Research (iCFAR) where Washington, DC-area faculty affairs professionals will gather to discuss the FAIR results, as well as other relevant research and faculty affairs issues.