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The lexicon of faculty affairs: understanding how faculty affairs departments communicate their value

Topics in Higher Education

If colleges and universities are cars, then faculty are the engines with their teaching, research, and leadership propelling their institutions’ mission forward.  To keep this “engine” running, faculty affairs department provide critical services for faculty–tenure and promotion, hiring, professional development, and more. We’d call them “mechanics,” but clearly the metaphor has been pushed too far.

While faculty receive guidance and information from other parts of their university, the faculty affairs department typically is the department within an institution that centralizes the management of these complex, and sometimes disparate, services into a single function.

Typically, and understandably, the public face of the university–through websites, print, and digital media–is dedicated to serving the needs of prospective and current students. However, this type of external and internal communication is also a crucial tool used by institutions to engage and support their faculty and is a key part of faculty affairs departments.

How do faculty affairs departments communicate the value and purpose of their services and support to current and prospective faculty through their websites? This was the primary question we asked prior to engaging in a project to explore the ways that colleges and universities communicate externally about faculty affairs.

The Research Process

Initially, we reviewed five university faculty affairs websites to better understand the taxonomy of a typical faculty affairs department’s digital footprint. Next, we enlisted the assistance of a data-mining research tool to pull publicly-available university faculty affairs information from university websites for 50 institutions. The 50 universities were selected randomly from three cohorts: R1, R2, and R3, with an oversampling of R1 universities. We call this research project the Faculty Affairs Inventory Research (“FAIR”).

What themes emerged from this descriptive research scan? In the next blog post in this series, we will delve deeper into we learned about faculty affairs department staffing such as staffing ratios, department leadership profiles, and how staff highlight institutions’ efforts to support their unique faculty.

 

This blog kicks off a three-part series that will explore themes in faculty affairs, including unique and common practices and attributes of faculty affairs departments.