Building a World-Class Faculty

Excerpt: Building a World-class faculty requires that the institution hire the best faculty that it can, grow the knowledge, skills and effectiveness of existing faculty, retain the best and eliminate poor performers who are unwilling to grow. By studying this article and its linked resources, and by using the associated shared files, you will be able to: • Implement a process to build consensus on campus about the role faculty should play at the institution. • Design a rubric to aid faculty search committees in selecting the best candidate for the institution’s needs. • Develop a set of interview questions to elucidate a faculty candidate’s overall and research fit. • Develop a set of questions that yields useful feedback from candidate’s references. • Design a process to keep track of existing faculty lines across departments and colleges. • Develop a process for predicting open lines 18 months in advance of hiring so that departments can start the recruiting cycle early. • Develop policy which encourages retiring and resigning faculty to provide many months’ notice of their planned departure. • Evaluate and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the faculty search process so that offers can be made ahead of the competition. • Modify the recruiting process to increase applications in general and minority candidates in particular. • Appraise the appropriate rank(s) at which to hire new faculty. • Construct hiring guidelines that define credential requirements, teaching expectations, workload distribution, tenure considerations, etc. • Formulate policy and appropriate strategies for spousal hires. • Formulate policy that enables the institution to offer a tenured position but ensure the faculty member is first a good fit for the department. • Explain the strengths and weaknesses of publishing salary expectations. • Develop an effective process for setting salary so the institution is competitive within its marketplace. • Develop a process to ensure that all hiring conditions are clearly communicated to Human Resources and documented in the hiring contract. • Develop a plan to help new faculty succeed at grant writing. • Implement an effective mentor matching process for new faculty. • Develop a plan to retain faculty by providing growth and leadership opportunities. • Evaluate the tenure and promotion workflow process. • Implement an effective annual faculty review process within departments. • Describe the potential use of a faculty merit raises to support strategic plans, even when merit raises are not available every year. • Implement a campus climate survey to identify and address issues that could affect faculty retention. • Describe the advantages and disadvantages of countering job offers received by current faculty.

Hiring the Best Faculty

Building a World-class faculty requires that the institution hire the best faculty that it can, grow the knowledge, skills, and effectiveness of existing faculty, retain the best, and eliminate poor performers who are unwilling to grow. Effective faculty hiring requires numerous considerations: internal and external clarity about the knowledge and skills needed for the position; an effective resource allocation process that lets departments know the open funded lines they will have at least 18 months in advance of hiring deadlines; a recruiting strategy that garners the largest and most qualified applicant pool possible; an efficient search process that selects the most qualified candidates, enables the institution to make offers in advance of the competition, and hopefully close the deal with top choice candidates; and the funding to offer within-market competitive compensation packages. Growing the existing faculty requires investment in faculty development resources and nurturing a culture that expects and rewards excellence. Retaining the best faculty requires that the institution offer challenging opportunities for growth within the disciplines and in leadership roles, and that it maintains a positive campus climate. It also requires a meaningful review and mentoring processes, and that it establish and enforce policies to eliminate long-term poor performers.

Defining Position Needs

To improve clarity about general expectations of the faculty role, a task force was established to develop a consensus document called the Faculty Characteristics of Excellence.  This document defines what values should be important to a faculty member, how those values might be operationalized in their professional practice, how the institution can measure overall performance and reinforce the behavior through awards, rewards and recognition.  It was published on the University web site and linked to from all job advertisements, so that potential new hires had a clear understanding of the culture and expectations of the institution.  An independent faculty committee subsequently distilled this extensive list down to a set of broad characteristics that were used as a rubric by faculty search committees to evaluate potential new hires.  Each department could add additional requirements to the rubric based on its specific needs, although they were asked to limit the total set to ten.  This rubric provided a powerful tool for the search committees, and anecdotally improved their ability to assess important skills of potential new hires that might not otherwise have been examined.

Candidate research skills and experience are very specific to departments and often focus on how the candidate can compliment existing expertise and their potential for collaboration with department members.  A generic rubric to evaluate candidates in this area is therefore impractical, however, a definition of the types of evidence of research productivity, guidelines on its evaluation, and potential questions to ask candidates as documented in Guidelines for Evaluating Candidate Research can be helpful.

Determining Funding and Faculty Line Availability

An institution can easily lose track of how many funded faculty lines it is committed to.  Over many years, position transfers between departments, deals done on shared or soft funding, resignations and retirements, and unfilled positions, can lead to confusion about commitments.  This problem usually arises when positions are tracked based on the academic departmental account number from which they had originally been funded.  The key to tracking the history of position funding is to have a position control number that is independent of the account from which the salary is paid.  As positions are moved between departments and colleges, and as people move in and out of positions, this number remains constant and therefore provides a mechanism to track the data – even if the funding account is changed.  In addition, as new positions are funded and associated new position control numbers created, or as funding is withdrawn and position control numbers are retired, it makes it easy to track how the positions are being distributed across colleges and departments.  For complete record keeping and to assist with management decisions, many fields describing the position and its occupant should be recorded in the database or spreadsheet.  A sample Academic Position Tracking spreadsheet is provided in the shared files repository for your use.

One of the most important responsibilities of a Provost is to determine how faculty lines are allocated to colleges and departments.  A risk analysis model based on growth-rate and other key performance indicators was developed by the Provost and Deans at FHSU, and further refined at Radford University.  This was used to determine allocations of newly funded lines and, where appropriate, shifting existing lines from declining or phased out programs to areas of greater need.  The model projects faculty needs based on program growth rate, expected retirements and resignations, and funding availability, 18 months in advance of faculty start dates.  One of the greatest challenges of this process is getting a financial commitment from the CFO and President well in advance of know budget factors like enrollments.  This time-frame is important to effective hiring for the following reasons.  The faculty search and hiring process typically takes two semesters, beginning in the early fall.  Generally, in the first semester the search committee is established, position descriptions developed, and advertisements published.  Toward the end of the fall semester and into the spring, credentials are evaluated and interviews are conducted.  However, some disciplines have their major annual association meeting early in the fall.  These meetings provide rich recruiting and often interviewing opportunities.  This means that advertising for these positions needs to happen very early in the fall.  To enable this, much of the ground work should ideally be prepared in the previous spring term, before faculty leave for summer break.  Decisions about allocation of faculty lines therefore need to be made early in the spring, which means that the data gathering, analysis, and decision-making processes need to begin in the prior fall term – about 18 months in advance of the expected start date for new hires.

Another challenge to the recruiting process is that faculty often do not officially notify Human Resources of their plans for retirement or resignation until late in the spring term, sometime only weeks in advance of their departure.  This makes it practically impossible to hire full-time replacements for the fall, often requiring expedited searches for one-year appointments or, failing this, distribution of overloads to existing faculty for a year.  This is wasteful of faculty time and resource,s as the temporary position will need to be replaced by a full-time position within the year.  To encourage retiring and resigning faculty to notify the institution much earlier than they traditionally do, a retirement and resignation policy was implemented that provided a financial bonus to faculty if they provided the institution with at least seven months’ notice of their planned retirement or resignation.

The above initiatives enable departments to post advertisements very early in the annual recruiting cycle, and most importantly, to attend national meetings for their discipline with jobs in hand and candidate interviews prescheduled, even for positions that had only recently opened due to resignations and retirements.

Improving the Recruiting and Search Process

Often part of the responsibility of a Provost is to approve faculty job advertisements to ensure that they are clear and accurate.  There can be a wide variance across departments in the quality and completeness of the descriptions of the college/school, the University and the community in which it is located.  The Academic Affairs Leadership Team at FHSU reviewed these descriptions and developed high-quality versions for each of these elements (college/school descriptions were written in partnership with each Dean’s Council) that were then automatically added to all advertisements published by Human Resources.  The search committee could therefore focus on writing an up to date description of its own department, and on writing the position requirements.

The earlier in the recruiting cycle an institution can make an offer the more likely it is to be able to hire its first-choice candidates.  To expedite the search process, process flow diagrams (PDFormat, Microsoft Visio format) were developed for each type of faculty hire (Tenured/Tenure Track, multiyear, temp).  This enabled FHSU to see where bottlenecks occurred, redesign the process, and to set appropriate intervals for each step, resulting in much shorter searches and improved ability to make early offers.  These diagrams are very easy to build (Microsoft Visio, a part of the Office Suite, is the tool of choice), make the process very visible and easy to discuss in group meetings.

Diversity Issues

One of the challenges of recruiting is that people tend to prefer and hire others who are like them.  This can be a self-perpetuating process, particularly if the search committee is made up exclusively of faculty from within the department.  It is therefore important to pay attention to search committee makeup, and consider adding fresh perspectives by implementing search committee policy and procedures requiring, for example, that students, and faculty from other departments or even colleges, serve on the committee.  This can be contentious and unpopular, but may be necessary to break an unhealthy pattern.

Attracting ethnically diverse candidates can be very challenging, especially at remote, rural, and predominantly white institutions.  Advertising in diversity specific publications can help, however, encouraging the deans to create relationships with their counterparts with graduate programs at HBUs, HSIs and other minority serving institutions is most effective.  This creates a pipeline for graduate students nearing completion of their degrees to faculty positions at the institution.  For minority and non-minority candidates, it may also be helpful if the institution is willing to hire ABD candidates, but caution must be taken to set conditions in the contract specifying expected degree completion dates, and implications if these are not met, including the possibility of dismissal.  It is also good practice to start at a lower salary than a doctorally degreed candidate would earn, and include a bump in the contract when the degree is awarded.  Because minority candidates are highly sought after, it is often necessary to make salary offers that are higher than those for non-minority candidates.  Establishing a fund from which chairs can request these additional funds can therefore improve the chances of closing the deal.

Selecting the New Hire

The mechanics of search committee final recommendations should be defined in the institution’s search policy.  This should include the number of candidates that should be sent forward, and whether they are in rank order or not.  In general, it is beneficial and expedites the search process, to have two administrative layers intimately involved (interviewing candidates, etc.) in the final decision-making process for a hire, the direct hiring manager (usually the Department Chair) and their immediate supervisor (usually the Dean).  A set of interview questions that are very different to those traditionally asked by search committees are included in the shared file repository.  Also included is a set of questions to ask of references.  To expedite the offer process, any additional layers of approval, such as the Provost and President should be cursory, and focused on funding and ensuring that all policies and procedures were followed.

Appointment and Contract Considerations

For a department to function well it needs faculty with an assortment of ranks.  Full Professors provide leadership and often serve as the chairs of the department or university-wide committees (most importantly the department tenure committee), Associate Professors may take leadership roles in college/school functions while Assistant Professors focus on gaining tenure, polishing their teaching and research/scholarship skills.  It is often tempting to replace senior faculty with newly minted doctoral hires and use the salary savings to fund other initiatives.  However, this can leave a department short of senior faculty members.  At FHSU, the Academic Leadership Council decided that a 1:2:3 ratio of Full to Associate to Assistant Professors would be ideal to support all expectations of a department.  The ratio of tenured / tenure track to temporary FTE lines was also set but varied by department based on the risk analysis model.  Whenever lines became open or a department was allocated a new line, these ratios were analyzed to determine the type of faculty hire (T/TT vs one-year appointment), and the rank that would be searched for, so that on appointment the resulting ratios were moved toward the idea.

Each faculty appointment type may come with unique educational expectations; contract duration and renewal expectations; distribution of workload across teaching, research, and service; expected teaching load; full vs. part time; and tenure considerations.  It may be useful to clarify and codify these Faculty Appointment Guidelines in a simple comparative table.  It is also important to ensure that the rules which govern conversion from one appointment type to another are codified and clear, if allowed.

Hiring with Credit Toward Time Served on the Tenure Track

Once the choice is made to hire a Full or Associate Professor (or an Assistant Professor with prior faculty experience) the next decision, if allowed by university policy, is whether candidates can be offered tenure, or years of credit toward the tenure process, on hire.  Years of credit may also be limited by policy – for example, it was restricted to two at FHSU.  If an institution allows a tenure track candidate to apply for tenure early and at their own discretion, then years of credit can be somewhat of a negative incentive, forcing the candidate to apply in the fourth year for example, even if not ready.  It is therefore useful to examine the policy and ensure if allows the candidate to apply early, but does not require this (unless this is the intent of the institution, for example in a situation where it needs the candidate to be eligible for chair).

Hiring with Tenure

Hiring with tenure can be a big risk for an institution due to the long-term employment commitment, but it may be necessary to attract a star candidate.  While it is relatively easy to evaluate the candidate’s credentials and experience for tenure, it can be very difficult to determine their fit within the department – will they get along with their colleagues, share responsibilities, and be a good collaborator?  Some institutions do not allow appointments with tenure except for deans, the Provost and the President.  This makes it difficult to attract senior faculty.  A good middle ground is to implement a Fast-Track Tenure Policy.  This process gives the department time to assess the fit of a well-qualified candidate, and substitutes an annual chair evaluation focused on fit for the exhaustive tenure evaluation process.  If the candidate fails the fast track process they are placed into the regular tenure track with time earned.

Spousal Hires

Occasionally a faculty candidate may request a faculty appointment for their spouse or common-law partner.  If the institution has the flexibility to do this, it can be a powerful way to attract a star that might not otherwise consider an offer at the institution, or an offer within its budget.  The challenge is of course funding the spousal position and getting the spouse appointed to it.  If one is lucky, an open position is available in a department for which the spouse is qualified, but this has its own challenges as the department may not wish to hire the spouse when a broader search could net a candidate who is a better fit.  Should the President/ Provost/Dean insist on the spousal appointment it can cause hard feelings within the department.  A reasonable compromise might be to use the President/Provost/Dean’s prerogative to place the spouse in the list of finalists for a position, explain to the committee the justification and need for the hire, but leave the final decision to them.  Given that most committees are expected to forward up to three recommendations to the Chair/Dean out of perhaps five finalists, it is likely that a reasonably qualified spouse will be moved forward to the Chair/Dean to make the final decision.  If there is no open position in the department, but funding can be found to create one, the department may look on the additional faculty member as a gift even if the spousal hire is not the most ideally suited for the position.  In this case, it is reasonably safe for the President/Provost/Dean to make the appointment without a search.

The Salary Offer

As administrators we would all love to have deep pockets and be able to offer top salaries to attract the best candidates.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, as we must balance individual offers against the number of positions we can fund and many other initiatives for which the money is desperately needed, such as salary compression adjustments and merit raises.  We must therefore take the approach of getting the best candidate for the smallest expense while fending off competitive offers.  To be competitive, we must offer salaries that match those offered by similar universities within our geographic region.  The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) gathers this data from its members, and returns the salary information organized by faculty rank, discipline, and by region.  The most valuable information is the median.  Each institution should do an internal analysis to compare its salaries against the CUPA data and see where it falls.  For example, on average salaries might currently be located at 90% of the CUPA median across all disciplines within the institution.  The institution can then make strategic decisions about where it would like to be, at median for example, and plan to move toward that goal.  Part of those plans might be to offer salaries for new hires at the target.  While this targeting works for the average salary, it is too inflexible for individual salaries which are best set within a range, allowing for variations in experience in the candidates, etc.  If an institution decides it wants to offer salaries at the CUPA median, it might for example, set the range at plus and minus five percent of this.

Negotiating with the Candidate

As expedience with the negotiation process is often critical to successfully closing a contract, it is important that whomever is negotiating with the candidate be knowledgeable about the needs of the department, the fit of the candidate, have had experience with these types of negotiations, and be able to see the implications of salary offers across multiple hires, balancing high offers to great candidates and lower ones to less ideal candidates, for example.  The Provost, President and CFO must have confidence that the negotiator has the best interests of the overall institution at heart, and be willing to negotiate hard and ideally return some salary dollars to the salary fund.  This process works best when each dean negotiates the salary range with the Provost/VPAA when the position is initially funded, and then the dean is free to conduct the negotiation with the individual candidates.

An important consideration is whether to publish the salary range in the job advertisement.  This has both pros and cons.  If published, all candidates will naturally hope to receive a salary offer at the upper end of the range and this can make the negotiations contentious.  However, publishing the salary also restricts the applicant pool to those candidates who find the range acceptable, and therefore not waste the time of both candidates and search committees on interviews of candidates who will be likely to withdraw once the salary range is disclosed.  A good compromise is to keep the range confidential, but ask candidates to disclose their salary expectations in the application materials, or to contact candidates early in the process (prior to a formal interview) and discuss their salary expectations with them.  If they are above the range they can be asked if they are willing to lower their expectations, and if they are within or below it they can be moved forward in the process.

It is common practice for Human Resources to send the formal offer of employment to candidates.  It is very important that all aspects of the offer be clearly understood and agreed upon by the Chair, Dean, and Provost/VPAA before this letter is crafted.  A Candidate Offer Communication Worksheet can standardize this process, ensure that all aspects of the offer have been addressed, that each of the stakeholders have signed off on the offer, and clearly communicate to HR what should be in the letter.

Growing the Knowledge, Skills and Effectiveness of Existing Faculty

Implementing the above strategies will help the institution recruit the best possible candidates.  To build a World-class faculty one must also focus on growing the skills of existing employees and ensuring these new skills are put into practice.

Providing the Resources for Faculty Growth and Development

Startup Funding

Many new faculty, especially those in the hard sciences, will need funds to establish a research operation.  In institutions that provide this resource it is usually funded from indirect costs generated from grants received.

Providing Resources to Assist with Grantsmanship

Faculty benefit from assistance with finding and writing grants, grant accounting, compliance with animal and human research protocols.  These services can be provided by professional staff in the Office of Scholarship & Sponsored Projects, and often by more senior faculty in their departments who can collaborate with them on research projects and include them on grant proposals.  Another important resource is the provision by the institution of competitive internal grants.  These are usually small seed grants that enable faculty to gather the preliminary data necessary to write a proposal to an external agency.

At larger research institutions, new faculty may initially be given a reduced teaching load to enable them to focus on establishing their research and write grants.  At teaching focused institutions this is rarely possible.  Grant-writing learning communities led by veteran faculty or professional staff can help new faculty get started on the grant seeking and writing process.  These usually consist of a small group of faculty who work together over the course of an academic year, learn from each other about sources and writing, and critique each other’s work.  When many faculty are joining the institution, learning communities can be formed within each college, enabling each to focus on grant sources unique to their disciplines.  These learning communities are particularly effective if supported by course release time associated with the expectation of a formal external grant submission to an external agency by the end of the academic year.

Travel and Personal Development Funds

Most institutions provide funds to support individual development needs.  These are usually expended to support travel to professional conferences and workshops, but often can be used to purchase books, supplies, and other items relevant to improving the faculty member’s skills and abilities.  These funds are sometimes restricted to those presenting at the event, or reduced funding is provided to non-presenters.  This policy can be detrimental to new faculty who may not yet have established their research operation (although many will have data to present from their dissertation research) but need to start connecting within their discipline.  A policy exempting tenure track faculty from these funding restrictions may be appropriate.

Teaching and Learning Development

Although many doctoral programs now include training in teaching and learning, it is a constantly evolving field which needs ongoing professional support for faculty.  Smaller institutions can provide release time for motivated faculty who enjoy supporting their colleagues in this endeavor.  Larger institutions can usually afford a professional staff with specific training in this area.  In either case, it is important that the institution measure the degree to which these efforts impact practices in the classroom directly, and not just faculty participation in workshops, etc.


Faculty who have participated in a successful mentoring relationship know its benefits. Implementing a formal institutional mentoring program can be beneficial, but many institutions struggle to get these off the ground and have varying levels of success.  They are usually focused on encouraging new faculty to match up with more senior faculty volunteers, however the challenges are multiple.  There should be positive chemistry between the mentee and the mentor.  The mentee must want to work with a mentor, respect and trust the person, believing that they are experienced enough to provide valuable advice and are safe to open up to about personal shortcomings and challenges encountered.  Ideally, mentors should belong to a different department and possibly even a different college than the mentee to help ensure that shared information does not get back to the mentee’s Department Chair, Promotion and Tenure Committee(s).  This makes it difficult for mentees to find potential mentors.

One approach that has been used very successfully for networking, but has not been used for mentor matching to the authors knowledge, is similar to speed dating.  This would involve bringing a set of mentees and volunteer mentors together in a room with multiple tables.  Each mentor spends a few minutes having a conversation with a potential mentee, a bell is rung, and all of the mentees move to the next table in the sequence.  The process continues until each mentee has met with each potential mentor.  Each could then create a prioritized list of favorites, and a matching process could create the best set of alignments.  If nothing else, it would create a great networking opportunity.

Nurturing a Culture that Expects and Rewards Excellence

“You are what you measure” is an important truism which is why metrics of institutional success were included in the Faculty Characteristics of Excellence project.  This of course assumes that if an institution is unhappy with the results of its measures, it is willing to invest the financial or human resources necessary to improve them.  If not, then the institution should not invest the time measuring them in the first place!  The Faculty Characteristics of Excellence also includes correlations between ideal faculty characteristics and their recognition by the institution, and contribution to rewards.  From a behaviorist perspective, it is important to reinforce the behavior that you hope to see in people, and it is therefore beneficial to think about each behavior from this perspective.  How is it evaluated in the tenure, promotion and merit processes?  What awards are given and how prominently?  What other incentives, such as release time and mini-grants, are available to support the activity?  For example, FHSU wanted to encourage faculty participation in undergraduate research and therefore created policy that enabled faculty to accrue credit toward a course release for each student they worked with over the course of a semester.

Retaining the Best Faculty

Providing Challenging Opportunities for Growth within the Disciplines and in Leadership Roles

Capable faculty want to be challenged and see potential for long-term career growth.  Their initial years will be focused on honing their teaching skills and developing their research activities.  Following this, developing new courses and curricula can provide exciting opportunities within the discipline.  In addition, as faculty grow in seniority, they should be supported and encouraged to join committees and task forces within their disciplinary organizations by, for example, creating a supplementary travel fund for faculty in these positions.  This is a good reputational investment for the institution.  For tenure track faculty this is a particularly important mechanism for networking and developing the external collaborations often required by the tenure standards.

As faculty grow in seniority, they should also have opportunities to assume leadership roles on committees and task forces, progressing from departmental through college, and then onto university-wide opportunities.  They might assume formal responsibility in compensated positions such as a program director, department chair, dean and so on.  This might seem intuitively simple, but growth potential can be stifled by having long term entrenched chairs within a department or on committees.  Policies that require chair rotations, or at least require an evaluation of potential interested candidates every few years, can alleviate this issue.  Rotating department chairs also benefits the department because prior chairs understand the challenges of the position, and are therefore more likely to be sympathetic to the needs of the department and its current chair.

Assessing Performance, Providing Feedback and Rewards

Tenure and Promotion

Tenure and promotion standards and expectations can cause considerable stress and unhappiness among the faculty if the expectations are not aligned with the day-to-day expectations of the job.  This can happen, for example, when an institution is attempting to grow its research standing but still has a high teaching load.  The Faculty Characteristics of Excellence project is good mechanism to examine the relationship between these day-to-day and tenure/promotion expectations.  In addition, Tenure and Promotion committees should be charged with comparing their standards against this document, and ensuring there is alignment.  Junior faculty should have a voice in this process as they will be the most sensitive to any misalignments.

The tenure process varies considerably across institutions, some requiring yearly portfolio reviews and others only at the midpoint and endpoint, for example.  The number of committees that review the portfolio also varies and can include a departmental, college and University committee.  At some institutions all committees review the portfolio each time it is submitted, whereas at others it might initially be the department only, later the College committee gets involved, and finally the University committee.  As with faculty search processes, a workflow diagram can elucidate what can be a very complex process that can be lost in the text description, and provide a visual map that makes discussion and simplification easier.  It also provides a different perspective to the written word that can help candidates navigate the process.  Sample PDF and Microsoft Visio versions of a Tenure Workflow Process Diagram are provided in the file sharing repository.

Another area which can cause issues is variation in tenure expectations across departments within an institution.  Some departments can have standards that are easy to meet, and others have onerous expectations.  It is important that departments set their own expectations, as only faculty from within the same discipline can judge the quality and appropriateness of a candidates work.  However, it can be a useful function of the University Tenure and Promotion committee(s) to do a comparative review of the amount of work expected by each department, to ensure that the expected level of effort is equitable across all departments and colleges.  It is also a useful periodic review process to ensure that department standards are evolving with the times, and are themselves congruent with the Faculty Characteristics of Excellence.

One of the purposes of the tenure system should be to provide good progress feedback to candidates at they move through the multiyear process.  With a rigorous hiring process in place, the expectation should be that every candidate receives tenure, but unfortunately, not all candidates develop to our expectations.  By the midpoint of the process, it should be evident to both the candidate and the institution whether a candidate is likely to receive tenure.  If the prospects are poor, the candidate should be counseled to seek employment elsewhere rather than eventually failing tenure review.  At some institutions, if a candidate is an excellent teacher but not progressing well on their scholarship, they can be given the option to transition off the tenure track to an instructor position.  In each case this should require approval of the chair, dean, and perhaps others, as it also means converting a tenure track line to a potentially long-term non-tenure track line, and therefore a shift in the proportion within the department.  The instructor contract should also require an increase in duties such as teaching and advising, in lieu of the research expectation.

Annual Performance Reviews and Merit Raises

We take for granted that department chairs have one-on-one face-to-face meetings with their faculty at least annually.  The degree to which this does not occur can be surprising, even when an annual review is required by policy as this may be conducted through email.  To ensure that these important meetings do happen, it is helpful to have a chair evaluation process in which faculty provide feedback on the effectiveness and frequency of these meetings.

Annual faculty reviews should at least be formative in nature, and preferably summative.  If summative, the institution should consider including the reviews in the merit raise, tenure and promotion processes.  For the tenure process, the most important data to look at within these annual evaluations is not the absolute scores of these annual reviews, but the trend over the evaluation period.  It does not matter if a candidate starts out with low scores, what matters is that they show a consistent improvement over time – that they are working to improve themselves and their craft.  Ideally, this should lead us to believe that these self-improvement efforts will continue after tenure has been awarded.

Merit raises should ideally be related to the annual performance reviews of individual faculty members, and separate from cost of living increases given equally to all faculty and staff.  One of the downsides of merit raises is they are prone to claims of favoritism, the chair or the deans inner circle receiving larger raises than others, for example.  It is therefore very important to clearly document the standards and scoring processes which will be used to determine merit raises.  Doing so also provides opportunities for leaders to have useful conversations with , and get input from faculty about performance expectations.  An oversight process in which, for example, the chairs scoring of faculty must be justified to the Dean, can also alleviate claims of favoritism.

While tenure and promotion expectations tend to be very broad and fixed, annual reviews and merit raises have the flexibility to adapt to the short term needs of the institution.  For example, if a big push is needed to improve retention rates of students, this could be included in the merit evaluation process.  Merit raises can also be used more broadly to reinforce strategic plans and their associated initiatives.  Some interesting factors that might be considered in design of merit processes, which are addressed in greater detail a companion article, are:

  • Should the increase be based on a percent of base salary or absolute dollar amounts?
  • Should funds be divided between colleges, and subsequently departments, solely based on FTE positions, or should the relative performance of colleges and departments on their unit performance metrics, affect the pool assigned?
  • How should course release time and its associated duties be factored in, and who should evaluate the productivity of the faculty in these responsibilities?
  • In addition to teaching, research, and service, how might a college’s departments, and even individual faculty member’s contributions to moving strategic initiatives forward,factor into the raise?

Another common weakness of merit raises associated with annual reviews is that the institution may not have merit funds available every year.  Faculty will therefore tend to place lower importance on the review process in years in which there are no merit funds.  To overcome this, a policy should be enacted that bases merit raises on the average annual performance score over the prior three years, or since the last merit raise was provided – whichever is shorter.  If the window is made longer than three years, the review loses its focus on the adaptable short term needs of the institution.

Post-Tenure Review

Faculty at all stages of their careers should remain conscientious contributors to, and share equally in the workload of the department.  If they do not, it puts an unfair workload on the other members.  In addition, we can all benefit periodically from the constructive feedback of our peers.  Above all else, the institution has a responsibility to its students to ensure that our faculty are doing their jobs reasonably well.  While it is and should be rare, the post-tenure review process should have enough teeth to dismiss a faculty member who, over the long-term, is not meeting minimal levels of performance.

Creating a Positive Campus Climate that Supports Retention

People do not start looking for other jobs because of salary, but primarily when they are unhappy in their current positions.  To retain good faculty is it therefore important for the administration to keep its collective finger on the pulse of campus climate and faculty morale.  The institution can develop its own survey, which has the advantages that conversations can be held about what contributes to a positive climate, and the survey can therefore reflect local culture.  Alternatively, a nationally normed instrument like the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Great Colleges to Work For” could be used, although there is a fee for its use.  The advantage is that the results one receives can be bench-marked against Carnegie Class peers, and the institution can receive recognition within categories and for overall high performance.  This survey need not be administered yearly, as the cultural changes required to improve scores often take years to implement and have an impact.  A good strategy is to use the results of the survey in the institutional strategic planning process, perhaps by planning initiatives that address the five areas of the survey with the lowest score.  With this low-hanging fruit approach, the overall scores will increase consistently over time.  Another good strategy is to alternate the campus climate survey with other in-house surveys, such as organization communications and work environment satisfaction surveys.

Countering Job Offers

The most accurate measure of a faculty members earning power is their ability to garner job offers from other institutions.  They may initiate the search themselves, or be approached by an outside institution directly.  The truth is that a faculty member may outgrow your institution, and you may no longer be able to retain them.  Just as it makes sense to nurture the leadership team’s capabilities with the risk that they leave the institution, we should take the same approach with our faculty in the belief that an institution that does this is a better place to work, and will therefore have better overall retention.  It therefore makes sense to encourage faculty who receive an outside job offer to give your institution an opportunity to counteroffer and retain them.  The department may not be able to increase their salary, but may be able to point out other relative advantages to remaining, and new opportunities for growth.  It is therefore beneficial to have a policy against administrative repercussions for faculty engaging in this practice.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Building a World-Class Faculty by Graham Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 Building a World-Class Faculty by Graham Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Categories: Chief Academic Affairs Office Staff, Dean’s Office Staff (Deans, Executive Deans, Associate/Assistant Deans, etc.), Department Chair Office Staff (Chairs, Assistant Chairs, Program Directors, etc.), Featured, President’s Office Staff

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