Through the tuition revenue they accrue by teaching lectures to the federal grant dollars they gain through sponsored research, faculty may be the financial pulse of an institution. Not only does their work drive revenue, but it also serves as the beacon of a school’s academic reputation. However vital faculty may be to an institution, supporting our faculty’s growth and health seems to be overlooked at many institutions as higher education leaders slowly pick off the cobwebs of the pandemic’s impact.
This is the message of two prominent voices at Interfolio’s 2023 Summit held this week in Washington, D.C., which will discuss revamping faculty affairs in a post-pandemic world. Interfolio is a higher education technology company focused on faculty affairs. The Interfolio 2023 Summit will be its first live convening of higher education leaders since 2019.
“The concept of faculty affairs at an institution has always been overlooked, underfunded and underbudgeted but faculty affairs is so important,” says Interfolio CEO Andrew Rosen. “It goes to the resiliency, impact and engagement of your faculty. It helps us understand how we can treat faculty across 16 colleges equitably.”
Joanna Brooks, Associate Vice President for Faculty Advancement and Student Success at San Diego State University, believes higher education leaders must reexamine their institutional structures to ensure the focus of faculty affairs goes beyond equipping staff with the tools to “survive the system.”
“Rather than think about faculty development, let’s think about faculty support,” Brooks says. “How do we support our colleagues so that they can reach their potential over the long haul? How can they stay healthy and engaged and vibrant teachers and creators of knowledge across very long careers?”
Brooks believes higher education leaders can move the needle toward support rather than development by simply recognizing their work in a public medium. As faculty endure political hostility across the country, a three-year shrink in spending power and a national decline in the perception of higher education’s value, a gesture of support may be significant.
“People still respect service as an ethic. As university leaders, why aren’t we telling that story, or how can we tell that story every time we speak in public so that we understand faculty’s investment in the wellbeing of all?” Brooks says.
Impact over outputs: The key to faculty affairs
One powerful way Rosen and Brooks hope to increase faculty recognition-and consequently their job fulfillment – is by shifting an institution’s perception of value both publicly and internally to academics’ worldly impact rather than just their output.
“I don’t think a ballroom of first-year student parents would be interested if I rattled off journal metrics or federal grant dollars,” Brooks says. “They want to know how faculty work improves our future, for our children and our planet.”
Additionally, expanding the lens of an academics’ work to impact can help drive policy change, Rosen says. Impact that is systematically tracked and communicable can influence legislation favoring higher education by providing data to legislators in times of major budgetary decisions. He reflected on Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s decision to slash the state’s higher education budget by 41% in 2019.
“If you knew how many federal grant dollars were being channeled into Alaska that was having a massive impact on climate change research and its impact on the salmon industry, I don’t think the governor would have knee-jerked as much,” he says.
To deepen institutional and public recognition of faculty’s work, Brooks believes interdisciplinary research between STEM academics and those in the humanities is the most significant way. Yet, it’s the missing conversation on campuses.
“How much further could a bench scientist get the meaning of their work if they actually had a conversation with a colleague in the social sciences or humanities,” she says. “How much greater would the impact of a public health innovation be if they actually talked to people who knew the histories of the communities they were intervening in?”