Supporting New Scholars: A Learner-Centered Approach to New Faculty Orientation

Article excerpt

A new generation of faculty is entering the academic workforce and they are increasingly dissatisfied with current working environments. Institutions must begin to address the changing nature of this new generation. This article reports on a New Faculty Orientation program based on elements of the learner-centered pedagogy. The goal was to achieve an atmosphere of trust and safety in a community of scholars, to encourage collaboration and experimentation.

Keywords: Learner-centered; new scholars; faculty orientation

Introduction: The New Generation of Scholars

The United States is witnessing an emerging public outcry for accountability in higher education. Institutions have responded to the calls for change by attempting to revitalize undergraduate education by shifting to a learner-centered focus. To this point, most of the focus has been on changes in classroom pedagogy. However, this shift must extend beyond the walls of the classroom to the entire organization if it is to be a true paradigm shift. As Barr wrote, "Without a vision and design for the whole of the system, incremental changes do not add up to anything significant." (1998, p. 23.) Just as the characteristics of the new generation of undergraduate students, the Millennials, has led educators to reconsider classroom practices, the characteristics of the new generation of academics entering the workforce requires reconsideration of institutional policies and procedures. Unlike their predecessors, the new generation of faculty entering the workforce has expressed their increasing dissatisfaction with the traditional academic work environment. Among the factors that they have identified as contributing to this dissatisfaction are the lack of coherent tenure policies, a lack of collegiality, and lack of an integrated life. This article reports on the results of an orientation program for new faculty designed to respond to these factors. The program, designed according to learner-centered principles, sought to establish a community of scholars that encouraged collaboration and innovation.

Background

While there have been a number of contributions over the past decade to an evolving view of a new professoriate, (Beaudoin, 1998; Anderson, 2002; Baldwin & Chronister, 2002; Boice, 1992; Finklestein & Schuster, 2001; Moody, 1997) most of the work has focused on the impact of technology on the role of the professoriate and the changing demographics with the increased institutional reliance on part time positions.

Examinations of overall job satisfaction in academe regardless of gender or color have focused on job-related stress (Blackburn & Bentley, 1993; Amey, 1996; Smart, 1990) and collegiality and morale (Copur, 1990; Johnsrud & Rosser, 2002). Hagedorn (2000) and Oshagbemi (1997) offer conceptualizations of job satisfaction. These examinations and others dating back thirty years (Near et al, 1978; Nicholson & Miljus, 1972; Hunt & Saul, 1975; Devries, 1975; Driscoll, 1978) do not address the new generation of scholars now entering the academic workforce.

A recent study of tenure-track faculty shed light on the generational characteristics of this new cohort of scholars. The Study of New Scholars (2002) by the Harvard Graduate School of Education explored the rising dissatisfaction among new tenure-track faculty. Junior faculty across the U.S. were surveyed in order to assess their attitudes and sense of job satisfaction, examining such factors as tenure, workload, support for professional development, climate/collegiality, and policies on such things as performance, research, service, etc. The three main concerns identified through the survey were 1) the lack of a comprehensible tenure system, 2) lack of community, and 3) lack of an integrated life. Interestingly, these same three concerns were voiced by new faculty in a survey conducted by American Association of Higher Education (Rice, Sorcinelli, & Austin, 2000) and nearly a decade earlier (Boice, 1992; Sorcinelli, 1992). …