Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Professional Growth and Renewal for Mid-Career Faculty

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Professional Growth and Renewal for Mid-Career Faculty

Article excerpt

Nationwide, over half of higher education faculty are mid-career. While they play vital roles sustaining their institutions, relatively little systematic attention has been paid to meeting their particular needs. This paper describes a professional renewal retreat program tailored to this "keystone" group of faculty (Chang, 2006). It is grounded in the theoretical constructs of "generativity" (vs. "stagnation") (Erikson, 1964/1993), of "agentic" and "communion-oriented" senses of self (Bakan, 1964, Grossbaum & Bates, 2002), and of "growth" or "mastery" (vs. "fixed") mindsets (Dweck, 2006). Detailed analyses of reflections of 47 retreat participants before, during and after the program are presented and discussed.

If a man does not know what port he is heading for, no wind is favorable. (Seneca, Roman philosopher, 1st century BC)

With these words, Seneca captures an important insight about the critical need to establish explicit goals, to guide us as we make our way along our personal and professional journeys. In what follows, we describe a professional growth and renewal program for mid-career faculty designed to help them identify and then chart a course for their "port."

The "problem." Nationwide, over half of higher education faculty are at mid-career. These "keystone faculty" are, in many ways, the backbone of their institutions (Baldwin, Lunceford, & Vanderlinden, 2005; Chang, 2006). Ensuring their vitality and continued engagement is critical if colleges and universities are to fulfill their missions, but this swath of faculty rarely receive adequate support or recognition from their institutions1. Over three-quarters of respondents to a largescale survey of tenured faculty felt their institutions' priorities had changed significantly over the preceding five years but barely half felt they were receiving sufficient support from their chairs to adjust to the changes, and even fewer (less than a third) felt they had support from their deans to make such adjustments (Trower, 2011a). While mid-career faculty are often called upon to assume difficult and unpopular roles within their institutions and while they are responsible for more than half of the teaching, research and professional outreach conducted on their campuses, they are frequently ineligible for many forms of institutional recognition - internal grants and awards and incentives are typically directed toward junior faculty still working their way to tenure, or toward senior faculty soon to retire (Nottis, 2005). Many feel stymied by a generation of what they perceive to be poorly motivated, easily distracted and under-prepared students (Bourke & Mechler, 2010). It is no wonder, then, that mid-career is often perceived as an "unrewarding," "unproductive" and "unhappy" stage of one's professional life (Alstete, 2000; Wilson, 2012).

Faced with these kinds of challenges, some midcareer faculty seem to flounder; they are described by their colleagues as "stagnant" or "stuck" (Boice, 1993), or in need of "renewal of the spirit" (Murray, 1994). Fortunately, others appear to flourish; they are described by their peers as "vital" (Baldwin 1984; Clark & Lewis 1985); they are productive scholars and active university citizens; they are inspired and inspiring teachers and mentors (Baldwin & Chang, 2006). A critical task, then, is to identify and provide the kinds of support that can make the difference - that can enable mid-career faculty to (re)be(come) vital, engaged and productive members of their professional communities.

Keys to "the solution." Just over half a century ago, John Gardner (1963/1981) wrote eloquently and passionately about the need to nurture all humans' ability for self-renewal. In discussing university faculty in particular, he spoke of the need to strive for the motivation to try, the courage to fail, and most importantly, the desire to continually evolve.

The literature provides strong evidence that one important component of promoting self-renewal and vitality is assisting faculty in delineating practicable goals as well as the means by which they might achieve them. …

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