The University Record, November 13, 2000

Groups define solutions, challenges

Click here for the main article about the retreat on faculty mentoring.


By Jane R. Elgass

Participants in last week’s retreat on “Mentoring, Quality of Faculty Life and Community-Building” went into seven focus groups following a keynote address by Provost Nancy Cantor, and presentations by Jane Dutton of the School of Business Administration and associate deans from the School of Education, LS&A and the School of Public Health on successful mentoring/community-building programs in their respective academic units.

The discussions centered around these aspects of the title and theme of the retreat: Mentoring for Successful Participation in Interdisciplinary Programs, Mentoring for Career Advancement, Mentoring Faculty of Color and Women Faculty, Incentives for Good Mentoring and Program Assessment.

Here’s a quick look at some of the issues raised by the participants.

Interdisciplinary programs—LS&A Dean Shirley Neuman and School of Music Dean Karen Wolff, group leaders

Individuals involved in interdisciplinary work have and face multiple expectations, particularly because of the competition for allegiance between their one or more home departments or programs and at the school/college level. The faculty members may get different advice from each unit in which they are involved. There is a demand for “equal” performance in all areas, and a need for striking some kind of balance. Time management is a critical issue.

Among suggested solutions were using a community model of mentoring, cross-university mentoring, activities to foster community-building, mentoring the mentors, mentoring awards to units, use of case studies for modeling successful mentoring, mentoring chairs, connecting mentors across units, networking with junior faculty to teach them how to be effective mentees, and recognizing that mentoring begins in the hiring process.

Career advancement—LS&A Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Robert Owen, group leader

Research activities are considered by many to be a number one priority and this could be an impediment to successful career mentoring. While teaching is important locally, research is important nationally and internationally. Multiple mentors could be used for different roles.

Some individuals are good mentors, and others are not. This is an important consideration in pairing junior and senior faculty. Community-building is vital in this context, and the mentoring needs to be acknowledged in a reward system. Good mentors should be able to give up some other responsibility in order to help colleagues.

Deans should be given a formal charge from the provost to work in this area, and then transfer that charge to their department chairs. Junior faculty especially need early and frequent career mentoring. Outside mentors should be used. It is important to provide incentives for good mentoring.

Faculty of color, women faculty—Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman and School of Business Administration Dean B. Joseph White, group leaders

The University context, language and the societal context are important considerations in mentoring women faculty and faculty of color. A critical mass is still lacking, which creates a lack of trust. The duality of these individuals’ existence must be explicitly recognized, through asking them what they need and want, watching for collaboration opportunities for them, recognizing their special burdens and making efforts to connect them to other faculty across campus in similar positions.

The language of “special needs” can be at cross-purposes as it singles out faculty of color and women faculty. There is a need to talk differently about race and gender as this can be a barrier. Care-giving responsibilities often are distributed unevenly and affect the ability of individuals to prosper in their professional life.

The crucial question to ask in thinking about how to best help underrepresented faculty members succeed is “Who is in a position of power who cares deeply about this individual’s success?” Unless that can be answered with specific names, the prospects of success are not high.

Incentives, assessment—School of Education Dean Karen Wixson and School of Public Health Dean Noreen Clark, group leaders

Given competing expectations, the value of mentoring needs to be acknowledged and clearly identified, through action in four areas: administration at the unit and sub-unit level, the merit/evaluation process, rituals, support from the Office of the Provost.

Suggestions for the administration area included investment in teaching and research projects, suggesting potential mentor/mentee relationships, explicitly considering mentoring in recruitment and establishing financial resources to support mentoring.

Information about mentoring should be an expected part of merit and performance reviews.

Rituals should be established to recognize those involved in mentoring, and assistance should be sought from the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). The CRLT Web site, www.crlt.umich.edu/facment.html, offers a bibliography in mentoring.

Mentoring is a matter of dealing with transitions across career life spans.

The value of mentoring needs to be a part of the culture at all levels, as does ensuring that the right messages are sent. Those who are successful mentors usually have less time for scholarship. The possibility of hiring research assistance or other types of support should be considered.