The University Record, November 23, 1998

Discussions continue on ‘Future of the Faculty,’ Cantor tells Senate Assembly

By Jane R. Elgass

The Oct. 27 retreat (see the Nov. 9 issue of the Record) on “Issues at the Intersection: The Future of the Faculty and the University” was “quite successful,” Provost Nancy Cantor reported to Senate Assembly at its Nov. 16 meeting. The 70 faculty members and academic administrators who participated in the retreat provided a “wide variety of perspectives” on several issues of concern to faculty.

The retreat provided an opportunity for a “simultaneous focus” among people of different views on some of the difficult issues facing faculty, “a first step we could all take together,” Cantor noted. The working groups brought forth a “good exchange of perspectives. That aspect was a resounding success,” Cantor said, “a good beginning, but only a beginning.”

It also provided an opportunity to “identify peoples’ sense of where action might be taken.”

Cantor’s office will be working with the Academic Program Group, Academic Affairs Advisory Committee and Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to continue discussions begun at the retreat.

The provost noted that many of the action item suggestions of the working groups suggest that “we stretch our understanding of the different and changing faculty roles.”

Cantor noted that the tension, the tug of war that manifests itself when the University tries to preserve and maintain its integrity but at the same time grow, develop and be responsive is a fundamental principle of human growth and development.

“What we must do,” the provost said, “is determine what is the core of our integrity and determine how to maintain that in light of the changing demands on our faculty. There has been an exponential increase on the demands we place on faculty. We ask them to teach more, become better teachers, produce intellectual property, work with industry, take on interdisciplinary projects in emerging fields, connect with the community around us, relate to the media.

“We have a less homogeneous faculty than in the past,” Cantor noted, one that is “more spread in both theory and practice, research and teaching, is less full time and has more identities.” This prompts tensions, but also provides renewed opportunities to support the inclusive nature of the University that is one of its core values.

This diverse faculty also means that “we have less of a shared world view,” she said. “The critical question then becomes, ‘What does it mean to be a member of this University? What does it mean to be a University of Michigan faculty member, with common interdependence?’”

In the forthcoming book The New Academic Generation: A Profession in Transformation, Dr. Jack Schuster and his colleagues note that this transition in faculties creates a dual edge in which universities are doing more but showing less loyalty to individuals and the individuals are showing less loyalty to their institutions than in the past, resulting in an unclear social compact.

A fundamental question, Cantor offered, is “How do we reinstate that social compact?” What are the rights and responsibilities that create the compact? How do faculty fulfill that compact in an environment characterized by flexibility and career paths that are less predictable than in the past?

“Flexibility is at the heart of what is valuable about the University of Michigan,” the provost stated. “We bring people together who view things differently and learn from one another.”

But what does it mean to be flexible? “We don’t need to lower standards,” Cantor said. “We need to stretch the dimensions that correlate with quality, determine how to keep the height, flexibility and quality.”

Starting points

Cantor noted that the retreat breakout groups provided “an interesting collection of starting points” for continued discussion of several issues including:

• Supplemental faculty, with the term itself problematic for many.

• Doing it all, raising the question of how to reward excellence in a spread of multiple purposes—teaching, research and practice/service.

• Interdisciplinarity in both teaching and research, with a focus on the reduction of obstacles, creation of incentives and determination of indicators of success.

• The future and specific contributions of research faculty, with many variations both across and within units.

• The values and visions of the University, which Cantor noted “will permeate all the other discussions,” rather than stand as a single topic.

Next Steps

Cantor said three simultaneous activities—with a February deadline—are a result of the retreat.

• Her office will review the action items suggested by the breakout groups, looking for “easy wins,” such as additional faculty awards.

• She wants to develop four groups—focusing on supplemental faculty, doing it all, interdisciplinary activities and research faculty—whose work will lead to actions. The groups would be co-chaired by a dean and faculty member and include representatives from the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee, Senate Assembly and unit executive committees.

• She wants to see discussions within units similar to those held at the retreat, providing “a local spin” on the issues. The deans will be asked to organize the discussions and report back to Cantor.


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