Lori Blubaugh, RHIA, is Interim Director of Health Information Technology at Wallace State Community College
What can institutions do to improve faculty retention? Well, I see this in two ways—what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. I believe an institution should be willing to implement changes for the better and discontinue activities that are not optimal to retain faculty who invest time and effort to offer courses with exceptional quality.
To explain, I’ll offer examples of my previous and present experiences, and describe what some institutions do that may cause faculty to desire something different, somewhere different.
The first thing that comes to mind is micromanagement. I have never heard of anyone who likes to be micromanaged. Now, I understand that there are times when a faculty member may need extra guidance—a new faculty member, for example. However, unless there is evidence that a faculty member is not performing to standards, let them do their job.
Valuing new ideas from faculty
When a faculty member has an idea to help promote a course, a program, or the institution itself, and is met with disregard, they may become dejected. They’ll return to just “doing the job.” They might even look elsewhere, in the hopes of discovering an institution that will value their thoughts and ideas. Along with this, I believe it is even more disheartening for a faculty member to be led to believe their thoughts will be taken into consideration, even though no consideration will be offered. Basically, a decision has already been made with no thought to what the faculty member has to say about an issue.
As a faculty member, I do understand that decisions will be made with no consideration of how I feel or what I think about the options. However, the time of a faculty member is just as important as those in authority. An institution should not waste anyone’s time by pretending that the member’s thoughts will truly be considered. If a decision has been made, the authoritative figure should just inform the faculty member of the decision and how the implementation of such will take place. They should also offer any needed support for the change.
Evaluating faculty based on student reviews
There have been murmurings of basing much of faculty members’ evaluations on student surveys, but I have an issue with this. No faculty member is perfect. An instructor will sometimes make decisions with which some students do not agree, even if it is spelled out in the syllabus. On the other hand, there are no perfect students either. Students can write whatever they wish in a student survey with no repercussions, as the surveys are anonymous. Although most of the surveys I receive are great, I have had an occasional survey that included lies about the actions I did or did not do and portrayed me as a non-caring and ignorant instructor. So, do the other surveys overrule the one like this? If not, I believe institutions will lose exceptional faculty.
Related to the student surveys, I come from the world of teaching middle school, in which I learned a great deal about how things are dealt with in education. I value my previous experience, as I have been able to share with peers some reasoning behind why students may do the things they do.
For example, students may ask to retake a quiz for any number of reasons (such as, “I didn’t have time to study”). Why do they think this is okay? Probably because they were allowed to do so in middle and high school. A student may want to turn in an assignment late. Again, why do they even ask? They were allowed to do so in middle school and high school. IF a teacher in middle school or high school said “no,” then the student’s parent or guardian would come to the school to “set a teacher straight.” There are too many times when a teacher is told to go against their principles. Let’s just admit it— it is so much easier to not “rock the boat,” because you may find yourself dealing with an angry administrator, placed in a different position, or without a position at all.
What institutions can start doing to improve faculty retention
Let’s get back on track with what an institution CAN do to make exceptional faculty never want to leave. First, find ways to show faculty members they are appreciated—give them time off (birthday days, serving the community days, going to college events during ‘work time’ with no penalty).
Institutions should also allow faculty to engage in professional development that is meaningful for their field and not try to force professional development that is a waste of faculty time.
Finally, if a faculty member has an idea for promoting a course, a program, or the institution itself, authoritative members should give that member undivided attention so that they are able to convey their ideas clearly. The authoritative member should offer a follow-up to either begin implementation of the idea or explain why it cannot be undertaken.
I don’t think there is a faculty member out there who feels they cannot be replaced. On the other hand, I know that my college has some exceptional faculty members who work hard to maintain the excellent reputation of our institution. It would be a true tragedy to lose those great faculty. I am very thankful for our college and my position as a faculty member, and I hope our institution continues to apply practices that attract and keep exceptional faculty and staff.