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Will Reforms Survive? Strategies for Sustaining Preparing Future Faculty Programs
At the outset of any new initiative, hopes are high that the project will not only be successful but sustainable over time. Those of us with years of experience with curricular renewal and pedagogical reforms know just how difficult it is to establish the credible process, effective leadership, appropriate training, and continuing funding that is essential to turn a "good idea" into "transformational change." With the wisdom of previous experience, we planned the proposal for the very first Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program in the early 1990s to make sure that whatever campus initiatives we supported would continue after the external funding ended.
All of the early planners were experienced administrators of funded projects who knew that educational programs established with the aid of grants often disappeared when the money did. Anne Pruitt-Logan, the co-director of the PFF program at the Council of Graduate Schools, and Jerry Gaff, the AAC&U co-director, did not intend to direct a program that ended with a report buried in some file. Nor did they want to begin a project aimed at transforming graduate education and leave behind only the good memories of participants that would soon fade. Ellen Wert, the program officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts, concurred, and thus we self-consciously developed a series of strategies that would encourage the long term survival of PFF programs.
Although it is not clear what time frame should be used as an indicator of sustainability, after nearly ten years we thought it would be safe to send out a team of skilled observers of higher education to see if the kind of commitment and transformation that might indicate real change would be evident to outsiders who had neither initiated nor shepherded the projects. To get this unbiased review, during Spring 2002, three observers visited ten campuses. They interviewed directors, faculty, graduate students, and faculty from cluster schools. They read documents, reviewed syllabi, looked at portfolios, attended training sessions, and visited cluster campuses. Although each campus has a project tailored to the campus culture and circumstances, the reviewers' reports provide insight into the success of our overarching strategies.
Over and over, observers of significant initiatives point to the leadership rather than the idea as the critical factor. We could not choose the leader, but we did require that an individual of some stature be responsible for the project. Initially, many of those leaders were in the graduate office. Over the years we noted that PFF seems to work better when there is both strong centralized administrative leadership and decentralized departmental leadership. When there is university-wide administrative involvement, there is a greater likelihood that synergies can be identified and leveraged to create resource efficiencies, build broader faculty and staff support, and advocate for the structural supports needed to facilitate change. When a department has a sense of ownership for the PFF program, it creates a more supportive environment for student and faculty participants. Not surprisingly, programs that appear to be most institutionalized have both a leader and structural supports in place.
The campus evaluators noted that leadership is fragile over time. In some cases, an individual who headed the program for years continued to rise in the ranks and have so much responsibility that the PFF program could no longer be a priority. In other cases, the initial leadership had left the campus, and the new director had quite different ideas about the program. At least one cluster appeared to have few remnants of the original program, and the campus visitor was dismayed that such an investment appeared to have made no lasting difference. Rather than lament that things do not stay the same, the lesson we might learn for sustainability is that programs we value should have succession planning as well as shared leadership built in.
Involving graduate faculty
Our initial aim was to engage many graduate faculty directly in the process of preparing their graduate students for academic careers. After two grants from Pew for university-wide programs, we observed that although graduate faculty were strong supporters of PFF, they were few in number. We asked ourselves: How can we involve more graduate faculty? Recognizing the disciplinary allegiances of faculty, we decided to develop partnerships with the disciplinary societies and enlist their aid in speaking directly with their members about the value of PFF.
With support from the National Science Foundation we enlisted professional societies in five disciplines-chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, and biology (although there was a change in the latter). A subsequent grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies allowed us to partner with learned societies in communication, English, history, political science, psychology, and sociology. This strategy ultimately involved professional societies in eleven disciplines, and those societies have been highlighting PFF in their meetings and publications, adding to the credibility and visibility of PFF to faculty members and graduate students.
The evidence that this strategy has power was recognized in the campus evaluations. In one instance a faculty member said he had never heard of the program until he went to a national meeting and was surprised to find that his campus hosted a project. A new director traced his understanding of the program to panel presentations at the annual meetings of his discipline rather than from his own campus. Unfortunately, in too many cases the program is seen as a "teaching" program and still does not attract the attention of faculty with serious research agendas.
We believed at the outset that research-focused campuses could not fully understand the dimensions of preparing faculty for a variety of other types of academic positions without partners on other types of campuses. Thus, we required that each lead campus establish relationships with institutions in different higher education sectors-community colleges, liberal arts colleges, masters institutions, public, and private. This cluster model was developed and maintained in a variety of ways both formal and informal. To achieve our goal of preparing new faculty with sensitivity to undergraduate liberal learning goals we believed we needed to broaden the vision of all participants to see beyond the specialized research training in doctoral programs.
Reports throughout the grant period noted that overwhelmingly, both faculty groups perceived the benefits of the relationship as reciprocal. The rewards of these cluster arrangements were sufficient to keep cluster faculty willing to engage PFF activities and host campus visits. The opportunity to work with graduate students was compelling. Faculty at the Ph.D.-granting institutions, however, were more likely to identify the interaction with cluster institutions as a benefit to their graduate students and less likely to indicate benefits to themselves or their programs. The graduate students note that the biggest benefit is that they have a greater appreciation of many types of campuses when it comes time for their job search.
While faculty see the cluster relationships as positive, their view of the benefits suggests that the effects of the relationships may not be fully realized. The campus visitors noted especially the way in which time and differing priorities resulted in mixed effects. Duke University gives its partner faculty access to the library and campus events through their status as visiting scholars, yet few of the cluster faculty take advantage of the opportunities. Another faculty member explained that his campus no longer participated in PFF but that they continued to "trade" faculty to enrich the curriculum on their campus and that of the lead campus. Some benefits are serendipitous. Several former participants in PFF who take positions at nearby schools that are not formally in the cluster ask to have their institution added so that they can "pay back" the benefits they received or start programs on their new campus. A faculty member at Carleton College had the pleasure of mentoring a PFF student from the University of Minnesota who had been her student at Carleton ten years earlier. Perhaps the lesson in this is that there are simply more opportunities than one can take advantage of, both in our professional and our personal lives. The important aspect is that barriers to collaboration have been reduced.
Because every idea is a good idea with someone else's money, we required that universities match the amount of money they received from the grant. In this way we hoped they would begin to build support into the operating budget, thus making the project less vulnerable to changes on campus. We determined that such initial funding might make it easier and more likely to continue supporting PFF after the grant ended.
Nearly ten years later the variations on support are many. A few campuses have added little to the original budget. Others have slowly integrated the project into a regular budget line. At the other extreme, Howard University has invested in several experienced doctoral students to staff the graduate office and coordinate the program at the department level. Their pride in the project is evident, their energy contagious to others, but most important, PFF provides a return on that investment in that it has become a significant selling point in attracting highly qualified graduate students. In addition, small grants are given to support faculty participation, and travel funding is available to present papers at conferences. Clearly, the lesson learned is that if the campus believes there will be a return, it is easier to invest dollars and energy.
We knew from past experience that, as much as one might think that an incentive will change behavior, it is critically important to invest first in developing the expected behavior. Thus we decided to disallow certain approaches desired by applicants and early participants that deviated from the program goals. In particular, several graduate schools wanted to use the PFF funds for graduate fellowships, and as valuable as supporting graduate students would be, it would take only a few fellowships to exhaust the entire grant. If PFF was to make a difference, it could not be a program to fund graduate students but had to be a program to aid their professional development.
A couple of universities in the first round awarded PFF graduate students stipends from their own resources, and they wanted to use them to support students' teaching at a partner institution. Because these were campus funds, we were not able to control their expenditure, but we did advise PFF program directors against this practice on the grounds that it did not make long term sense for a doctoral program to use its funds to support graduate students to teach at another institution.
Nearly ten years later, although campuses differ in their approaches, the professional development component of the program is the most highly praised by the students. Faculty who teach in the courses on higher education and participate in workshops report that it has changed their pedagogy. Both Duke University and the University of Minnesota have anchored the PFF program in the Teaching and Learning Center and linked PFF workshops and activities with other faculty development priorities such as writing-across-the-curriculum and junior faculty support. Perhaps the most important lesson for those who plan to pursue an academic career is that professional development in teaching and service, as well as research, can and should be a part of their career goals.
Previous experience taught us that visibility, integration, and recognition were critical to institutionalizing a program. At PFF conferences we regularly scheduled sessions to share ideas on institutionalizing PFF programs at the campus level. In these panels, we featured the leaders who were making significant progress and using different approaches. For example, the University of Washington received a gift to the endowment, and it was dedicated to PFF; graduate students and their mentors were supported to work on educational projects. Howard University included a professional development component in every grant its graduate school received for education and training. The University of Kentucky included PFF in its strategic plan, and Arizona State University included PFF in its capital campaign to provide for continuing support.
At the same time that we were encouraging campus support, we recognized that we wanted PFF to become institutionalized in the culture of graduate education nationwide. Thus our programs at national conferences had a dual purpose. As a condition of the Pew grant, we were required to submit periodic progress reports. Rather than regarding these as routine bureaucratic reports, we designed forms to elicit specific information about the institutionalization of PFF programs. Then the responses were circulated to the cluster coordinators, so that the entire leadership of PFF was aware of the specific steps that all were taking to institutionalize the programs. This created collective consciousness of the importance of sustaining PFF and of ways to achieve that. It also pointed to problems that were bigger than any single program and made it possible for us to develop publications and outreach activities to address the national culture of graduate education.
As we look back over the years, not only are there a long list of publications and presentations about the projects, but also there are many graduate students and graduate faculty whose vitae reflect their interest in faculty development, undergraduate education, and academic careers. Our campus evaluators noted the pride associated with these activities, the PFF logo on campus publications, references in recruiting materials-all indicators of recognition. At the same time, they also observed that only a fraction of eligible faculty and graduate students participate in the program. Clearly, our hope of starting a "brushfire" that would spread has not been fully realized.
In the original grant and successive phases, assessment was a requirement. A series of program-wide assessments were conducted to promote self-reflection about the effectiveness and sustainability of PFF programs. The programs generated a vast array of assessment models, and these were identified and shared widely throughout the PFF network-and beyond. The assessment effort was designed to help us learn about what did and did not work so that successive grants could be stronger. Characterized by openness, this sharing process allowed each cluster to learn the best ideas from the others and to develop the strongest possible program by borrowing from the others.
To the dismay of our evaluators, despite considerable advances in assessment, the forms and types of data gathered tended to be at the input level (e.g., how many workshops, how many attendees) rather than at the outcome level (e.g., how well did the graduate student teach, what job did the graduate student take). Indeed, several programs said they should do a follow up of their past participants but "just had not gotten around to it."
The most revealing assessment was the professional portfolio developed at the end of the program in preparation for the job search. The graduate students looked back over their work and reported amazement at how much they had changed. Faculty participants noted they had not thought of their teaching philosophy in such concrete terms.
Placement of graduates
The original conception of PFF was that it would ensure a growing and capable group of graduate students interested in academic careers. From the outset we "required" PFF grantees to track their alumni and urged them to solicit their views about the value of the PFF experience. As the projects developed, it became clear that PFF participants are more sophisticated about faculty life and institutional realities than their peers without PFF experience. This has proved helpful to their securing a job. PFF conferences featured PFF alumni, and many campuses invite PFF alumni as a way to complete the feedback loop to leaders of doctoral programs. The perspectives of alumni, almost universally positive about the value of PFF programs to new faculty, provide more justification for sustaining these programs. Several departments and institutions discovered that PFF is helpful in attracting talented students to graduate programs. Recruitment and placement of students represent "hard" strategic benefits of PFF programs that appeal to self-interest and provide ways to navigate competitive market forces. These can be central reasons for institutions to sustain their PFF programs. Most Ph.D. programs, however, do a poor job of tracking their graduates and obtaining feedback from them as a means to improve their programs.
Our external evaluators could talk with some alumni but recognized also that, even though the programs have been in place for almost a decade, the total number of PFF participants who have completed their Ph.D. is only a fraction of all new faculty. One source of resistance to participation is the fear that it will extend the time to degree. The doctoral students reported exactly the opposite; the positive mentoring relationships in the program and the exposure to academic life was energizing and made them work harder. Indeed, the program serves as a kind of support group for what is often a lonely process and helped the graduate students understand the importance of colleagues and mentors. If graduate programs adopted only the principle of positive mentorship, they could accrue some of the benefits of PFF.
From the outset, we knew that each program needed to be tailored to the campus culture. We encouraged cluster leaders to adapt PFF concepts to local conditions, so that Syracuse University, for example, infuses PFF into its Project on the Future Professoriate and at Duke University, the biology program is known as the Teaching Certificate in Biology program. A flexible program structure enables each cluster to be highly responsive to local context and to make changes when program elements are not working as planned. Program implementers have used the PFF framework and adjusted program features to build on their campus strengths for program purposes.
Our outside evaluators began each campus visit by reviewing the initial proposal and the annual reports on the PFF projects. The basic elements of each program were similar but the center of gravity was shaped by the level of acceptance by the graduate faculty on the campus. On some campuses, students were encouraged to participate early in their program; others believed PFF was more suitable just before completion of the program. Some campuses emphasized department-based mentors; others encouraged greater reliance on a faculty member from a cluster school. Most interesting were the ways in which new initiatives on the campus were linked to PFF; for example, integrating the support for international TAs into PFF.
These several strategies were designed to assure that the good work on PFF could continue after the grants end. When asked how many of the ten universities visited were most likely to continue their PFF programs over the next three years, the evaluators said eight definitely would, one was uncertain, and one possibly would not, in large part because of serious funding cuts in the state. While not 100 percent successful, these results tend to validate the strategies for sustainability. While this article focuses on strategies to change the "culture of preparation of college faculty," they can also inform the work of any campus change initiative.
Ann S. Ferren is a senior fellow at AAC&U and professor of educational studies at Radford University. Jerry G. Gaff is senior scholar at AAC&U and co-director of the Preparing Future Faculty program. Alma Clayton-Pedersen is vice president for education and institutional renewal at AAC&U.