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Faculty Development: Shaking Foundations/Renewing Minds

Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Research Associate, AAC&U

"Faculty can't teach what they don't know." John Noonan, president of Bloomfield College, noted this obvious fact emphasizing the importance on his own campus of expanding faculty capacities to teach new knowledge about diversity in increasingly diverse classrooms. But, what are the most effective strategies to develop faculty capacities in the area of diversity? Ellen Friedman, author of Creating an Inclusive College Curriculum, explains that, "Transforming the curriculum. . . involves more than subtracting some books and adding others. . . [It] is serious business. It attacks received wisdom, wrenches internalized values, and contests assumptions held so deeply that to challenge them feels as if one is fighting nature." Bonnie Spanier, a biologist, refers to the process as "the discomfort generated by shaking foundations."

When diversity is the center of faculty development, many new issues surface. Ethical issues and questions of social justice inevitably arise. Faculty investigate their own personal experiences as sources of knowledge. Feelings are put on the table as valuable ways of knowing and as sources for expanded understanding. Diversity also almost always creates a need for interdisciplinary perspectives. Finally, faculty cannot avoid emotionally volatile content areas that can be unsettling to many professors not prepared to teach in the face of highly contested and emotionally charged issues.

Faculty and staff who participate in faculty development activities have many of the same needs as students studying diversity. Not surprisingly, the factors that allow students to flourish are also cited by faculty as contributing to their own learning and satisfaction with faculty development experiences. Voice, listening, recognition, dialogue, freedom to question, freedom to be ignorant, freedom to feel, shared intellectual inquiries, trust, and humor are ten often repeated components of successful faculty development experiences.

Several themes surface again and again about the kind of environment that enhances learning for faculty and students alike. People need to listen to one another, recognize each other's own identities in all their fullness and complexity, integrate emotion and intellect, analyze things that matter deeply to them, share intellectual excitement about the subjects being examined, expect to learn from one another, and understand that dissent and disagreement are part of how we learn.

There is, of course, no single faculty development model that will work in all settings. Deciding what model to use depends on one's goals and resources and the time participants have to commit. The best faculty development is continuous, varied, and intellectually robust. Bringing faculty up to speed in the pedagogy and scholarship of diversity is not a one-shot deal. It must be sustained over time with ample opportunity for continued study, candid dialogue, and repeated self-evaluations.

When faculty themselves are suddenly students again tackling unsettling new material, they reconnect in new ways to their own students' experiences.

Investments in faculty development, however, pay large dividends across institutions. Engaging a faculty member in new scholarship and pedagogy changes more than a single course; it potentially alters all the courses a faculty member might teach. Faculty development is also the only way to make lasting curricular change.

Research on effective faculty development reveals that faculty value not only the intellectual stimulation it inspires, but also the new collegial community established through diversity work. Participants also are frequently surprised to discover that faculty development activities validate good teaching and good teachers. They feel greater permission to take more risks as teachers and scholars. Their teaching becomes more student-centered; they focus more on how to spark students' intellectual engagement. When faculty themselves are suddenly students again tackling unsettling new material, they reconnect in new ways to their own students' experiences.

Faculty development initiatives also lead to other kinds of institutional change. Professors begin to realize the value of a diverse student body. They press for new hires that might expand the campus' expertise on diversity. They continue to work for curricular changes both in general education courses and in their own departmental majors programs.

Faculty development is at the core of integrating diversity into the definition of educational excellence. It can be a powerful source of both individual and institutional renewal, but it requires time and serious individual and institutional commitment. As Renato Rosaldo says of diversity and higher education, "We are all equal partners in a shared project of renegotiating the sense of belonging, inclusion, and full enfranchisement at our major institutions. Such renegotiations require time, patience, and careful listening" (p. xvii). Faculty members, as keepers and crafters of knowledge, as nurturers of minds and hearts, hold not "the" key, but "a" key to doors too long locked and windows too long drawn with their blinds down. The moment is upon faculty members to either make history or simply record its passage.

Sources: Friedman, Ellen G., et.al. Creating an Inclusive Curriculum (New York: Teachers College Press, 1996); Rosaldo, Renato. Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993).


Principles of Effective Faculty Development

  1. To attract colleagues to faculty development initiatives, it is important to appeal to the values of academic culture and to the central commitment of faculty as professionals: the advancement of knowledge, the improvement of teaching, and the enhancement of student learning.
  2. To change what faculty know and therefore what they can teach, faculty need three things: time, focused study, and dialogue with their peers. Faculty development initiatives need to engage people in reading, thinking, and debating over time in a collegial group so that they can develop personal relationships with one another.
  3. To give these efforts credibility, it is essential to establish faculty development as part of a larger institutional commitment to diversity. This legitimizes claims to institutional resources and protects the more vulnerable faculty members who participate.
  4. In designing faculty development activities, think carefully about who should lead seminars and who should participate at different stages.
  5. As with students, it is important to engage professors where they are.
  6. It is important to specify some measurable outcome for faculty study.
  7. Although it need not be much, faculty participating in more extensive faculty development initiatives should receive some kind of compensation.

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