Attendees stressed the importance of building a strong environment to support faculty and improve retention.
By Kristen Mitchell
The first World-Class Faculty Strategic Planning Committee public forum was held on Wednesday, giving the George Washington University community the opportunity to provide feedback on questions that will inform a five-year strategy for preeminence in attaining and supporting a first-rate faculty.
The World-Class Faculty Strategic Planning Committee is one of four committees tasked with developing recommendations for each of the strategic plan’s pillars. The committee aims to develop a strategy to recruit, retain and promote an intellectually vibrant faculty that leverages GW’s history, location and emerging opportunities.
Scott Kieff, a professor at GW Law and chair of the committee, opened the discussion. He said the ongoing dialogue among GW’s faculty is an opportunity for collaboration across disciplines. He said he hopes the faculty can come up with specific and concrete ideas to share as part of the strategic planning process.
“We believe that we have already a wonderfully excellent and diverse group of colleagues,” Professor Kieff said. “We believe that it should be even more wonderful and diverse, and that we can help make it that way.”
The public forum, held at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, was just the start of the committee’s work. Faculty were able to provide feedback on what GW is doing well and what can be improved in order to promote a strong faculty. They were also invited to share any best practices they were aware of that had been successful in supporting these goals.
Some members of the faculty in attendance voiced concerns that GW does not do enough to retain high-achieving faculty. Faculty who want raises often feel as if they are forced to obtain outside competitive offers in order to receive a bump in pay. They suggested the university focus more resources on retention and building a strong environment to support faculty at all levels of seniority.
Members of the audience urged the university to assist new faculty hires with relocation expenses and temporary housing as other universities do to relieve the financial burden of joining a new institution. They also suggested a streamlined process to collaborate across the university on dual recruitment for spouses of recruited hires who might be interested in joining the faculty in another school or department.
Members of the faculty said GW’s Washington, D.C., location is a significant draw for potential faculty to enjoy close proximity with federal institutions and hospitals. GW should do more to make it easier to collaborate with local partners, they said. The university should also consider changing some titles for some adjunct professors, such as “professorial lecturer.” GW should adopt titles that are more typical in academic circles and acknowledge the expertise that part-time professors bring to the classroom.
Some attendees said the university should do more to invest in grooming younger faculty rather than focusing on attracting those already considered to be world class from other institutions. The university should consider increasing the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty and depend less on adjunct professors, they suggested.
Members of the GW community are invited to submit feedback through the strategic plan website. Feedback from faculty will help inform recommendations to be shared with the Board of Trustees in February, with the final plan submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval in May 2020. Professor Kieff invited attendees to continue to stay engaged in the process as it evolves, and to provide as many specific suggestions as possible, to help develop a shared vision for the future. He encouraged faculty to be both aspirational, making the concrete case for the university to make increased investments in particular areas, as well as accommodating where possible by offering the faculty’s shared preferences for specific tradeoffs.
“It is easy to act as faculty as if we are mere employees of a large organization. We are not merely that,” he said. “We have an opportunity to show ourselves as peers sharing in university governance celebrating the diverse excellence we have, by working as professionals focused on productive ideas to collaborate with each other and with university administration and trustees to accomplish even more.”