Joining Minghao Rostami’s prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER grant, which started this August and runs for five years, three other professors in the Department of Mathematics—Jani Onninen, Dan Coman and Lixin Shen—were awarded NSF grants for their ongoing work, and two…
Syracuse University One of 10 Institutions Selected for AAC&U Institute
July 27-30, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) held an Institute on Reframing Institutional Transformation to Include Non-Tenure-Track STEM Faculty. Syracuse University was one of 10 institutions to participate in the Institute, which AAC&U developed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Southern California and with funding from the National Science Foundation.
Syracuse University College of Arts and Sciences Dean Emeritus George Langford, who is also professor emeritus of biology and distinguished professor of neuroscience, participated in the Institute. He noted how important faculty are to achieving the University’s goal of fostering success among a diverse group of students who persist and succeed in the STEM majors, saying “Many of the required introductory courses are taught by non-tenure-track teaching faculty. Our students need these courses to persist in the STEM majors and we know that these ‘gateway courses’ disproportionately serve as obstacles to underrepresented minority students’ pursuit of STEM majors. Non-tenure-track STEM faculty are critical to what we are trying to achieve at Syracuse University in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and access.”
Institute participants had the opportunity to hear from top experts whose research addresses the role of non-tenure-track STEM faculty in student success, systems thinking in higher education transformation and ways in which institutions can provide meaningful support to these faculty whose work is integral to the University’s success.
Jonathan French, assistant teaching professor of chemistry, was one of the Institute participants. He said, “For me, as a non-tenure-track faculty member, it was interesting to talk with my counterparts at similar peer institutions. I saw that we have common experiences and was able to hear about steps their universities are taking to support them. Even simple steps, like providing a mentor for teaching faculty, can have a big impact.”
He added, “Teaching faculty are, in many cases, the face of our departments because we teach the large enrollment introductory courses. We’re the faculty that students know in their first year and we can help guide those students into our department’s research labs. Instead of defining non-tenure-track faculty by what we don’t do, it would be great if we could define us by the value we bring to the classroom and the lab. We may not run a research lab but we do help students get through the introductory courses and on a pathway to STEM majors and careers.”
Laurel Willingham-McLain, a consulting faculty developer at the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, agrees. “There is a common misconception that these faculty want a tenure-track job. While this is true for some of them, it’s actually a much more diverse group that includes people who love teaching and have more job satisfaction in that role, people at the end of their careers who want to be useful, people in professional roles who want to teach part time or people who have been in these roles and have real-world expertise that benefits students,” she says.
French says one step in the right direction is a monthly meeting of non-tenure-track faculty chaired by Lois Agnew, associate dean of curriculum innovation and pedagogy in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We have speakers talk about different issues. I find great value in these meetings and the connections I am able to make. In the AAC&U Institute, some of our peers were still trying to figure out how to build a community of non-tenure-track faculty,” he says.
Langford said that the Institute helped participants think about non-tenure-track faculty from a systems perspective. “A two-tier system doesn’t serve students well. We need to elevate the status and recognition of good teaching. By thinking at a systems level, we examined how to convey the value of high-quality teaching and how to design policies, practices and procedures so that these faculty know what is required for career progression and advancement.”
One of those practices builds on the CHANcE Project, an initiative funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “We have a very good model of how to transform courses to improve the performance and persistence of students from marginalized identities. If we invest in non-tenure-track faculty, who teach so many of these introductory courses, and provide them with professional development opportunities, there’s a real multiplier effect. These faculty are incredibly valuable to our students and to the University as a whole.”
The team that participated in the AAC&U workshop also included Vera McIlvain, associate teaching professor of biology, and Martha Diede, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence. Their next steps will be to collect data on the non-tenure-track faculty at Syracuse University and reach out to them about the different roles they play and the kinds of supports that may benefit them. “The Institute was very inspiring and we want to continue to map the policies, practices and procedures so we can continue to work towards the University’s larger goals,” says Langford.