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Faculty Expectations and Lessons Learned: Faculty Member, Chair, and University Administrator

By: David Malik

With my retirement last December, I have spent nearly 38 years at IUPUI. I have been very fortunate to have a wide range of responsibilities during that time that have given me a highly varied perspective of work in the university and our global priorities. It is clear that the recurring theme across all of my assignments has been and continues to be student success. While the primacy of that mission is solid, defining student success and achieving student success are reflections of a wide range of activities of students and faculty. In addition, the staff has an essential role that refines the quality of the student experience as well.  So how does this overarching goal get reflected in different faculty activities?

Faculty Role

In my earlier career, student interactions were the primary activity. How to coax learning, how to bring your personal enthusiasm and excitement for science and how you make interest levels apparent to students? We engage students in our discovery work where experiential considerations are so important, whether the discovery resides in classwork or research labs. While we, as faculty, often recognize important ideas in science, how do we transfer that appreciation to students and find ways to motivate their learning? Our passion often helps smoothly move our students into roles that help foster new budding scientists or technically-competent graduates?

A very important learning component in science is the opportunity for students to DO science. This is not simple. For science, we need resources, both funding and space to achieve research goals and provide a safe environment to explore new ideas and discovery. As a faculty member, we work with students in labs... whether wet labs, computational labs, or technology labs. We also seek funding from external sources since research costs money and we will impact our work and student work when we can successfully expand funding from Federal agencies and other organizations. The success of faculty in attracting new funding pays for instrumentation, supplies and student compensation. We relish opportunities to bring our students to professional meetings to present their results, for them to meet the successful scientists, and to meet other students and learn from peers about the world of science. All of the faculty successes build stronger opportunities for students to get the practical engagement that reinforces classroom learning.

Chair Role

As I moved into administrative roles, I gained the opportunity to actually facilitate learning and experiential activities by stressing research-based best practices and building our financial support systems. Budgets are so important to motivating and achieving change: how we do our work, how we adapt and adopt new pedagogies and how we re-think our own individual priorities. Good outcomes require sustainability and passion in faculty work.

As a chair, I worked to do exactly that. Some specific examples of changes that helped shape our future:

(i) Online testing allowing flexible scheduling times and duration. Changing the testing modality from the traditional paper exams to one that exploits computer advantages, we could allow students to pick the best time to take a test over a multi-day period, the time to take the test could be longer than a class period would allow, and the feedback on the test was immediately available to the student at the conclusion of their test session. While we had a large start-up cost, significant savings accrued over time since we did not need to print exams and consume staff resources to produce an exam.

(ii) Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) was incorporated into our first semester of general chemistry.  This revolutionary approach employed active learning and replaced the old recitation model. Students are in peer-led work sessions with at most 10 students and a leader (former general chemistry student) who guides them through problems, not as a tutor but as a coach to help identify the best strategy in problem solving. Our student success rate went from about 50% to over 80% (meaning a grade C or better). This significant change requires faculty champions to ensure it is running properly and to oversee sustaining improvements. In addition, subsequent department chairs need to recognize the merits of the program and its value to student success. Today, the program is now used in the full year in both semesters of general chemistry and it now includes the first semester of organic chemistry.

(iii) As a chair, we apply for funding to improve the opportunity for faculty success and student support. Our ability to expand modern instrumentation can come from the external sources and internal university sources. Success in attracting new funds for our students is a continuous challenge for faculty. The advent of a new IU budget system called Responsibility Centered Management (RCM) allowed us to expand our research endeavor to include not only undergraduates, but graduate students as well. With RCM, we could catalyze major advances for the department by supporting graduate student training as teaching assistants in labs and recitation sections.  This expansion not only improved the training of our graduate students, but also provided real content experts in courses who could serve as informal mentors for undergraduates.

(iv) Building on this budgetary flexibility, we were able to re-direct funding to support graduate students and expand our graduate program beyond Masters Degrees to include PhD degrees. Our previous Industrial Co-op Program supported MS Thesis students, but now we were able to add full-time PhD degree options. We have been successful in acquiring US Department of Education Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need grants that provided funding to do exactly this: offer competitive graduate student stipends and enhance our research infrastructure. To date, we have received over $1 million dollars to support graduate-level training and strengthen the US STEM infrastructure... a long-standing national priority. While the future of the US Department of Education Program is not certain, we will continue seeking external sources of support for this vital educational mission. While funding has been critical, we could now significantly impact scholarly success for both students and faculty through our expanded programs.

The role of chair was so important to ensure strong development in a direction that strengthens the quality of our product, our students. Concomitant to that, we have the importance of faculty working to improve the content of courses and their disciplines. Our faculty mission includes giving students the best environment to facilitate their learning while mentoring to help build a framework for lifelong learning.

Senior Administrative Roles

Service reveals the value of experience and expertise. As faculty, we do many things in our careers. One valuable piece of advice from my first chair was making sure your activities count in your career. For me, I chose activities that I found personally and intellectually rewarding as well.

As the department continued to work toward strengthening our programs and student success, we all need to be good stewards of resources and environment. As our programs evolved, we need greater attention to operational details and prospects for sustainability. Today, university resources help do this task, but we need to ensure our faculty can help as well as our staff.

A chair and dean help to identify how best to help faculty contribute in the breadth of service expectations. We are all different, and we must recognize that strengths vary. In my role as chief academic officer, I needed to ensure that these activities "count" in faculty advancement. We need to invent those processes and policies to ensure the best reward systems are available.

As a chief academic officer (and as a dean), it was important to motivate deans (and chairs) to aggressively improve their own focus and improve their processes. For teaching and learning, we can ask them: Who do you hire and promote? How do you reward and establish effective re-investments for learning? What do you choose to discuss or data to produce that will motivate deans and show the value of improved pedagogy? All of these roles involve teamwork to succeed. When everyone can work at an optimal level personally, that's when we make the overall environment better.

As chief academic officer, we can remind deans about the importance of scholarship, whether discovery research or educational scholarship to not lose sight of the balance between classroom learning and research practice. This often means being flexible in our policies and providing a path to achieve aspirations of both our faculty and their students.

Lessons learned over my career

We, in the academy, are about fostering student success in multiple ways in order to prepare them to engage in lifelong learning. We create opportunities to attract students that strengthen our learning outcomes and provide them with modern experiential opportunities to join our workforce and evolve with science. We invest in a research infrastructure to provide experiential learning to our students and also impact knowledge in our disciplines. We work at meeting faculty aspirations to build stronger scholarly productivity. And throughout these efforts, we realize that our entire academic world is fragile while new and evolving external demands create new expectations for all of us. My history at IUPUI shows that we have effective teams at all levels and we do what is necessary to remove obstacles to achieve the best outcomes for our students.