Toward a Culture of Care  – Creating the Conditions for Intellectual Leadership

MSU Spartan Head logoAt the heart of our values-enacted strategic plan is the idea that if we can create a working environment in which faculty, students, and staff are empowered to do the work that is most meaningful to them, we will have an advantage in recruiting and retaining the most innovative and engaged faculty and students. Recognizing that establishing a culture of equity is the condition under which the most sophisticated and highest quality research and pedagogy can flourish, the College has put the Culture of Care initiative at the center of our strategic practice.

During the Spring 2019 semester, more than 40 staff and faculty of the College of Arts & Letters volunteered to be members of the Culture of Care Task Force. The College Advisory Committee and the Dean charged the Culture of Care Task Force of 12 faculty, students, and staff members, led by Professor Rob Roznowski, to make recommendations that would enable the College to create a culture of care, which they defined as: “active community empathy that leads with intention and kindness.” The Task Force made important recommendations concerning six areas of focus: Orientation, Community Building, Peer Review, Academics, Conflict within the Work Environment, and Acceptable Resolution Models. In Fall 2019, the Task Force established a corresponding set of six action committees to engage more members of the College community in putting these recommendations into practice. The Culture of Care Task Force is another strategic example of how we are intentionally aligning our priorities and activities with our values. 

FACULTY DEVELOPMENT APPROACH TO REAPPOINTMENT, PROMOTION, 
AND TENURE

The College aims to create a culture in which scholars doing innovative interdisciplinary and intersectional research and pedagogy by developing a faculty development approach to RPT. This requires creating structures and practices that empower our faculty to chart their path of intellectual leadership as they undertake the RPT process. At the center of our efforts is a framework we call CPIL: Charting Pathways for Intellectual Leadership. Over the course of a career, intellectual leaders share knowledge and expand opportunity, contributing to greater transparency and accelerating creativity. Intellectual leaders engage in mentorship of others, formally as instructors and informally. They also engage in stewardship of the institutional spaces for learning as a reciprocal dynamic, creating the conditions for greater equity. 

 

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The semi-transparent circles in the diagram are the things we should measure and reward. The solid ovals are the means by which we do these things, and they should not be confused with ends. Too often, these means are the only things we measure. A better measure of published scholarship, for instance, would look to evaluate the benefit of sharing the knowledge. This is a challenge the College has taken up in conjunction with a group of other institutions and scholarly organizations in the HumetricsHSS project.

RESEARCH AGENDA

Our efforts to shift the research culture in the College toward creating more research engagement, collaboration, and opportunity – and in the service of doing so, toward generating more external support for research – have focused on transforming the research culture to catalyze collaboration via research centers & groups and to build pre- and post-award support capacity throughout the College. 

Our boldest initiative is the broader shift toward faculty career development through the CPIL framework that enables us to recognize, incentivize, and reward participatory research that has meaningful impact on local, regional, national, and global communities. Its emphasis on expanding opportunity, sharing knowledge, and mentorship/stewardship empower faculty to tell more textured stories about how their research is oriented toward indicators of success relevant to communities beyond the academy. Together, these qualities define our research mission beyond the pursuit of numbers of grant dollars and publications.

Three thematic focus areas complement an overarching emphasis on critical diversity and inclusion as areas of investment in research for the College. These areas are higher education transformation, health and sustainability, and visual culture and sound studies. All are areas with active externally funded awards, grants and fellowships, and within each we have high-profile intellectual leadership efforts. An example in the higher-education transformation thematic cluster is our Mellon Foundation funded initiative  ($3.7M over 6 years) in less commonly taught languages (LCTL) that includes a focus on indigenous languages and collaboration with tribal communities in the ancestral lands of the three fires confederacy. An example in the health and sustainability category that also includes partners from these tribal groups is “Socio-Technological System Transitions: Michigan Community and Anishinaabe Renewable Energy Sovereignty.” The project uses community-engaged research to collect and analyze local renewable energy risks, barriers, and opportunities that can help with decision-making and future transitions to renewable energy systems.

SALARY INEQUITY ACROSS APPOINTMENT TYPES

In the College, there is a salary equity problem across appointment types. Over the past 10 years, the College has come to increasingly rely on the talents of non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff to meet its instructional commitment as a University core college. Although not required, a good number of these faculty are research and service active and regularly contribute as intellectual leaders in their fields. These dedicated personnel ensure continued delivery of high-quality, student-centered courses in the Arts & Humanities and particularly in writing that serve multiple colleges across campus as well as through the general education offerings and the College’s own majors and minors. This purposeful reliance on non-tenure stream faculty also enables those in the tenure-stream to pursue their research. The work of our 250 dedicated non-tenure stream faculty in the College is at the heart of the university’s land-grant mission.

Due to the significant economic challenges experienced early in the decade, the majority of fixed-term faculty and academic specialist salaries in the College remain tied to the UNTF minimum. Most of these positions are devoted to teaching and therefore rely on general fund dollars rather than external grants. Salaries do not keep pace with inflation and make it increasingly difficult for non-tenure stream faculty to make ends meet, thus forcing them to seek full or part-time employment in other fields or at other locations. Salary compression continues to be a challenge. It is difficult to meaningfully address salary inequity with the limited resources of our existing raise pool. We are trying to address this issue in other ways such as creating transparent promotion and career development pathways. In the spring, a College task force will be charged with reviewing non-tenure stream promotion criteria and recommending ways to better integrate and reward such faculty for their dedication and investment in their students and units. Salary inequity puts the College at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting and retaining the teaching faculty most capable of enhancing the undergraduate educational experience and achieving our University student success goals.

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