How to get your faculty members on board with strategic initiatives

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,' believe many faculty members

Colleges and universities are under increasing pressure to innovate, but a bold strategic initiative requires buy-in from the faculty. 

Gaining campuswide buy-in for your plan can seem challenging, Lee Garner writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education. He profiles two institutions that recently gained campus support for strategic investments.

At Wake Forest University (WFU), campus leaders recognized a need to establish an engineering program. Even though enrollment rates were still climbing for the school at large, some prospective students were choosing to attend other schools that offered engineering courses.

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But since WFU's main campus didn't have the resources to house a new department, school officials proposed establishing it in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in an old tobacco factory warehouse.

Faculty members were initially skeptical. They questioned transportation logistics, dining options, security, and more.

But WFU went the extra mile to give faculty a say in the initiative. Administrators invited faculty to brainstorming sessions and allowed them to have a say in how the process would unfold. WFU also gathered extensive empirical evidence to prove the new facility would be worth its cost.

Eventually, "professors started to come up with their own thoughts about the project's potential," recalls Rogan Kersh, WFU's provost. 

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At Maryville University, a strategic initiative involving new learning technology initially gained little support from faculty members.

Maryville's innovative leaders wanted to bring tablets and learning software into the classroom. The school hoped to "teach a new generation of students in a way that worked with how they already absorbed most information outside the classroom," Garner reports.

But faculty were skeptical—and some were even a bit offended. They felt bringing technology into the classroom represented criticism of their teaching methods.

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"We had a number of [faculty members] saying, Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," recalls Mark Lombardi, Maryville's president.

Maryville took the faculty pushback seriously, since they knew the initiative would never work without faculty support.

To get professors on board, Maryville:

  • Held forums about the initiative;
  • Formed committees with both early adopters and "fence sitters"; and
  • Paid the faculty members for the time they spent in professional development learning to use the tools.

Though the initiative is still relatively new, Maryville officials say they've already seen positive results. Freshman enrollment rose 45% in one year, and early data on student learning suggests students are also getting better grades (Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/19 [1]; Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/19 [2]). 

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