Middlebury

 

Middlebury Accelerator Plan

In 2006, Middlebury College embraced a new strategic plan, “Knowledge Without Boundaries,” designed to build on the institution’s existing strengths in order to fashion the first truly global liberal arts college. This strategic plan provides the broad context within which Middlebury College presents its Accelerator Plan for Faculty Career Flexibility. The plan supports the college’s desire to recruit and retain the very best undergraduate faculty while at the same time taking advantage of its unique composition as an institution that includes many excellent programs outside of the undergraduate college and a globe-encircling network of relationships with other institutions of higher learning. With support from the Sloan Foundation, Middlebury’s Accelerator Plan will increase flexibility within its faculty career flexibility initiatives and increase visibility of those programs.

Context

For nearly a century Middlebury has had a long line of prospective students seeking admission in large part because of its vibrant and committed faculty. For much of its history since its founding in 1800 that faculty has been white, male, and raised and educated in the Northeast. During the 1960s, the college faculty became more diverse, and that trend has continued in recent decades so that at present more than 40 percent of the college’s teachers are women and roughly 20 percent were born outside of the United States.

In the last three decades, the academic administration, encouraged by the faculty, has adopted policies designed to improve work/life balance and faculty career flexibility. In the early 1980s, the college began an Associate Status program, which allows faculty to reduce their teaching responsibilities for limited periods without interrupting their normal employment. In the late 1990s, we established a parental leave program, which has been widely praised by faculty and emulated by other colleges. At the same time, we began extending the tenure clock for junior faculty who take parental leave. We also offered more choice to untenured faculty who desired early tenure reviews and to associate professors facing full-professor reviews. In 2000, the college took a major step to improve child-care options for college employees. We provided a facility and financial backing to establish the College Street Child Care Center and financial support to other centers in the area.

Over the same period of time, the college has paid particular attention to the status of women. The reports of the Special Committee on Attitudes toward Gender in 1990 and the Task Forces on Status of Women in 1997 and in 2008 brought empirical clarity to the challenges faced by female professors at the college as well as useful recommendations on securing gender equity.

The 2006 strategic plan, “Knowledge Without Boundaries,” offers explicit recommendations on promoting greater work-life balance for the faculty and staff and on expanding and supporting diversity for the faculty. This plan also calls for a reduction of the teaching load of the faculty, and the college is actively working to move from five to four courses per year during the fall and spring semesters. Enhanced interaction between faculty and students is the primary motivator behind this initiative, but it will certainly ease the day-to-day pressures on the teaching faculty.

The need for greater collaboration between the undergraduate college with its 2400 students and the other educational entities that encompass Middlebury College is a central theme of the 2006 strategic plan. The summer language schools, both at Middlebury and Mills College in Oakland, California, attract roughly 1500 students. The Bread Loaf School of English enrolls 500 graduate students at four sites, with the main one at our mountain campus in Ripton, Vermont. There are now eight C.V. Starr—Middlebury Schools Abroad with 33 sites in twelve countries. In 2005 Middlebury extended itself even more dramatically by affiliating with the Monterey Institute of International Studies. To counter inevitable centrifugal tendencies, the leadership of the college has recently emphasized the concept of “OneMiddlebury.” This vision has the potential to offer a rich array of new opportunities for Middlebury faculty.

Overview

Middlebury’s Accelerator Plan approaches faculty career flexibility broadly with an eye on the long career arc of professors. It does not focus on one particular stage in the academic life cycle. Recognizing the challenges of a difficult financial climate, it calls for enhancement of proven programs that have been well received by the Middlebury faculty and for exploration of new initiatives that we are confident can be sustained. At the heart of this plan is a more vital conception of flexible employment that expands on the Associate Status program and draws on Middlebury’s position as an emerging global liberal arts college. The plan also addresses two areas of particular concern to faculty—spousal/partner employment and daily challenges—and details specific steps for improvement. Finally, it stresses the importance of effectively publicizing the college’s wide array of work/life programs so that available options are equitably distributed across the faculty rather than utilized only by those who seek special advice.

The Provost’s Office will be charged with implementing the plan. In anticipation of a Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility and in imitation of the college’s highly successful strategy for implementing broad sustainability initiatives, an advisory committee on faculty career flexibility will be established. This advisory committee will consist of three senior administrators all of whom are tenured members of the faculty (the Provost, the Dean for Faculty Development and Research, and the new Dean of Planning and Assessment); three faculty members, two untenured and one tenured, appointed by Faculty Council (an elected committee charged with addressing issues affecting the lives of Middlebury faculty); and the director of Human Resources. This committee will oversee the development of Sloan enhancements and track overall progress.

Increasing Flexibility

1) Flexible Employment—The central feature of Middlebury’s Accelerator Plan is an invigorated conception of flexible employment for tenure-track and tenured faculty. For nearly three decades, the Associate Status program has served faculty well, and over that time the academic administration has regularly adopted non-traditional arrangements that have benefited both individual professors and the institution. During the last few years, Middlebury has begun to see itself as a global liberal arts college and increasingly recognizes the new possibilities that come with that emerging identity.

a) Associate Status: An extension of the Associate Status program is an important part of this richer approach to flexible employment. Middlebury’s Associate Status option provides tenure-track and tenured faculty with greater flexibility to control the pace and trajectory of their work lives. Over the past twenty-five years, 40 faculty have gone on associate status. Faculty nearing retirement age have been among the most likely to use it. They see this option as easing the transition from full-time teaching to retirement. Others have turned to it to pursue demanding scholarly or artistic projects, while still others have used it to respond to years of particular stress in their personal lives. We believe that with modifications this program will provide effective support for early and mid-career faculty facing a range of personal and professional pressures.

Faculty on associate status are expected to teach three instructional units during the academic year. Two of the courses are taught during the fall or spring semesters and the other in the college’s winter term, thus freeing faculty from teaching responsibilities for a full semester. These faculty are paid roughly 55 percent of their regular salary and retain their benefits package.

The proposed enhancement to the Associate Status program would explicitly state that faculty could take the reduced load across an academic year. This enhancement is likely to appeal to parents who want to remain full members of the college community during a given year and who need time to devote to family obligations. The Sloan Award would provide funding during the implementation phase of this modification.

The terms of the Associate Status program cannot address the particular situations of all faculty requiring career flexibility, and the Advisory Committee on Faculty Career Flexibility will consider new initiatives to address situations that have hitherto been tackled in an ad hoc fashion. But given the current era of tight budgets, a Sloan Award would help address the needs of academic departments and programs when their full-time faculty go on associate status and, thus, would reinforce and extend a valuable program for faculty at different stages in their professional lives.

b) OneMiddlebury: One dynamic vehicle for enhancing faculty career flexibility is the vision of OneMiddlebury. Middlebury’s increasingly elaborate structure with its constellation of programs and affiliated entities is poised to offer a new set of opportunities for the undergraduate faculty. Currently, some undergraduate faculty teach in the summer language and Bread Loaf programs, while others have taught a course at the Monterey Institute of International Studies during a winter term. But as collaboration among the various component parts of Middlebury matures, an array of new arrangements for faculty employment could emerge. Some faculty in appropriate fields may wish to teach in the summer to free up time during the traditional academic year, while others may take advantage of its far-flung entities and immerse themselves and their families in more urban, even international, settings. Some of our faculty who would like to spend part of their academic leave away from Middlebury are unable to do so because of financial reasons. The opportunities within the OneMiddlebury network could help some faculty to realize their individual goals. A part-time appointment with the Monterey Institute of International Studies during a leave year, for instance, could allow undergraduate faculty to relocate with their families on the west coast and take advantage of fellowships and collaborations with major research universities in the San Francisco Bay area. The OneMiddlebury framework will also present undergraduate departments and programs with a way to fill curricular gaps generated by undergraduate faculty going on associate status or taking advantage of other career flexibility options. They could tap talented teachers within the Middlebury universe but outside of the Vermont campus. Finally, the development of all of the opportunities within the unfolding OneMiddlebury network will enhance our ability to attract and retain a more diverse faculty.

The full potential of the OneMiddlebury framework has yet to be developed. The Provost, in consultation with the Advisory Committee, will appoint a task force to investigate specific ways that the broader Middlebury community could simultaneously advance career flexibility options and the college’s strategic goals. The Sloan Award will fund the pilot initiatives recommended by the task force.

2) Spousal Employment—One of the most vexing issues with regard to the recruitment and retention of faculty is spousal or partner employment. Middlebury College is located in a small town with a population of 8, 000 people in one of the most rural states in the country. The location of the college, set in the beautiful Champlain valley between the Green and Adirondack mountains, is one of its great assets, and yet this rural, bucolic setting makes it particularly difficult for spouses and partners of Middlebury faculty to find suitable employment. The recent Sloan survey on faculty career flexibility reveals that many faculty have considered leaving the college because of dual-career challenges.

Middlebury has already taken steps to address this issue. Our Career Services Offices offers the same counseling services to spouses and partners of Middlebury faculty that it offers to alumni. Our Human Resources Office has a designated officer who meets with interested spouses and partners about employment opportunities at the college and beyond. Three years ago, Middlebury joined the New England Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), a regional network with a special interest in advancing employment opportunities of spouses and partners of faculty and staff at member institutions.

With the help of a Sloan Award, Middlebury College can do more. First, our Human Resources employment manager will fortify the information that is presented to spouses and partners and will reserve a portion of her work time to initiating contact with each of them.

Second, the academic administration will formalize a program for spouses and partners of faculty to teach individual courses in all three terms of the academic year. Offering even partial employment is critical in allowing job-seeking partners to develop networks and sustain a professional identity. In recent years, we have made such teaching arrangements, but with the sharp pressure on the college budget due to the economic crisis, our capacity for action without additional resources will be diminished for the foreseeable future. The Sloan Award will be used to establish a course bank to fund up to five courses a year by spouses or partners of faculty.

Third, Middlebury proposes to build on its HERC involvement and cultivate stronger relationships among institutions of higher learning within the Champlain valley. Middlebury’s location on the northwestern edge of the New England HERC means that the jobs network of a consortium tilted toward Boston is often not especially useful to its employees. Middlebury proposes to take the lead by convening at least one gathering in Burlington, the nearest city, to which all Vermont and New York colleges and universities in a 60-mile radius will be invited to discuss ways of implementing an effective jobs bank.

3) Daily Challenges—In recent years, Middlebury has worked to improve the work/life balance at the college and, as this accelerator plan indicates, we foresee additional action. Yet as an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education (May 7, 2009) recently emphasized, no simple solution exists for “Figuring out Flexibility.” It is clear that initiatives from the central administration will not, on their own, figure out flexibility. As noted in commentary from a recent focus group on the topic and recommendations from the recent Task Force on the Status of Women, relatively modest improvements in daily life make a difference. Two suggested enhancements, for example, are to place changing tables in selected restrooms on campus and provide child care during faculty meetings. With the assistance of a Sloan Award, the college will emulate a successful model on our campus for soliciting ideas for creative projects.

For a number of years the Environmental Council has funded modest-sized projects proposed by members of the community that promote sustainability on campus. The Advisory Committee will issue a similar call for projects related to faculty career flexibility. It will then select the most deserving projects and fund them with a portion of the Sloan Award.

Increasing Visibility

The results of the Sloan survey highlight an important point: too large a percentage of our faculty is not aware of the college’s current career flexibility programs. Another spottily known program is the Employee Assistance Plan, which offers many services pertinent to work/life balance such as free counseling sessions with financial counselors, lawyers, and mental health professionals. The lack of awareness stems from inadequate promotion of the college’s programs that support faculty career flexibility. The primary vehicle today for publicizing the college’s programs is our website, but information is currently spread across many Web pages and some is not easy to find.

The academic administration has known that its Web pages are cumbersome, and it eagerly embraced a recent presidential mandate that Middlebury remake its website. The college has already selected a new platform to deliver the contents of its website. The goal is to have the new website on-line in January 2010.

The time is right for a webpage featuring Middlebury’s work/life balance programs for faculty. All of the programs (ranging from the Associate Status option to the college’s support for child care to the Parental Leave program) could be listed and described in a single place.

But this envisioned Web page would be much more than a storehouse of information. It would indicate the college community’s recognition of the importance of career flexibility and commitment to accommodating the changing needs of faculty who may be employed here for a career spanning several decades. It could feature short video stories with individual faculty members describing how they manage the challenges of their careers and personal lives. The work/life page would also feature a “clipping service” or RSS feed of significant articles about faculty career flexibility to promote awareness of the broader discussion about work/life strategies. The “clipping service” would also help seed proposals from faculty to enhance career flexibility as described in the “Daily Challenges” section.

With the support of the Sloan Award, we will hire a consultant to prepare an accessible and functional work/life balance webpage to be part of the college’s ambitious Web makeover.

While technology is an important part of the effort to inform the faculty of the college’s career flexibility options, a range of formats will be employed to reach as many colleagues as possible. A brief, user-friendly brochure will be prepared from the web enhancement work. And work/life themes will be a central subject in the Academic Roundtable series proposed for the upcoming year to be hosted by the Dean for Faculty Development and Research, Library and Information Services, and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research.

Assessment

The Accelerator Plan has identified the triggering actors in each of the proposed initiatives. The Provost’s Office will ensure follow-through on all initiatives. The Advisory Committee for Faculty Career Flexibility will be charged with assessing progress over the next two years and beyond. The committee will benefit from the counsel of the recently appointed Dean of Planning and Assessment who is leading our reaccreditation preparation. The committee will:

  1. track the use of the enhanced Associate Status program, interview the users to determine its benefits and potential improvements, and convene an open forum to broaden faculty knowledge of it;
  2. call on the Task Force on OneMiddlebury and Faculty Career Flexibility to prepare a report on pilot initiatives and potential long-term options;
  3. request that the Human Resources Office document contact with all spouses and partners of faculty hired over the next two years and report on progress in creating new employment networks;
  4. and monitor the implementation of faculty career flexibility projects and review their impact.

The Advisory Committee will also closely follow our efforts to increase the visibility of the college’s faculty career flexibility offerings. Beginning in the fall of 2009, it will meet annually with academic administrators, faculty leaders, and department and program chairs to build support for faculty career flexibility. It also will consult annually with a focus group of faculty to assess changes in the cultural acceptance of work/life initiatives. In addition, the Advisory Committee will closely examine the results from the Sloan survey administered this past spring and compare the results with the follow-up survey in 2011. Our goals are to reach nearly universal awareness on the part of the faculty of Middlebury’s efforts to foster faculty career flexibility and to improve rates of recruitment and retention of superior undergraduate faculty as we develop into a global liberal arts college.