Support and Partnerships

A school’s sense of mission to local and global communities, as well as its approach to faculty research and teaching development, and student formation, directly shapes its approach to partnerships (ie, which partnerships should be pursued or deepened and how they should be negotiated). There are many ways in which a college or university is engaged and partnered with local and global communities: enterprise, residence life, service, internships, field placements, research, etc. However, our review of research focuses most primarily on how community-university/college partnerships are best facilitated to deepen the college’s public purposes, to local/global communities and to the church. The following will identify and discuss essential practices and characteristics of community-university partnerships, as well as partnerships within the university-college. It will bracket the important discussion of the principles and norms that the research identifies as important in negotiating the how of such partnerships.

Sandy and Holland (2006) engage research in the community-university partnership field with the intention of researching community-partner perspectives in the practice itself. They highlight that these partnerships have the ability to ‘become a more intentional component of actualizing the service mission of higher education’ (30). Their work focuses on evaluating service-learning community-university partnerships so as to better engage this service mission. McNall, et al (2009) discuss such mission-driven partnerships from a different angle: community-university partnerships for research. Such research would, seemingly, require college investment to either incentivize or make such research both possible and valued in a faculty member’s career trajectory. Both practices of partnership (service-learning and engaged research), taken together, are nationally prominent and important forms of community-university partnerships. These are two practices that seem essential to the service or public mission of higher education, especially in a Catholic educational institution. They also contribute intrinsically to the university’s teaching and research goals. Service-learning and engaged research practices should be seen as essential structures of community-partnership in Providence College’s strategic planning.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “2026: The Decade Ahead” reminds us, though, that ‘higher education serves both a private good as well as a public purposes – from improving employment prospects for individuals to promoting more engaged citizenship and healthier societies” (33). Correspondingly, the latter should not be considered in isolation from the former. From the perspective of a private good, concern about an education’s ‘return on investment’ has become important for students, parents and policy-makers in calculating the investment in a college degree (33). Because this concern is widespread, the authors expect that “how colleges should prepare students to succeed in an evolving global, information economy will be the subject of intense debate in the decade ahead” (33). Discussing possibilities for such student formation, they reference the 2010 National Research Council report on the variety of ‘21st century skills’ students need to succeed in the future workplace: a mix of “cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal attributes such as collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking, and problem solving” (34). This research and reflection identifies two important characteristics of community-university partnership from a university’s perspective: global partnerships and partnerships that, in some form, incorporate students cultivating ‘21st century skills’, however they are determined.[i]

Finally, an essential characteristic of Catholic higher education is the concern for the integral development of the human person, that is to say, the human person in all of his or her dimensions. Such a concern for the integral human development of each and all within community-university partnerships should be considered an essential characteristic, be they ecclesial, local, national, or global partners.[ii] Additionally, this means that the private goods of higher education and the cultivation of 21st century skills in partnerships discussed above should not be considered in isolation from the concern for the development of both the university community and partners in a way that is “fully human”, in a way that supports the development of the whole person.

Developing a college community where faculty, staff, and administrators work together in mutual respect and partnership is critical. To that end, research shows that job satisfaction increases collaboration, creativity and job performance (Woods & Weasmer, 2002).  Research also shows that climate of higher education institutions  often creates a microcosm of oppression which influences experiences of faculty and staff of color, particularly women of color (Mena, 2016).

The climate of the institution results in experiences where credibility and competence remind faculty and staff of color that they have to work harder to be acknowledged in their positions. Many are challenged and endure obstacles which block opportunity for leadership and advance their careers. Micro-aggressions question women of color’s credibility and competence. Related to age, younger women of color felt more hopeful about their institution, whereas older ones expressed less belief in change. These challenges have also underscored the tenacity and perseverance of women of color, which lead to upward mobility (Mena, 2016). Support of faculty development is important and essential to face these challenges and create a culture of partnerships.

Faculty development

Eddy and Hart (2012) underscore important narratives of faculty pointing to a different model of faculty life and work, as a more holistic approach which values teaching, practice, as well as research. It is important to understand the issues faculty face, including the anticipation and socialization for the professorate. Supporting the Development of the Professoriate (Cariaga, Dawkins, Enger, Schotter & Spence, 2010) provides an overview of how the institutions of higher education provide faculty support through the development of policies and practices that align institutional goals with faculty needs. Effective faculty development practices include taking into account the increasingly diverse workforce, to include a growing cadre of non-tenured faculty who are often disproportionately responsible for teaching our students.  Institutions can think strategically about opportunities and resources for faculty due to their ever-changing roles.

In our constrained economic climate, institutions are seeking more innovative and cost-effective approaches to supporting the research and scholarship of their faculty. While funding is an important requirement, developing an infrastructure that fosters dialogue and collaboration among faculty members from across the disciplines is equally important and highly valued by the faculty participants. One such example is cross-disciplinary research support groups. Other research and scholarship support activities include grant-writing and other skill-building workshops, lowered teaching loads, pre-tenure sabbaticals, and research and conference travel funds available to new faculty hires so that they have ample opportunity to attend conferences and develop new research collaborations at other institutions. Colleges and universities with varying levels of resources are very much committed to helping faculty develop their professional skills in teaching and learning at all points of the academic pipeline. Some of these resources have been organized into centers for teaching and learning. Others examples of include pedagogical circles to provide collaborative and mutually beneficial opportunities to engage in discussions about teaching and learning and providing faculty members with some yearly funding to support pedagogical activities.

Faculty Mentoring is an important but often poorly implemented resource for faculty development. Successful faculty mentoring programs are attentive to differences across gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and generational lines, all of which can affect whether and how faculty receive mentoring and career guidance.  Mentoring to help new faculty understand the promotion and tenure review process, book publishing, grant writing, managing a laboratory, and developing effective scholarly collaborations is particularly important.

Sorccinelli (2002) responds to the Ernest Boyer’s, Scholarship Reconsidered, seminal work by arguing the need to make the tenure process more flexible and effective to validate and promote differing types of scholarship. The author notes the tensions between the ideal and reality in the tenure process with expectations for performance on a tenure-track is often ambiguous, and inconsistent. In addition, early career faculty worry about “raising the bar” with increased requirements for tenure, where many did not receive formal feedback or mentoring from senior colleagues. Finally a tenure line has a short term focus and to change to a conceptualized teaching and community engagement as scholarly enterprises, to work more flexibly, and work across disciplines and work collaboratively. Offering flexibility and choice and affording support for ongoing self-reflection and dialogue with colleagues about the kinds of life and work we want to have is crucial. This is reflective of the diverse needs and changes in our society. Finally, more and more institutions are helping faculty deal with work-life issues.  Such initiatives include the provision of childcare or an early childhood center, reduced teaching load for new parents, and recognition for their contributions most often in the form of competitive salaries and awards.

To further discuss work-life issues, the concepts of “workload” and “courseload” are important to understand. Workload is the total number of professional tasks, responsibilities, and duties a faculty member performs, inside or outside his/her institution, including (but often not limited to) teaching, research, service, and advising (e.g., Allen, 1997). Courseload, in contrast, is the number of courses, credits, or contact hours a faculty member is contracted to teach per semester or academic year. Thus courseload is merely one component of workload. Using these terms interchangeably is not only inaccurate, but can lead to underestimations of the amount of work faculty are actually doing. This underestimation can, in turn, lead to faculty dissatisfaction if faculty perceive that they are being asked to do too much and/or under-compensated for their work. Indeed, a variety of studies and surveys have found that the amount of work faculty are expected to do has grown over the past few decades (e.g., Houston, Meyer, & Paewai, 2006; Ziker, et al., 2014), validating the widespread perception by faculty that they are on “over-load”.

In a study of a university in the UK, Burgess, Lewis, and Mobbs (2003) found that three primary factors that were important to the effectiveness of workload planning systems (WPS) were “equity of workload allocations, transparency of WPS operation and outcomes, and alignment of staff behaviour with [departmental] strategic goals.” Further, they note that these characteristics are more commonly found in formal systems (as opposed to informal arrangements) and were especially helpful navigating stressful periods. Dissatisfaction was common when systems did not account for the time it takes to do a task accurately and when systems did not leave enough time for research or other professional activities. In a study of implementation of a new workload allocation system at a large university, Paewai, Meyer, and Houston (2007) found that involvement of department heads and frequent review of the system to ensure it was accounting for time accurately were key to successful adoption and functioning of the new system.

Support of Research/Scholarly Activity

Every university/college has discussions on the proper balance of teaching/service/scholarship. At an undergraduate institution, these kinds of conversations have particular importance because commitment to undergraduate teaching is a crucial institutional priority. While some argue that faculty should be allowed to specialize according to their strengths and interests and that institutions should create different types of tenure-track faculty positions (e.g. teaching-only) (Kezar, Maxey, & Holcombe, 2015), a more common model is that of teacher-scholar which indicates that scholarship is supported for the betterment of teaching. There is not a divide between those that teach and those that conduct scholarship. Rather, it is embraced that scholarship is one essential tool to excellent teaching.

Liza et. al (2010) highlights approaches colleges and universities use to support the research and scholarship of their faculty while emphasizing work-life balance. Mentoring is a critical tool  for faculty success and creating an inclusive community of scholars (Liza, 2010). Securing extramural funding from sponsors (grantmakers) helps advance the mission of a predominantly undergraduate institution (PUI) in teaching, research, and service.  Grant awards and contracts can enhance the quality of instruction, provide greater educational opportunities to students, support ongoing or new research and creative endeavors, strengthen a community of scholars, and promote service to the community (McNicholas et. al, NCURA, 2014). Strategies to stimulate scholarly activities include time incentives, professional development, financial commitments, and non-financial rewards.  Lowery and Hanson (2001) examine the support of scholarship at predominantly undergraduate institutions highlighting that support for research should be conducted in the larger context of teaching and service.

Thinking Beyond “Teaching, Scholarship, and Service”

Faculty are increasingly asked to and expected to take on roles and tasks which do not fit neatly into the traditional categories of teaching, scholarship, and service. In addition, there is an ever-expanding number of types of projects, products, and media that faculty can contribute to and participate in (Rossing & Lavitt, 2016). If institutions want a modern faculty, who are engaged in interdisciplinary work, participating in the shared governance of the institution, developing community partnerships, contributing to public knowledge bases, etc., these less traditional activities must be explicitly valued and rewarded. One strategy is to create additional categories (e.g., “campus citizenship”) for evaluation. Another is to explicitly assign workload credit for non-teaching activities.

There is also a debate as to whether all faculty should be expected to engage in all three domains. Some argue that the nature of the academy and academic work requires that faculty keep current in all three domains. Examples of this thinking include arguments like: in order to be effective teachers, faculty need to be abreast of the most recent research and methodology in their fields and shared governance of institutions requires faculty participation. However, others argue that faculty should be allowed to specialize according to their strengths and interests and that institutions should create different types of tenure-track faculty positions (e.g., teaching-only) (Kezar, Maxey, & Holcombe, 2015).

There are various models for incorporating mentorship of independent study projects, theses, and research assistants into workload or courseload calculations. Some institutions also include teaching low-enrollment courses in this category. Some institutions assign a certain amount of courseload credit per student and credit hour. Whereas, many institutions “discount” laboratory instruction in calculating courseload. In other words, every hour of laboratory instruction is counted as less than an hour of courseload. The American Chemical Association recommends laboratory instruction be weighted equally to lecture instruction. Finally inconsistent results have been found in various studies of the time required for faculty teaching online or other distance education courses; some find they take more time than traditional face-to-face courses, some find they take less time. Similarly, Mupinga and Maughan (2008) found little consistency in how institutions assign workload for online or distance education. More consistency and transparency in how workload credit is given to online/distance courses is needed in order for the process to be equitable.

The complexity and global nature of our society speaks to the importance of partnerships as essential practices at university and college communities. Faculty and staff are essential constituents within the university-college communities to create the bridge of partnerships. Thus faculty and staff are in need and seek to further their development to better partner and mentor students in their teaching, research, and service, thereby students are more prepared to navigate and engage in an ever-changing global society.


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[i] The ‘2026: The Decade Ahead’ report also notes that universities will need to think creatively about competency-training and credentialing programs, as students will more prominently seek to ‘stack’ their “credentials, mixing multiple bachelor’s degrees with associate’s degrees and professional certificates to create a mosaic of experiences that they hope will set them apart in the job market” (7). Community-university partnerships could play a hand in creating a pipeline for non-degree seeking students from local communities to navigate Providence College for credentialing. For traditional, degree-seeking students, such partnerships could provide a way become credentialed in particular skills or competencies through real-world experiences with community partners.

[ii] Speaking more directly to current cultural and political realities, Pope Francis recently said that Catholic higher education should seek to do three things. First, schools should seek to promote the integral development of the human person, as discussed above. Second, schools should seek to create a culture of dialogue. He notes that ‘Catholic educational institutions are called to be on the front line in practicing a grammar of dialogue, which forms people for encounter, and to value cultural and religious differences. For dialogue itself educates when a person relates to others with respect, esteem and genuine listening, and speaks with authenticity, without obfuscating or diminishing their own identity, nourished by the inspiration of the Gospel.” And third, schools should seek to sow hope, to help create the “kind of life which builds up the future.” All three of these characteristics or tasks can be important for thinking through community-university partnerships. (Address to Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the congregation for Catholic Education (and Institutes of Study).