The Delphi Project: Producing Resources to Create a High Quality Place to Teach, Learn, and Work

This is a guest post by Adrianna Kezar and Dan Maxey.

Changes in the composition of the American professoriate toward a mostly contingent workforce are raising important questions about poor working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty and connections between these conditions and student learning outcomes.  Numerous studies have found the negative working conditions of these faculty have an adverse effect on student retention, transfer from two- to four-year institutions, and graduation or completion rates.  Growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty who receive little support and whose working conditions places limits on what they can do to support students is impacting student learning and success.

The core of our educational missions is at risk if we do not make changes.

The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success was initiated to support a better understanding of the factors that have led to a majority of faculty being hired off the tenure track and the impact of these current circumstances on teaching and learning.  The Delphi Project started with a study that brought together more than 35 leaders from a broad range of groups representing faculty, administrators, higher education organizations, unions, accreditation agencies, and policy makers.  In our conversations with these representatives and other faculty and administrative leaders, the need for carefully crafted data, resources, and tools that could be used to guide change processes on campuses and throughout higher education was described as critical.

The higher education system, in general, and campuses are diverse and complex places and not all constituencies have equal understanding about the changes that have taken place in the composition and working conditions of faculty and their impact on students (retention) and institutional outcomes (loss of shared governance).

Our conversations suggest there is a role for many different constituencies in higher education in the work that lies ahead, including:

  • Building awareness about the changing composition of the faculty, their working conditions, and implications for higher education;
  • Strategically presenting data about these issues;
  • Encouraging data collection and examination of conditions in individual campus contexts to consider these how these challenges affect specific institutions and solutions that are appropriate to local conditions; and,
  • Creating consensus among campus constituent groups about a direction forward to support all faculty.

Change agents need tangible tools that help bring together people with different knowledge about the issues and challenges.  To facilitate progress in promoting a process for change, we have begun to create a series of resources and tools aimed to meet these needs.  A first set of guides have been designed to help campus communities create a vision for the changes that are necessary.  These guides, Non-Tenure-Track Faculty on our Campus: A Guide for Campus Task Forces to Better Understand Faculty Working Conditions and the Necessity for Change and a similar guide for departments, are based on an inquiry and data driven approach.  The guides ask questions about areas that are important for supporting faculty to help teams on campuses collect and examine data to better understand the issues and make evidence based decisions within their own context.  These guides are now available for use and we highly encourage you to forward the link below to anyone you know who might be able to make use of these resources.

We have also created a document titled The Imperative for Change, which helps different constituencies in higher education to understand the reasons for pursuing changes to existing faculty policies and practices.  Another set of resources, process guides titled The Path to Change, will be available in January 2013 and provide two-page overviews of campuses that have successfully made changes for NTTF faculty (based on research).  These documents will expose individuals to levers and strategies that can facilitate change.  Along these same lines, we believe change will be advanced as example practices from real campuses are shared.  So, we have created brief documents highlighting efforts to improve benefits, involvement in governance, professional development, and other issues.  We are also collecting additional example practices to compile an online database and expand knowledge of ongoing efforts to change non-tenure-track faculty conditions.  By sharing ideas systematically, we can encourage the adoption of practices and promote a to become the norm.

We know that building awareness and creating consensus will not be enough, which is why we are working with governing boards, accreditation agencies, and others to hold institutions accountable for taking action.  For these groups, our guides will offer a set of emerging criteria that can be used to hold campuses accountable and frame future efforts.

We invite you to join us by sharing your ideas about additional resources we might create or feedback about your experience using our guides, if you make use of them.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don't impersonate a real person.

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