UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For faculty members, the path to promotion and tenure is closely linked to their ability to publish. Faculty scholars, whether or not they are on the tenure track, have much to offer through the research they conduct and the published results of that research.
Finding time to write the journal article or the monograph, however, can be an enormous challenge because of the many demands on faculty members’ time: teaching, service, advising, mentoring and meetings, not to mention family and personal obligations. Faculty members from underrepresented racial, ethnic or gender groups often carry a heavier service load, which gives them even less time to dedicate to research writing.
Given these challenges, how can any scholar be productive?
For faculty members in the College of the Liberal Arts, a new Faculty Writing Program is being piloted to provide some help.
“Research is the most visible — and perhaps the most important — measure of a University’s quality and stature,” said Cyanne Loyle, associate professor of political science and international affairs and director of the program, who joined the College of the Liberal Arts in July 2019 and was part of a similar program at another university.
“As faculty members, we are accountable for many of the things we do. Teach a class. Attend a meeting. But when it comes to research and writing, faculty members are essentially on their own.”
Sponsored by the dean’s office, the Liberal Arts Faculty Writing Program provides the accountability faculty members need by dedicating a weekly three-hour time slot for writing. Participants, who must commit to attending every session, are divided into smaller writing groups, each of which is facilitated by a faculty co-facilitator.
“The program includes faculty members from different disciplines and ranks, schools and departments. The interdisciplinarity is a very positive part of the program,” said Loyle, explaining that the first few minutes of the session are spent discussing different topics such as goal setting, writing strategies and professionalization.
“After that, we sit around a conference table and write,” she said, noting that they use Zoom to hold writing sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We don’t grade papers. We don’t answer emails. The idea is to accomplish what you set out to do.”
The outcomes of the program have been very positive, said Loyle. “Participants are getting a lot of work done and are reporting that they feel more relaxed, confident and better able to handle their workload.”
Midcareer Faculty Advancement Program
Liberal Arts faculty members have also taken a leadership role in the Midcareer Faculty Advancement Program, a three-year pilot program and partnership between the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity and the College of the Liberal Arts.
Intended to serve faculty members from underrepresented groups as well as those who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at Penn State, the program helps mid-career faculty members work toward achieving full professor status. As explained in this recent story, “the program pairs mid-career faculty fellows with mentors who are either full or distinguished professors; it offers professional development opportunities and networking; it helps facilitate transparency in the promotion process; and it creates a faculty coaching environment that serves to help mid-career faculty members balance priorities and meet advancement goals.”
“Faculty professional development is so important, but it can be particularly difficult for underrepresented faculty members who have too much on their plates,” said Ray Block, associate professor of political science and African American studies, as well as one of the program’s peer mentors. “This program provides support, professional advice and more, and because it is a pilot program, we will be able to evaluate and improve it over time.”
“I am happy to be able to use my skill set to help other faculty members advance,” said Kathryn Sophia Belle, associate professor of philosophy and African American studies. Belle also serves as a peer mentor in the program. “Faculty get pulled in a lot of directions, and this program helps them prioritize. As peer coaches, we try to positively reinforce their stated goals and emphasize the importance of focusing on their research.”
“Providing resources and support for faculty members, especially those from underrepresented racial and minority backgrounds, is critical if we are to continue to attract and retain a diverse cadre of scholars, both in the College of the Liberal Arts and across the University,” said Clarence Lang, Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “I am heartened by the enthusiasm and energy that members of our college are putting into the writing program and the mid-career advancement program, and I am looking forward to seeing the positive outcomes that result.”