Strategies for Engaging Faculty in Change

Published February 22, 2021
By Stephen G. Pelletier
Planning Types: Strategic Planning
Challenges: Change Management

Interview with Sandra Patterson-Randles, Chancellor Emerita and Professor of English, Indiana University Southeast

The Spring 2021 edition of Trends in Higher Education includes an item on how to best engage faculty in innovation, planning, and reform. To gain more insight into this vital relationship, we turned to a veteran college leader with decades of relevant experience. Sandra Patterson-Randles, chancellor emerita and professor of English at Indiana University Southeast, is in her 51st year in academe. Her work in five states at six institutions has included teaching and administration at a high school, an HBCU, major public and private universities, and smaller regional universities. In all of these positions, she was engaged in meaningful strategic planning. As a faculty member and administrator, her responsibilities ranged from division chair to university chancellor. Dr. Patterson-Randles kindly responded to our questions about how to engage faculty.

In general terms, why is it important to engage faculty in innovation, planning, and reform? How can and does that engagement affect institutions?

Higher education is facing a host of challenges at this time: decreased enrollments impacting budgets; reductions in state/federal funding; drastic reallocation measures such as mergers, closures, and scaled-back programming; graduates criticized as unprepared for the workforce; dramatically changing student needs and learning; erosion of public confidence; and the ongoing impact of COVID-19. We are now experiencing a “perfect storm,” which will affect education in a myriad of ways.

In difficult times, planning and the successful implementation of that planning requires the buy-in and support of a range of stakeholders. It particularly requires engagement by the faculty, since they carry out the institution’s teaching and research missions. Faculty can make or break campus planning; therefore, the institution must be circumspect in its choice of representative faculty for planning groups, how they are engaged in the planning process, and how they interact with other campus constituencies for maximum buy-in. This endeavor is particularly difficult when the new planning process follows previous attempts that have failed because of faculty resistance or lack of meaningful faculty involvement.

What can and should colleges and universities do to better engage faculty in difficult planning efforts?

Effective planning can occur only when the institution’s context, strengths, and problems are recognized and understood by the full range of constituencies—but especially by the faculty. For this purpose, difficult planning efforts call for time and energy to be devoted to a full environmental scan, which can bring faculty to a deep understanding of the issues involved. Too often this early stage in planning is given little attention, but it is essential for getting the faculty and their representatives on a planning committee “on the same page.”

A useful way to create buy-in is to ask faculty units to nominate potential committee members. It should be based on clear criteria, such as: good communication ability, in both directions; respected by colleagues; objectivity; having solid knowledge of the school and community; positive attitude; reliable participation; and discretion in handling sensitive issues. Faculty who are advocates for the process and are committed to keeping their colleagues well informed help to keep planning highly visible campus wide, which, in turn, generates broad-based support. This same engagement should continue throughout the implementation phase, in order to ensure ongoing faculty involvement. Some strategies to achieve this could include:

  • Involving faculty in the yearly determination of planning priorities and initiatives
  • Determining accountable parties for plan actions, which specifically designate faculty responsibilities and contributions by individual departments
  • Integrating working plan initiatives into faculty yearly goals and reviews
  • Requiring that budget requests from faculty and their departments be tied to the strategic plan
  • Requiring clear progress results for new or ongoing monies

What relationships will campuses find beneficial as they work to better engage faculty in difficult planning efforts?

Shared core values developed by the faculty and staff provide a solid foundation for any difficult planning initiative. In addition, the judicious use of institutional data as a motivation and support for planning can encourage consensus and buy-in.

What other considerations may be relevant for the SCUP community to reflect on regarding engaging faculty in difficult planning efforts?

My own experience with planning efforts, ranging from smaller, department-specific endeavors to comprehensive, long-range strategic planning for an institution as a whole, has yielded a number of “lessons learned,” but particularly these three:

  • Take the time and make the effort for a thorough environmental scan and SWOT analysis in order to create a deep understanding of the issues and foster support.
  • Manage the process by clearly articulating the motivations/expectations for the planning, creating a balanced group of faculty planning participants, and establishing visible stages of plan development and implementation.
  • Make sure that faculty continue to be involved in the planning implementation so as to avoid SPOTS (Strategic Plan on the Shelf) Syndrome.

Want to learn more?

Read all of the trends and analysis from the Spring 2021 issue of Trends for Higher Education.