Friday, January 18, 2008


Faculty Exchanges: Notes Toward a Proposal

Just thinking out loud here...

Why isn't it more common to have, say, year-long faculty exchanges between relatively nearby colleges? “I'll trade you a senior anthropologist for a business prof and a second-round draft pick.” The faculty exchanged would be paid by their original institutions, and the time would count towards seniority at their original institutions. It would be restricted to folks with tenure, so there'd be no issue of how to count it on the tenure clock.

The costs would be minimal, especially if the program were voluntary (which it would have to be).

Some possible benefits:

  1. Breaking up the inbreeding in some areas, even if only temporarily.

  2. Exposing senior teaching faculty to the ways things are done at other colleges, to discourage provincialism and help spread good ideas more quickly.

  3. Temporary staffing imbalances caused by, say, sabbaticals or maternity leaves could be covered by swapping folks from well-covered departments to get folks in shorthanded ones.

  4. Relationships between neighboring colleges would be strengthened.

  5. Some folks might notice that issues they've attributed to personalities are, in fact, structural.

Possible costs?

  1. The paperwork

  2. Uh...

Seems like a reasonable deal to me.

The swapping schools would have to be 'peers.' I don't see us sending our folks to Snooty U for a year, and I certainly don't think the faculty from Snooty U would last ten minutes here. (“Wait a minute. I teach how many sections? And where's my t.a.?”) But if we were to send a person or two each year to one of several other community colleges nearby, there wouldn't be an issue of mission shock.

Some time in another setting might allow a window into other possible ways of doing things. Some wouldn't make sense to bring back, but some might. And it might be healthy for some departments to hear from a secure visitor things like “jeez, you really don't have to do it that way. We do it this way.”

If something like this were available at your college, would you do it?

EU has been trying to encourage something like this for years. Except that they want to send professors to another European country, of course. Doesn't work s well as their highly successful student exchange program, though.
As an adjunct who already moves in and out of different institutional cultures, I think this would be a great opportunity for those disadvantaged souls who have been tragically limited to one institution for many years. Okay, that's a little sarcastic, but I do think it's a great idea. I have learned things about teaching at each school that I've imported to the others. For example, I've got some writing exercises I developed for developmental classes at a 2-year college that work surprisingly well with honors students at a more prestigious/competitive 4-year school, but I never would have thought to develop them for that population. And even when
institutions are similarly competitive in terms of admission, SAT scores, etc., institutional culture can vary so widely that you'd be almost bound to learn something useful.

And from an administrative standpoint, surely doing the work of matching needs with availability would be easier than making large numbers of one-year hires. (Though, oops, in the short term that might result in less work for the likes of me.)
I've been advocating something similar for years between the K-12 schools and IHEs that prepare teachers for those same classrooms. There are still too many people in higher education teaching K-12 teachers who have NEVER taught in that setting or only had limited contact (ie student teaching). Everyone at every level of education should want to continue to learn something new . . .
First, I think it could be a good idea. Here are a few things that came to mind as potential pitfalls, however:

1) How will you work the requirements beyond teaching for exchange faculty? Are they expected to come in and take on service, attend dept. mtgs, etc? Do they get a vote on voting items? If they don't, then why should they bother coming? If they do, why do they get a vote since they have no investment in the institution? And finally, in the exchange semester are they going to be dealing with constant emails/phone calls from home institution to deal with stuff there, which would mean that by agreeing to the exchange you'd ultimately be agreeing to an unpaid second job? Somebody will bring all of this up, if you were to propose this, and you need an answer for how that would work or the idea won't go anywhere.

2. What will you do about office space? At my institution, there aren't extra offices lying around for exchange faculty. In theory they could use the office of the faculty member who was away, but that would require the faculty member to clean out his office or for the exchange person to live in somebody else's space. Both options seem kind of crappy to me.

3. How will pay be handled? Will one's home institution still continue to pay exchange faculty? That seems to make the most sense, but one thing that could come up is that such a program will create disgruntlement if people are asked to do more work for the same pay they'd get regularly or if they find out that people at Exchange Institution make more money than they do for the same work.

Again, I do think it's a good idea, and I only rain on your parade with the above because it's exactly the kind of good idea that doesn't become material reality because of logistics. If you could address those concerns (or others that I've not thought about - like how you'd handle parking permits for exchange faculty), I really think that such an idea could take off and be a great thing.
Another pitfall would be the difficulty in getting science, or any technology/equipment heavy or just lab-space requiring researchers, to volunteer. If there is an issue with office space then lab space would also be an issue, there is no way to easily transport a lot of science equipment, there is a ton of overhead in taking down and setting up equipment even if it is possible, and losing the help of intensively trained students would be a bummer too.

I'd never go for it based on those reasons alone.
Dean Dad,
I think it might depend a bit on region and transportation. I happen to live in a city that has two universities, and right beside another city that has three. Obviously one could do exchanges in such circumstances without having to move or add a commuting burden to the proposition. However, if I were to decide that exchanges with the university in neighbouring small city in between the two I've already mentioned were a good idea, I'd be adding about 2 hours of driving time to 2 faculty members' days... x3 or 4 days on campus per week, and you have 6 to 8 hours spent on the road that you didn't have before. That gets up to about 36 hours of driving time a month, or almost a week's work spent in the car (1/2 week per month per faculty member).
I know the impact this makes because my partner just gave up that very same commute to move to one of the in-town universities. We now work across the street from each other. He's at the MIT type place and I'm at the comprehensive place.
Because he's in admin his commute was 4-5 days a week to get to neighbouring town U, and that added up to a month on the road per year.
Imagine the costs in gas, in time away from research, in lowered quality of life for faculty and their families, etc.
Will the university or college pay for the added commuting costs for such arrangements?
Will they provide a course remission in the following year to make up for lost time spent in the car?
What about environmental impact?
I know that the US is even more car-centric than Canada, and that loads of people take commuting for granted as part of life, but I think we need to seriously re-evaluate that, and it must be accounted for in dollars, in time, in environmental impact and in quality of life impact.

So, I'd say:

1. Schools close enough together could consider shuttles for faculty groups from one campus to the other (which is how my undergrad inst. handled getting facult from one rural campus to another rural satellite

2. Schools in the same city or town would likely work just fine, especially if there's good public transit (who wants to crawl across mid-town in a car??).

3. Schools with anything more than a 20 minute commute by car (from small urban town into big city, eg) would likely have serious trouble with all the points I've raised above.

4. Moving faculty further away than a one-hour commute (which I see as inhumane anyway) might have to get around the commute by offering a pied-a-terre situation in the host-institution's town.

When you take those kinds of costs into account, does it still work out for you?
Why does reality tv come to mind? ProfSwap? Of course it would have to be swaps between horribly dissimilar schools to make it fun.
Wow, I love ProfSwap!
But I have to say that I love this idea, and it's exactly the sort of thing that we don't do and I don't get it. Another thing we don't do is work with other nearby institutions on things like guest speakers. I live within 1.5 hours of at least two other 4-yr public schools, and we could pool our resources and have one heckuva semester-long speaker series. But every time I bring it up, I'm told "we tried that and it didn't work."
I actually think it's a great idea for the #3 reason, which would free up a lot of the issues surrounding family medical leave and maternity/paternity leave.

Although as others have pointed out, some disciplines are more suited to being itinerant than others.

DD, would you think there would be any benefits to exchanging for single courses (so profs could keep officing at their home campus), or would that defeat the institutional-learning part of the purpose?
I guess this would only apply to full-time faculty. As an adjunct who has been swapping colleges back and forth due to class availablity this would be the last thing I would want to do if I ever got a full-time position. I thought colleges have guest lecturers to bring in someone of great value to a college?
I see someone already brought up the trouble of commute/moving, which would be the big sticking point for me. I might see this as possible among, say, the Los Angeles community colleges, but no one from CSUN is going to want to commute up to say, Monterey or down to San Diego. There would also be the problem of people not wanting to go to the campuses that are located in bad or unpleasant areas (snow? nasty heat? run-down part of town?)
The nearest institution of higher education is a two-hour drive on the best of days. In the teeth of snowstorms that ravage our region in the winter, no sane person would want to be a road scholar unless they could arrange for exchange housing.

Our institution has a new satellite campus a three hour drive south of here along a perilous highway that's often closed during the winter. The VPs can't understand why relatively few faculty members are volunteering to teach a course there.
And no one mentioned parking!

The closest we get to a swap is having a retired prof from nearby university teach here for gas money, and there are things to learn from them even if they are not fully integrated into the college.

Kelly from Kansas suggests something that has bothered me for years: A professor who teaches physics during the year will do physics the rest of the time. A professor who teaches how to teach 6-8th grade math usually does not teach 6-8th grade math the rest of the time. In the old days, before colleges of ed, they did. Has something been lost? (In the old days, physicists generally did physics as a consultant in industry rather than running a federal research grant, and some think something has been lost there as a result.)
I think this is a cool idea. Why couldn't it be viewed like a sabbatical? Faculty go away to another institution to do research for a year, leaving behind teaching responsibilities and all the logistics get worked out. It seems like this could be similarly implemented.
I think it would work well at primarily undergraduate teaching institutions. It's a change of pace, it amounts to administrative leave time, because you wouldn't expect visiting faculty to do service type stuff, at an institution that isn't their own, and if used properly it could be really good for career development and what not.

Having said that I can see there being problems with this in some fields. Medicine and bench sciences wouldn't handle exchanges well at all, for instance. Also, when you have graduate students and that level of research, it becomes much more unlikely, I think that makes matters all sorts of complicated. Can't abandon graduate students at your home institution, and it would likely be difficult to maintain working with them while you're on some sort of leave across town.

I don't think it would be that difficult to implement though I don't know how eager people would be leave for a year or two every now and then. Worth a shot I guess. Even if there aren't many participants, I'm not sure that that detracts from the possibilities.
For anyone not single or with a spouse who doesn't work or is totally portable* there are many issues. For anyone with children in care or school, also many issues. But the traveller in me loves this idea!

That makes the spouse sound like someone who can fit in a suitcase, but you know what I mean!
Something like this happens now with visiting faculty programmes. I've taken courses with a visiting lecturer who came on campus for 6 months, and our lecturers did the same thing.

It works fine for disciplines like law, where access to materials is near universal, I could imagine English Lit the same. Not sure about science, unless you were doing research projects together and wanted to co-locate for a bit.

The stuff I was thinking about probably took place during a sabbatical year, and the teaching was usually it was at graduate or postgraduate level, not intro courses.

It's hard to commute from anywhere to New Zealand, so it was a full-on lifestyle swop - manage your spouses and children how ye may. One prof had his wife and daughter (nearly grown) visit for 3 weeks.
The logistical comments above are well-taken, but my short answer to some of them is if your circumstances make it impossible or difficult, don't volunteer!

My perspective on this idea (I like it) is colored by the fact that I teach in a community college system in a metropolitan area with a common governing body. Sure, if you don't have peer institutions that are in easy commuting distance, then this idea won't work. But while I sympathize with the comment about commuting, I think it is overly critical to suggest that there must be shuttles set up to accommodate this idea. Once again - it will work for some, will interest some, and that's the beauty of a voluntary program.
The reason that I brought up logistics in my original comment was because, at least in my experience, such a program - even if voluntary - can often never get off the ground if there aren't detailed and specific answers to such challenges when it's presented. It's not enough to say "but it would be voluntary!" - such a thing wouldn't get the funding or support it needed if that was the only answer. It's not that such an idea couldn't work without a lot of infrastructure (for example, in my location I think it's unlikely that anybody would go for funding a shuttle) but one has to answer the questions about infrastructure with specifics or there won't be faculty or administrative support for such an idea. I've also been thinking that while it's clear what is in it for the *institution* in such a plan, it would need to be made very clear what's in it for the faculty member who agrees to the exchange. With a semester abroad sort of thing, the thing that is in it for the faculty member is the travel. With a research exchange, what's in it for the faculty member is enhanced resources for his/her research. With a teaching exchange, I fear that many faculty members would just say, "hey - I can teach these same classes more conveniently at home institution, so why bother?" The most compelling part of such an idea for me would be finding new ways of handling administrative, curricular, or service issues, but if the exchange faculty member isn't participating in that stuff as part of the exchange, then that benefit is lost. So I wonder how the idea would "sell" to the faculty on whose active participation such a program would depend. (Again, I think the idea is a good one - I'm thinking less about the quality of the idea and more about how one would convince entrenched or skeptical faculty that such an idea would work.)
I have to disagree about the shuttles, because it isn't about whether a person volunteers ornot that is at issue. In addition to the commuting, it's just damnably foolish to have environmental studies programmes talking abut reducing carbon footprints while their very own institutions have 10-15 faculty members making a commute every day or two (almost inevitably 1:1 person to car ratio) for a term when the institution could build into the budget a shuttle to move all 10-15 people in ONE vehicle.
My point was that institutes taht want to set up these kinds of arrangements would want to make sure thatthey weren't working against the very commitments they are trying to foster in their programmes. What is the point of building LEED certified buildings if we undo it all with craptastic commuting situations?
What is the point of teaching about the problems with inadequate transit and urban planning if we just trot our faculty out onto the highway when keeping them at home would certainly not cause harm -- even if it might lack some of the advtanges DD is seeking.
My points were put out because he asked for other costs that any of us could see, and I think he needs more than "paperwork" in his cost column before he can assess the benefits in sum. If DD can fly his proposal without creating negative impacts for the community, and without setting up unreasonable costs for his own bottom line, then I think he's absolutely right in his idea and ought to pursue it.
I don't see that as critical, I see that as potentially helpful input.
These comments about commuting seem to assume that all faculty members live close to their universities, which in my observation is not necessarily the case. Professors choose to live far away from their universities for all kinds of reasons: so that they can live with their spouses, so that they can buy a big piece of land, or so that they can live in a nearby large city. In some cases, in fact, doing an exchange might shorten the commute for the professors involved.
I just dug up a paper I wrote last January that discusses a slight variation on this "Professor Swap" proposal. An excerpt from the paper...

Faculty Roles at Community Colleges
By identifying the key mission of community colleges as "teaching institutions" community colleges have set themselves apart from four-year schools, where research is a key component of professorial duties. Many scholars have commented on the irony that the so-called teaching institutions of higher education in the U.S. do not participate in or use educational research to guide their instruction. This is not to say that community colleges and two-year colleges cannot participate in educational research, but the scholarly output of these schools appears to correlate directly to the institutional expectation of the faculty (Prager, 2003). Community college faculty are quick to point out that they teach the same material that is taught during the first two years at four-year institutions, but yet, the reputation of community colleges lags behind the four-year institutions.
In higher education, faculty at four-year schools look down on the career choices of two-year college faculty. Community college instructors and leaders have long assumed that students would continue to attend community colleges because of the value (lower tuition) that they can provide to students. For this reason, for-profit institutions were not seen as a real threat to community colleges. With higher tuition prices, it was believed that students would continue to flock to the place where tuition was lower. But a recent public-opinion poll commissioned by the Career College Association (Blumenstyk, 2006) shows that for-profit colleges have closed the gap. Fifty-nine percent of respondents said career colleges were becoming a better option in today's economy, while 55% said that two-year community colleges were becoming a better option.
Lisa Botshon observed, in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, "The difference in status awarded to faculty members at elite institutions and those at other colleges and universities is so pronounced that communication among faculty members in these different castes, even among those in the same fields, has become nearly impossible." (2006, p.B5). She proposed an interesting cure for this classism in higher education – kind of an exchange program for higher education. Professors within a given region would swap with a colleague from an institution with a different Carnegie rating. Community college instructors might learn of the importance of scholarly research in getting heard in the academic forum, while research professors might enjoy more freedom, for a time, to try out teaching ideas they might not otherwise have time for.

Do you suppose that if we propose "Professor Swap" as a reality TV show, that the TV studios will bankroll all the logistical aspects?
When I went to teachers college (Queens University in Kingston) my methods profs were either part-time teachers or took sabbaticals every 3-4 years to teach full-time. I learned a lot from them, and wish that every faculty did that.
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