Thursday, August 07, 2008

 

Hypothetically...

(or, in which I shamelessly use the blog for my own professional purposes)
 
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you worked at a community college with finite funding.  (Shocking, I know, but bear with me.)  And let’s say that the state in which your college is located is also taking some nasty financial hits, so the ‘public subsidy’ side of things is likely to get worse before it gets better.  (I think that narrows it down to about 48 states.  I’ll admit that I’m not in Wyoming.) 
 
And let’s say that the already-paltry funding available for travel and professional development is being squeezed even more, since so many other costs are fixed. 
 
To up the ante a little, let’s say that you’re thinking that the fairest way to decide how to divvy up what little travel/PD money is available is to charge a group of faculty to come up with criteria for you to use when comparing proposals.  The idea is that they’ll come up with ground rules, and you’ll take responsibility for implementing them.
 
A few questions:
 
What criteria might you suggest?
 
What traps might one expect to find?
 
Would it make more sense to go the other way around?
 
How would you comprise the committee, if at all?
 
Wise and worldly readers, I need your guidance.  What do you think?

Comments:
I think you've got to make sure that there are representatives from as many disciplines or types of disciplines as possible. Natural science folks alone may not be best able to assess the needs of modern language faculty and vice-versa. The needs, the results, the time frames, the types of conferences and publications, the necessary distance to travel, the needs for student assistants, etc. are completely different.

I think the committee has got to be elected, too.
 
With money short (been there, almost every year), I would suggest that tenure-track assistant profs' propsals get more heavily weighted, then associate profs, then the fulls. At each level, profs get a flat rate, with the assistants getting the largest chunck, full profs the smallest.

We've used this one criterion (amongst many) when funds are short. It's a good way for the established faculty to demonstrate their committment to their junior colleagues. It also makes it very hard for the assistants to later argue that they've been treated unfairly.

It also helps keep the budget focus on the larger "team" not, "why did that jerk with the stupid agenda get more money than moi?"
 
Both previous suggestions are good ones. In addition:

Try to set aside at least some money specifically for conferences, and some specifically for PD, rather than tossing it all into a common pot. The two types of training are really different animals.

I'm a natural scientist, and the useful aspects of a conference are, in order: 1) networking, 2) getting your name (and your institution's name) out there, and 3) finding out what everyone else is up to. Training/PD is also useful for networking, but the main emphasis is on getting new skills you can bring back to your home institution. Not the same, and you need both...but the balance of what you'll need depends on your institution's focus.
 
We have an elected committee made up of representatives from each of the "units" of the college that makes these decisions for the faculty. That is, the faculty as a whole has delegated this authority to that committee. Period, full stop. That includes giving advice on that part of the college budget, as ours did this past year.

The faculty can, of course, complain via campus-wide e-mails about the decision made, but no other faculty committee or group can override their decision AFAIK.
 
The best way to divvy up the pie is to give everyone a small piece of it. If you have enough to give each person 250, do that. If not, give every department a set amount. Then let the faculty members work together to "donate" funds to each other. So, if someone is not going on a PD excursion, (s)he can donate his/her slice to someone who is.
 
I agree with the suggestion that untenured faculty receive preference in the process. They're the ones with the most at stake. Allocating an equal amount to everyone is not a good idea, because not everyone will have something to do every year. And making sure that there is money for travel (conferences) and for development, in separate pots, is a very good idea. Obviously wide representation is a good, and elected membership is likely to be desireable. I'd be in favor of letting the committee make the decisions, if they know going in how much money there is and how it's to be used.

Obviously (or I think it's obvious), travel and development money that supports teaching should be a higher priority at a CC.

Criteria for evaluating the content of the proposals:

1. Expected impact. The greater the better.

2. Likelihood of completion.

3. Alignment with institutional priorities. This is a tough one, but, after all, it's an institutional resource we're using here.

4. Prior awards. (a) Preference to people who have not as recently received funding and (b) Preference to people who have used their funding successfully (measureable outputs/impacts) in the past.
 
Dean Dad, my school actually has such committee and I'd be happy to tell you more in an e-mail if you're interested. (mistakengradstudent at gmaildotcom) members are elected and each person desiring awards needs to fill out an application. We have one application for travel awards and one for creative works (books, art, etc). The committee typically reviews the application before we meet, checking the criteria laid out for us with the application. Applicants need to justify how the conference meets the goals of his/her dept, definition of scholarship and so on (I could send you this stuff).

A vote is cast to decide if someone is awarded money, then the process starts of whatever needs to be done to get money (receipts turned in etc). We prefer you apply BEFORE you travel somewhere. I completely disagree with calugg about letting rank decide who gets money. That's not fair to people who really are doing a lot of good work.

My husband is at a college where everyone gets the same set amount. While it's nice--a prof knows they have X amount coming to them--there's plenty of it that goes unused. At my school none of it goes unused.
 
I would avoid giving a fixed amount to every faculty member. Rather I would focus on what you think the most important goals of the funding is. At a cc it might be connected to teaching, but there may be other goals. You should select the criteria and have a faculty committee make the decisions.
 
I have to say that I'm not a fan of "more money if you are presenting at the conference." I've seen about a billion talks by people who didn't have anything to say but who submitted a talk in order to justify their professional development funds. I don't know if that's a problem in all disciplines.
 
My first thought was that the more important conferences get more funding. Those are also usually the ones that are farther away.

However, I'm not sure a CC needs "name recognition." And, in fact, it might work against them as the faculty who gain the recognition move on to somewhere more recognizable.

My second thought was whatever will do the most good for the college. If a particular conference happens to garner more of whatever you need, fund that.

As a person who has been (but is not now) in a system where money was limited, I would personally prefer the "give you money once you have something accepted" rather than "everyone gets $100."

If it's important enough, the faculty will pony up their own money. But it's nice to get a small help that reminds you that administration thinks it is a good thing too.

And I think it's a great idea to have the divisions elect a single faculty member to a committee to help make the decisions.
 
heh...

I love the tweedyness here..

No one mentioned anyone but faculty (to be fair Dean Dad did posit a "faculty committee") development.

As a thought experiment I do like the "many pieces of the pie" suggestion made by our old friend "anonymous."

Then let the divisions decide.. or let open trading occur.

That would add a bit of a thrill to the decision-making process!

But by all means, let us exclude staff and administration from these benefits...
 
Rwellor: Ahem. Nowhere in my comment did I suggest that travel funding should be restricted to faculty. Nor do I believe it should be. (I did get the impression that DD was talking about a faculty travel fund, though.)

However, the way staff and faculty money are allocated will probably be very different. It's more likely for admin and staff to need PD money than conference money, while faculty will be the other way around. This is because tenure decisions partially rest on things like invited conference presentations, and opportunities for formal PD are rarer for academics.

A staffer, on the other hand, will probably go to a PD opportunity because his/her department needs (for example) someone who knows Oracle. That's going to require different evaluation criteria than a geologist who wants to attend GSA on the institution's dime.

That said, the "everyone gets a piece of the pie" strategy is not a great one. I just attended a conference, and did it about as cheaply as could possibly be managed--carpooling, slept in the dorms, etc.---and it still cost about $700. $150 isn't going to make a bit of difference to anyone.
 
Dean..

I didn't claim you said that funding should be restricted to anyone. I said no one here named anyone other than faculty as receiving it.

I still find this amusing.

With respect to the "piece of the pie" approach I understand what you are saying and was not suggesting it play out that everyone has to use their little piece of the pie. Rather that it would be funny (by which I'm not sure I mean "best") to dole out the pieces and then let some kind of trading mechanism decide where they go. So the Language Arts Division could, for instance decide how to use it's pieces of the pie as it wished - even give them to Physics this year, so that Physics can give theirs back next year - the year of the Big Important LA Conference, or whatever.

It's an interesting market-based thought experiment for me.
 
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