Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Report: Three and a Half Years of the VPFA (2019 – 2023)
Creating the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs: A Letter from Kate Willink
I am incredibly proud of our collective accomplishments over the last few years and want to express my deepest gratitude to staff in the VPFA’s office, the Office of Teaching and Learning, and the Provost’s Office. I also thank the many faculty with whom we have collaborated and who have participated in our programming over the years.
Since its inception, the VPFA’s office has been driven by ten core beliefs and animating questions that inform our work:
- Faculty are lifelong learners. Our office should support faculty development, career advancement, and pedagogical growth across the faculty lifecycle and in each faculty series. As faculty develop and grow in their careers, their needs and interests change. We are committed to developing tailored and intentional programming to support faculty across stages that draws on existing data and scholarly literature.
How can we build on research-informed practice, adapt best practices from other universities, and scale successful models from within DU academic units, departments, and programs?
- Faculty-driven solutions promote faculty thriving. Institutional change should be led by faculty, providing authentic opportunities for agency. Faculty know best the pain points and challenges they face as individuals, and within their identity and affinity groups. Faculty are significantly impacted by day-to-day work climate, and often make decisions about staying or leaving based on the culture of their home departments or programs; therefore, initiating and scaling culture change at the department and programmatic levels has the greatest and most immediate impact.
What national models exist for implementing faculty-led and department-level culture change?
- Change matters most when it can be scaled and sustained. Meaningful and research-based change occurs within an ecosystem and is best approached from a systems perspective—with choreographed attention at the micro, meso, and macro levels.
How do we create a scalable and sustainable ecosystem for faculty thriving? Within this ecosystem, how do we attend to thriving at the micro, meso, and macro levels, while rewarding and incentivizing necessary work?
- Equity is achieved through equitable policies, processes, and practices. Only with clear, consistent, and collectively decided guardrails to guide decision-making can we ensure that our rhetoric aligns with our reality.
Do policies, processes, and practices align across the university, and in units and departments/programs? Where could alignment be improved? How do we address equity issues and ensure that all faculty work is visible and valued?
- The quality of our processes is essential to equity, authenticity, belonging, and trust. Trust and ethical deliberation are especially important in high-stakes decisions such as curriculum change; policy and bylaw creation and revision; and hiring, promotion, and reappointment. High-functioning groups implement structures to guide these decisions, such as discussing criteria before deliberation, designing interactional norms and practices that mitigate informal power dynamics, and attending to facilitation, process monitoring, and feedback.
Have we created inclusive decision-making processes that ensure consistency, clarity, transparency, and equitable actions regardless of who is making the decision?
- Shared governance and cross-functional teams of faculty, administrators, and staff are essential to finding solutions in the academic enterprise. Thoughtful partnerships between Faculty Senate, academic leaders (e.g., associate deans, chairs, directors), and university committees are essential for connection, coordination, and collaboration. Such collaborations ensure that equitable policies are developed through iterative and consultative processes that achieve outcomes and avoid harmful unintended consequences.
How can we align multi-year initiatives and committee work that allows for consistent stakeholder engagement, organizational learning, piloting within the DU context, and sequential shared-governance deliberation and successful implementation within a reasonable period of time?
- Connections, relationality, and collegiality create and sustain an academic community and a sense of belonging at DU. Opportunities for connection and collaboration among colleagues help mitigate the academic, neoliberal, and competitive norms that inhibit inclusive or equitable climates. Working together needs to be part of our collective muscle memory sustained by rituals, practices, and rhythms that require cultivation and sustenance.
How do we create networks of colleagues as basins of attraction that bring us to campus for collective gatherings? How do we create a culture where we participate generously in mentoring and support of colleagues?
- Transparent, data-driven decision-making is essential for responsive programming, policies, processes, and practices. VPFA and OTL programming should be informed by data on faculty satisfaction and consistent faculty engagement across campus. This requires consistent surveying with validated research designs, paired with data sharing and data-informed change. Faculty need to be part of data governance to make sure data is clean, accurate, and equity minded. Collecting data comes with an obligation to share it with campus communities and implement change in response to what we learn.
How do we build a culture of trust and transparency in faculty surveys and data, and a concomitant responsiveness by leaders to addressing identified growth areas? How can consistent stakeholder engagement be designed into programming and initiatives, so that our office and programming is also informed by these dialogic encounters?
- A culture of care and appreciation supports colleagues and portends more success. Responsive systems that promote a culture of care and support among colleagues are essential to creating a welcoming and affirming climate. Much faculty work relies on deferred gratification; thus, finding and ritualizing opportunities to celebrate milestones matters a great deal.
How do we design responsive networks of care and meaningful events that celebrate and reflect diverse forms of accomplishment and recognition?
- Good communication supports inclusion. Newsletters from the VPFA and OTL, and responsive and timely web content allow faculty to be informed and learn about opportunities, initiatives, and goings-on around campus. Highlighting faculty voices and perspectives invites broader participation and sharing.
How do we boost the signal on opportunities, policies, processes, best practices, and initiatives, and celebrate our colleagues’ success across campus in a way that penetrates the faculty email deluge?
These core ideas have driven our work for the last three and a half years and shaped the vision of the VPFA position. The following report highlights but a few examples of
the impact and implementation of this critical work.
Jump to Faculty Lifecycles
Jump to Faculty Development
The VPFA seeks to improve faculty wellbeing by improving processes and offering tools to produce a better climate, particularly for historically excluded faculty.
Jump to Faculty Relations
Teaching & Learning
The OTL works to improve and advance teaching excellence and build community.
Jump to Teaching & Learning
In addition to programming and direct support for faculty facing challenges now, the VPFA works towards creating a better DU and professoriate through strategic and collaborative initiatives.
Jump to Initiatives
A Final Word from Inaugural VPFA Dr. Kate Willink
As DU faculty, we are at an interesting moment in higher education, especially at our tuition-driven, predominantly white, private university. In their book Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linski argue that people don’t fear change; they fear loss. At neoliberal universities in this moment of late-stage capitalism, it is worth considering as a faculty: What losses are we afraid of? Are those fears real? And are those losses the ones we should really be worrying about, if we care about the future of higher education and the nature of our work as faculty? These are living questions, worthy of our full attention and best minds. I suspect the pandemic brought more change and loss—both personal and professional—than we can yet fully integrate. As the value of higher education faces greater skepticism, and changes to student demographics and enrollments continue, figuring out what really matters to DU faculty is a critical imperative. Our answers will inform our strategic approaches and day-to-day work to support the conditions of our labor, the way we value it, how we treat each other, and the academic community we co-create.
The future of faculty affairs is in the hands of the next VPFA, their capable staff, and the continuing efforts of all DU faculty, staff, and administrators. The VPFA and OTL staff represent a brilliant, collaborative team. And we are in great hands under the leadership of Drs. Leslie Cramblet Alvarez and Alison Staudinger. My departing words of support would be to keep going and wishing you great success!
Here are some low-hanging fruit for future VPFAs and faculty leaders to consider:
- Create a bylaws bootcamp. Department/program and unit bylaws are essential agreements that provide guardrails to living into our shared values. They are the bedrock of shared governance and support chairs and directors in their discretionary decisions, ensuring consistency, equity, and transparency across leaders. We should all have them, and we can make lighter work of the process by providing a supportive structure and work time.
- Attend to the career needs of full professors and how we support them through retirement. We prioritized early VPFA programming by developing resources for those who needed it most urgently: faculty seeking career-advancement support and contingent faculty workers. We are now ready to turn our attention to full professors and their needs.
- Create a faculty handbook so that all core information, policies, and processes are centralized and easy to find and navigate. As we have more first-gen faculty, this will be a basic equity need.
- Continue to build and support our mentoring programming centrally and within units. Mentoring should be an experience offered to teaching and professional-track faculty as well as tenure-track faculty at each rank.
- Continue to build an equitable ecosystem. Policies, processes, and practices that foster institutional cultures, recognize and value inclusivity and diversity broadly, and in the context of STEM faculty work specifically.
- Partner with Faculty Senate to make some revisions to APT documents, both to value and reward faculty work related to advising and mentoring, and to revise and elaborate some of the guidance on teaching and professional faculty now that we collectively have more experience in promoting and reappointing these newer faculty lines. Also consider the advancement relative to opportunity framework from Monash University and how it might inform promotion, tenure, and reappointment policies and processes to increase equity and faculty thriving.
- Recognize onboarding participation. Partner with deans to provide funding or a course release for new faculty to participate in the new faculty FLC.
- Create more policies, processes, and practices around faculty conflicts and behavior issues for fairness, consistency, accountability, and support of functional departmental and program climates. Conflicts and bad actors can harm and sometimes poison ecosystems for years causing valued colleagues to leave and degrading the quality of our daily lives and collegial communities.
- Formalize faculty leadership development opportunities and pathways. Without institutionalization, growth opportunities may be distributed inconsistently or based on existing social networks, which create equity issues that limit the next generation of higher education leadership.
- Create an associate professor dashboard. Dashboards provide a clearer line of sight on equity issues and highlight obstacles to timely advancement. Consider associate professor cohorts like those implemented at University of Massachusetts–Amherst.
- Fund more staff support around accessibility and neurodiversity. Expand the Neurodiversity Institute and programming for universal design for learning. Consider how to support neurodiverse faculty going forward.
Finally, I believe DU faculty members are an amazing resource for the institution and remarkable teacher scholars. My greatest hope for our future rests in the quality of our faculty and staff colleagues, their talent, dedication, and heart. When I interviewed for this role, one of my slides included the following Marcel Proust quote: “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Thanks to all the charming gardeners I have crossed paths with during this leadership journey. May we all continue to blossom and thrive at DU.