"Mentors are guides. They lead us along the journey of our lives. We trust them because they have been there before. They embody our hopes, cast light on the way ahead, interpret arcane signs, warn us of lurking dangers and point out unexpected delights along the way." —L.A. Daloz
Mentoring is an important topic in faculty development at Tulane University, and has been a subject of discussion in many committees over the past two years.
Tulane University participated in the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) survey in spring 2009. This survey focused on full-time, tenure-track faculty satisfaction with the promotion and tenure processes, the nature of faculty work, work-life balance, and collegiality and was administered online to full-time, tenure-track faculty from all schools. The survey results indicate a need for increased professional development activities. When asked, 39% of respondents said that a formal mentoring program was important or very important, but that the program at Tulane was ineffective, very ineffective, or not offered. In addition, 26% of respondents said that an informal mentoring program was important or very important, but that the program at Tulane was ineffective, very ineffective, or not offered. (Survey instrument and results are available upon request.) These data signify a desire among junior Tulane faculty to have better professional development opportunities including mentoring. Anecdotal information received by the Office of Academic Affairs also supports these findings.
The Office of Academic Affairs developed an evaluation process to determine what professional development activities are needed to assist faculty in advancing their work and what support is needed to foster informal and formal mentoring relationships. This process consisted of 17 faculty focus group discussions (with 143 faculty representing all units of the University)facilitated by members of the Office of Academic Affairs to ascertain the needs of both junior and senior faculty related to professional development and mentoring. The focus group sessions allowed the staff of the Office of Academic Affairs to better understand what the professional development needs of faculty are and to better understand what is expected of a mentoring initiative.
Mentoring is a critical component of the professional development of junior faculty and fosters the well-being of the institution. Mentoring effectively across the institution will help efforts to diversify our faculty through improved retention rates of women and faculty from under-represented minority groups. Mentoring is also an important component of a respectful, positive work environment. Thus, Tulane University seeks to strengthen its mentoring “culture” by making mentoring a priority and by undertaking and/or regularizing sound mentoring practices, among faculty as well as across the generations of undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty.
Even the word “mentoring” is interpreted differently in different situations or in the same situation by different people. At Tulane, the concept of mentoring encompasses the proffering of information, advice, support, encouragement, honest feedback, problem-solving, referrals, networking opportunities, and advocacy. Mentoring can be implicit, in the form of role modeling, as well as explicit.
In this document, we will address the principles and best practices for mentoring of faculty only, taking care to note that all faculty have additional responsibilities to mentor undergraduates, graduate and/or professional students, post-doctoral fellows, trainees (in medicine), and K-12 students in our community.
Range of Mentoring Settings and Opportunities. Mentoring is a multi-faceted endeavor, with many elements, and we recognize that there is no single approach that works in all situations. Faculty members need mentoring to do their jobs most effectively. The type of mentoring will be dictated by the faculty member’s individual needs, circumstances at the time and the stage of his/her career and desired career goals.
Mentors. Not every mentor will provide all possible benefits, and, as noted, not every mentee needs them all, or needs them from one person. A mentee may benefit from one or more mentors based on his/her individual needs. For example, a faculty member might seek a role model in a person who well balances work, family, and community responsibilities while looking to a second person for advice on journal publications and a third for a take on departmental politics or how to become involved at the national level in their field.
The Broad Range of Mentors, Within and Outside of Tulane University. Sometimes a departmental team or committee approach works well; in other cases, the mentee may benefit from the mentorship of different but “unrelated” mentors, including those from another Tulane department or school. For broader professional development, mentors from beyond Tulane, including former advisors at other institutions, can be helpful.
Mentoring is not necessarily hierarchical or “vertical.” Mentoring of junior faculty need not be done only by senior faculty; indeed, some senior faculty members are not well-suited for this responsibility. Mentoring can also be done by peers. Importantly, administrative staff personnel within the unit are often in possession of much useful information and experience that can be transmitted in a mentoring relationship.
Diversity. Particular attention needs to be paid to the mentoring of faculty of color and women faculty, and efforts at all levels are needed to sustain and enhance the momentum we have in these areas across all schools. Although research, teaching, and service are at the heart of mentoring relationships, mentors should be attuned to specific issues that junior faculty may confront within their everyday lives. For example, faculty from underrepresented groups may have unique demands placed on them by students who identify with them, faculty with young children may have difficulty balancing competing demands, or perceived language barriers may create prejudice in the classroom. There are many unique issues that mentors need to approach in a delicate but professional manner. The 2009 COACHE survey and the 2010 Tulane Faculty Focus Group Initiative highlighted the need for effective mentoring for junior and senior faculty and for women and minorities.
Tenure and Promotion Decisions and the Mentoring Relationship. In general, mentors must have clarity on what is expected of them and mentees need to know what they can expect from any given mentoring relationship. Mediation between colleagueship and advocacy, judgment and collaboration may require specific institutional, school, or departmental policies.
Formats for Mentoring. Just as mentoring can take place within varied relationships, so too it occurs in multiple formats, including but not limited to groups of peers, seminars, workshops on particular topics of interest and need (grant writing, negotiation skills, communication, enhancing teaching skills), panel discussions, one-on-one sit-downs with another faculty member, annual review sessions with a division chief, department chair, academic unit head and/or dean.
Offer Letters –Initiating the Mentoring Practice. Mentoring begins even before the faculty member arrives on campus, with an emphasis in the offer letter (and subsequently in reappointment letters) on such issues as expectations for success and resources available to help meet them. Responsibilities for research, teaching, and service should be clearly stated there, as elsewhere. Strategies for negotiating these often competing demands should be communicated explicitly throughout the pre-tenure years.
New Faculty Hires. Once the faculty member arrives on campus, mentors may be both assigned and chosen. The department, division or school leadership should consider providing mentors, perhaps on short-term assignments for a year, while the brand new faculty member gets oriented to the school and promotion requirements. Opportunities to see and hear about successful mentoring relationships will inspire others to seek out what may work best for her/him. Young scholars should also be encouraged to claim agency in seeking and constructing the mentoring relationships they deem appropriate to their own circumstances and needs. They also should learn when and how to disengage from a mentoring relationship.
Mentoring Through the Ranks. Mentoring can and should take different forms across departments and schools, with junior faculty as well as with graduate students and more senior faculty too. A “mentoring gap,” particularly for women, may exist between tenure and full professorship and between full professorship and named chair. Increased attention to mentoring the associate professor with tenure to ensure continued productivity and increased involvement at the institutional level is clearly an opportunity that is often forgotten, and if done deliberately and well, will enhance excellence in our faculty. Mentoring of full professors to maintain momentum at the peak of their academic careers, to support their activities and to encourage collaboration in strategic ways, will pay off in the long run.
Whatever forms mentoring takes, “best practices” should govern. We begin with the responsibilities of the faculty member, followed by the chair/academic unit head, who plays a critical role in creating a local environment in which mentoring can flourish. The chair/academic unit head should be supported by and accountable to his/her dean, who is ultimately responsible to inform the Provost on the status of mentoring in his/her school. We are interested in real results, tangible effects on the climate and culture within departments, which will foster a healthy and supportive environment for all faculty members. Implicit in this culture of mentoring is the cornerstone of communication of the mission, goals, and strategic plans Tulane is pursuing and in which we want everyone’s participation. The 2009 COACHE survey and the 2010 Tulane Faculty Focus Group Initiative highlighted the need for mentoring programs to engage in these best practices.
Chairs/Academic Unit Heads:
This document was adapted from Duke University.
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