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Posttenure Faculty Development:
Building a System of Faculty Improvement and Appreciation

By Jeffrey W. Alstete
180 Pages
July 2000
ISBN: 0-7879-5572-8 (paperback)

Reviewed by

Nancie Fimbel

Associate Dean, College of Business
San José State University


Alstete's title characterizes the contents of his book extremely well: he describes development programs that have the intent of keeping senior faculty content with their choice of careers, U.S. professorships. Fortunately, Alstete is not naive; he knows that some faculty will interpret any administrative move to develop them as coercive and suggestive of the fact that they are unproductive. But this is not his own view. Following the literature in human resource management, he recognizes that all employees experience cycles of varying interest during their careers, and he argues that faculty, too, should be expected to emphasize different aspects of their jobs as they mature. Thus, starting from a definition by Eble and McKeachie (1985), Alstete defines posttenure faculty development as "activities that seek to improve student learning, teaching, scholarship and service in higher education by developing personal, instructional, organizational, and curricular aspects of faculty members who have earned tenure" (p. iv).

This is not a book about faculty evaluation. In fact, Alstete recommends that posttenure development and faculty review or evaluation be kept separate because their purposes are different (pp. vi, 10). When an evaluator attempts to counsel a faculty member to perform better, and, at the same time, to judge the professor's current performance, perhaps with consequences to that individual's salary, the professor has little choice but to accept the counsel as mandate (p. 10). Further, the professor can hardly admit to any failings or weaknesses because he or she may be jeopardizing his or her chances of receiving any merit increase the evaluator might be in a position to offer.

Still, as his definition of faculty development makes clear, Alstete's focus is on improvement. This book is about improvement. It is about faculty teaching better, being more productive in research, and contributing more fully to the work that institutions rely on faculty to do, from revising curricula to devising institutional policies. Alstete describes several model improvement programs, all primarily designed by faculty, that assist faculty in defining and implementing professional lives of which they and the institution can be proud. He characterizes the model programs into four types:

  • those that enhance personal development by focusing, for example, on career planning or assertiveness development;

  • those that emphasize professional development in content areas, in research methodology, or in grant or consulting opportunities;

  • those that concentrate on instructional development such as course design or the preparation of learning materials; and

  • those that focus on organizational development, including management training for prospective chairs, committee work to recommend such institutional improvements as departmental technology choices, or consulting with administrators to diagnose and correct institutional weaknesses (pp. 32-34).

Alstete does not recommend one type of program over another because "adult and academic career life can be viewed as a fluid cycle of seasons, where individuals revisit tasks, challenges, phases, and stages dozens of times during an academic career" (p. 23). A program that is ideal for an individual at one point in life may not be as interesting later in life or to another individual. (The book is less convincing when Alstete does try to characterize faculty stages. At one point, for example, he says that new and nontenured faculty need instructional and personal development and senior faculty need organizational programs [p. 37]. This is certainly "the common wisdom" but it is true only if all faculty are assumed to want to follow the pattern of publishing early in their careers and turning to service later.)

Despite the main thrust of his argument that faculty development should be available for the sake of the individual, Alstete also recognizes that an institution will profit from investing in senior faculty. He says, for example, that

at the current time . . . intellectual contributions in the form of recognized peer-reviewed research is [sic] still important to many institutions and accrediting agencies. . . . The number and quality of refereed journal articles is [sic] still a widely used benchmark for estimating the quality of faculty. . . . Therefore, tenured faculty should be encouraged and motivated to continue producing research articles while at the same time developing their teaching skills. (pp. 14-15)

In short, Alstete sees faculty development as a win-win proposition for both the individual and the institution.

Perhaps Alstete does not make enough of the fact that "faculty at research institutions tend not to view themselves as employees of the institution but as contractual consultants to the university" (p. 35). Some faculty at comprehensive universities like ours surely feel the same, making it a large number of faculty who feel this way. They identify with a discipline more than with the institution where they happen to do their work. Such faculty may value their individual intellectual or artistic contributions to society more than their contributions to the organization that is the university or even the students whom the university educates. They may have little interest in learning how to motivate students or write a policy on distance education. And what if they do not wish to do these things? Can we conclude that they must be recommended for a development program? Alstete does not answer this question. He assumes that his readers know who needs development, or at least that their institutions have a procedure in place to find out. He also assumes that those who do not respond to development programs should and can be penalized in some way. He alludes to "mechanisms" that colleges and universities can use to weed or terminate faculty who fail to respond to development opportunities, though he does not specify what they are (p. vi, 64).

Alstete concludes his book by cataloguing many of the changes that U.S. higher education faces by virtue of the environment in which it exists. For example, he mentions the importance to pedagogy of new technologies, changing student demographics, and public pressure to contain the cost of education. He also raises the issue that the public has questions about the value of tenure. Having cited the overwhelmingly high percentage of colleges and universities that currently offer faculty tenure, he does not engage the issue in any depth (p. 3). Perhaps the topic is best left to another book, but it seems relevant to a chapter with the title "Why Is Development of Tenured Faculty a Concern?"

In sum, this is an interesting book with good ideas for designing programs that will stimulate faculty and assist them in avoiding burn-out. It is not obvious to me that the programs described should be restricted to posttenure faculty. From his own discipline in business, Alstete himself recognizes that faculty at all stages of their careers can derive value from development programs (pp. 21, 23). Quoting the management guru Frederick Herzberg, Alstete describes faculty as "highly motivated when they find the work itself intrinsically satisfying and challenging, feel they have a role in decision making, and are involved in the management of the organization" (p. 22). Paralleling business, educational institutions would be wise to motivate all employees, however junior or senior. Programs open only to posttenure faculty imply that these individuals need particular attention if they are to maintain or regain their productivity. By contrast, programs open to all faculty recognize the cycles of a career that Alstete claims to believe in.

Alstete's favorite programs are those that are available to faculty whenever in their posttenure years they seek them, for the purposes the faculty member and the institutional representative agree upon. They are separate from evaluation and salary processes, but they extend over time and include internal assessment mechanisms. Alstete believes both required and optional programs can be equally successful as long as the mission of the institution guides the offerings and as long as they are championed by faculty with background support from the institution's administrators. No doubt Alstete would approve of our own CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL). Since, as he admits, "no underlying theory exists for posttenure faculty development" (p. 28) as yet, the model of ITL, with its varying foci at each of the CSU campuses, would surely earn high praise for its attempts to encourage faculty members to remain productive through their careers.

Posted July 30, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2002 by Nancie Fimbel.

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