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Energizing the Senior Professor

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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As department chairs we often are so busy with depleted finances and student complaints that we forget our greatest resource-our colleagues, especially those who paved the way. I challenge all chairs to take a careful look at their long-time senior faculty, not just because we are going to be working together longer than once expected, but because the result will be a far more successful department. As Chaim Perelman wrote, once a problem is present and choice points are offered, we find oneness that affirms us all.



The posting below looks at at the Hanover College approach to post-tenure review and its implications for other institutions. It is by by Barbara Oney Garvey and is based on a presentation at the 28th annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, February 10-11, 2011, Orlando, Florida. Barbara Oney Garvey is professor of communication at Hanover College. Email: The article  is from The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Summer, 2011, Vol. 22, No. 1. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066 ( or see:


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academic Career

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Energizing the Senior Professor



Most departments have fewer new faculty due to hiring cuts and colleagues retiring later. Economic conditions suggest that little will change in the next decade. The question is which type of post-tenure review will be the most beneficial for the individual faculty member, the department, and the institution. Hanover College consists mostly of tenured professors, and the faculty adopted a statement of purposes of post-tenure review that embraces a pluralistic approach offering genuinely revitalizing experiences. This article explains Hanover's formative post-tenure review process developed over the last decade. Three areas will be covered: the specific program at Hanover College and the role of senior faculty, the repertory grid example as one type of model for colleagues to find their better selves, and specific suggestions for department chairs.

The Hanover College Model

The Hanover College post-tenure review model offers post-tenure, non-promotion review options selected from the following:

• Faculty Evaluation Committee review every seventh year, summative process.


• Formative review options. Over a seven-year period, the faculty member must address scholarship, teaching, and service in one of the following ways: participation in a peer-mentoring group, individual mentoring by someone who has exceptionally good skills in the area studied, approved series of formative workshops, or approved individual plan.

The senior faculty member's role

I have served on nearly every committee in my thirty years at Hanover, including the Committee on Committees. A few years ago I was chosen to serve on the Faculty Evaluation Committee and was reminded how long it had been since a senior faculty member had been elected. I felt I had no voice and in order to be allowed into the conversation, I relied on self-effacing communication. I began observing communication patterns at faculty meetings and held discussions with senior faculty members who said they felt unheard and overlooked.

After two years of participant observation, I concluded senior faculty used communication in three ways: sympathizer, jester, or complainer. These categories were not gender based. The sympathizer responds to the emotions of the group. This person may have the most information about what is happening at the college, but he or she is not expected to act. The messages are limited to showing kindness and acceptance without being judgmental. There is no questioning or criticizing. The jester has weak positions in the organization just as does the sympathizer. The style, more nonverbal than verbal, is to cheer and applaud the power and work of others by inserting jokes and good humor. The jester has more involvement in the group but receives too much praise for simply acting foolishly. The overabundance of praise causes him or her to develop communication patterns that are self-effacing and generally prevent colleagues from realizing and demonstrating their worth. The complainer angers the group and often is forced into verbal styles more militant than he or she wishes.

The Repertory Grid Method

As part of my post-tenure review, I studied my senior faculty colleagues. How do senior faculty recognize, label, discuss, and define their place within the academic organization? How can departments and institutions benefit from experienced colleagues with stronger voices?

Twenty senior faculty, who had been at the college for fourteen years or longer, volunteered for this study. They were asked about their many experiences as a college professor, including good, bad, and middle of the road experiences. Each person received the following instructions in an interview:

• Step One: Choose twelve experiences you have had at the college that range from good to bad with some in the middle and record one experience per slip that will be kept confidential.

• Step Two: Compare and contrast three experiences at a time, asking which quality two of these experiences have in common, but different from the third.

• Step Three: Rank order the twelve slips of paper from most like to least like the construct.

The grid scores were studied in three ways: Did the constructs fit larger categories or were they independent? What were the strengths between constructs? What do the constructs "like it is" and "ideal" reveal concerning senior faculty beliefs about themselves, the college, and their needs for successful contributions to the college? Finally, grid data were analyzed in conjunction with three open-ended questions: What was your best experience as a professor? What was your worst experience? What would you dream for the college if you could make anything happen?

The following scale was used:

• Grid score 40 to 55: Moderate strength

  • Grid score 56 to 69: Strong strength

• Grid score 70+: High strength

Repertory grid results

Faculty responses fell into four themes: satisfaction, teaching, fairness, and energy (see Table 1). The results suggested not just wisdom based on having a long history but a passion that showed little sign of career burnout. Senior faculty continue to grow and are anxious to help their college find its place in this new century. They worried that the present administration looks at easy answers rather than at deeper college issues. These colleagues complained about red tape, likely tied to demands for more assessment data. The grid reports demonstrated moderate satisfaction, but there could be greater satisfaction if these faculty members felt more respected and recognized as "can do" people. Teaching was mentioned the most after satisfaction needs. The college has a long history of faculty dedicated to teaching; these colleagues continue that tradition and strongly support being student-centered. Given conversation about adding fewer liberal arts programs, uncertainty exists about future teaching assignments. Fairness and energy were the next most frequently mentioned themes. Although past administrative duplicity was commented on, the openness of the new administration received praise. The faculty, averaging 24.6 years at Hanover, welcome the new president's fresh spirit. The strongest concern is that because we are moving in so many different directions there is no identity. Grids showed the need for unity, but doubted whether unification is possible.


Table 1. Grid Analysis


• Growth: depth, not easy answers

• Hard work: freedom, not red tape

• Respect: can do, not helpless


  • Student-centered

• Courses: concern about fewer choices

• Love of it: it is unique at Hanover College


• Colleagues: "us"; does one exist

  • Administration: pro/con
  • Duplicity


• Enthusiasm and freshness

  • Change
  • Unity needed but toward what?


Focused interview results

The focused interviews supported the information gathered from the repertory grids. Twelve faculty responded to the first open-ended question, stating that the best thing about the college was its students. Of those twelve, five faculty said it was students and their colleagues, while five said it was their colleagues only. Seven faculty said the best thing was getting to teach what you loved. Sixteen people said that the worst thing was the political battles within the faculty- smallness of thought and turf battles. Three people said that the duplicity of past administrators made it hard to trust the new administration. Even with the difficult economic times only two people said the worst thing was no money. The responses to "bluesky" wishes continued to support this feedback. Eleven participants wished for more respect among departments and across the college as a whole. In this question money is mentioned by almost one-third of the senior faculty, but not just for themselves. The wish is for enough students so that more faculty could be hired and physical spaces updated. Faculty would like raises and retirement back but it was not their first wish: Almost one-third of the group wished for a clear sense of college identity.

Recommendations for Chairs

To be a professional implies qualities traditionally thought of as rationality, power, decisiveness, activity, objectivity, and toughness. If senior colleagues are not allowed an active role in academic leadership, do they believe themselves to be less of a professional? Might not the reason that so many of the study participants wished for the college to have a stronger sense of identity be that they feel they have lost their sense of professional identity? A variety of negative choices exists to cope with the lost sense of being a professional. One possibility is to care only about harmonious relationships or about keeping a position. In either case there is little concern for the well-being of the academic institution and its performance. A second choice is to do most anything to be included in any decision-making groups but to behave only as little more than a puppet for the decisions of others. A final choice is to withdraw either physically or psychologically in isolation and give up participation.

The repertory grids and the focused interviews suggest that our group does not want to become inactive professionals. There is a high level of energy and dedication to teaching. The average expected years of teaching remaining for these faculty members is 8.5. Both the college and the individuals will suffer without a systematic plan to use the talents of this older faculty group. My work at present is three fold. I encourage senior faculty to use the post-tenure review process as a way to reengage with the Hanover academic community. I take specific projects to our president and academic dean for their consideration, such as the reorganization of a department and a plan to involve retired faculty more deeply in college activities. I asked the academic dean to replace my committee responsibilities with oversight of the whole post-tenure process, because inspiring faculty in my own department cannot be separated from inspiring senior faculty throughout my institution.

As the result of presenting my scholarship at a recent conference, the study took a new direction. At the conference I learned Hanover College's continued review of senior faculty was unique. Of almost four hundred chairs representing diverse types of schools and varied locations, most of the institutions had no or limited post-tenure review procedures. Rather than a long, tedious report due every seven years- the reason Hanover now offers a different kind of post-tenure review-many institutions at this conference required little review of tenured faculty. A commonly expressed view was, "You have to really mess up to have anyone look at your work." Implied in the responses was why go to so much trouble as the Hanover College model if you do not have to do so.

Admittedly, without an institutional focus on post-tenure review, the chair's role to inspire long-time faculty members is made more difficult. The Hanover model offers creative options to keep senior faculty engaged within a department and the academic community. However, looking at just the college's focused interviews, we can see an immediate, less complicated way to address the needs of senior faculty. Chairs could devote a meeting (or one-on-one time) to asking for stories about what their colleagues like best and least about their department and/or institution. I am confident that categories similar to Hanover's of feeling satisfied, love of teaching, fair play, and being energized will emerge.

Is there a department policy that students find unfair but colleagues have not had the time to revise? Could the senior faculty most interested in fairness take that on? How about developing a newsletter that connects a colleague's unique knowledge to a problem of the day, such as nuclear power in Japan or understanding the stock market or the Tea Party protest? Might a support group connecting old and new faculty teach "tricks of the trade" to the new folks but energize senior faculty to "remember when"? Is there a prominent speaker someone always wanted to bring to campus that the whole department can get behind? Can students, working with one colleague, be encouraged to become more active in departmental issues? We hold our dissertations dear; could a seminar be developed using the initial research but updating it to fit today's problems? Might an artist have a showing of old pieces that now offer new meaning? Or could a pianist join a literature professor and a media tech professor to make a DVD of music and readings important over their careers? Is there a faculty member who at one point was especially popular with students but seems overlooked by today's students? Might alumni be brought back to honor that person? These suggestions would fit some colleagues and departments better than others, yet they present various ways to engage senior faculty members who seem to have lost their way.


As department chairs we often are so busy with depleted finances and student complaints that we forget our greatest resource-our colleagues, especially those who paved the way. I challenge all chairs to take a careful look at their long-time senior faculty, not just because we are going to be working together longer than once expected, but because the result will be a far more successful department. As Chaim Perelman wrote, once a problem is present and choice points are offered, we find oneness that affirms us all.

This article is based on a presentation at the 28th annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, February 10-11, 2011,Orlando, Florida. Barbara Oney Garvey is professor of communication at Hanover College. Email: