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Why Connecting with Faculty is Key to Success

By AACC Staff

Administrators share strategies for working with and empowering faculty in the drive for student success.

It’s no secret that engaging students is critical to the success agenda. But, for a lot of community colleges, engaging faculty is just as important.

What follows is an excerpt of an article that first appeared as part of a series on leadership by AACC Associate Editor Ellie Ashford in AACC’s Community College Daily.

If new community college presidents want to ensure success in moving their strategic vision forward, establishing strong relationships with the faculty is a must, though it’s not always easy.

Being available and accessible to faculty members sends a message that they are being heard, says L. Marshall Washington, president of New River Community and Technical College in West Virginia. He believes it’s crucial to reach out to faculty because “they are central to what we are doing every day to make sure our students are successful.”

One of the first things Washington did as president was meet with all faculty and staff at the college’s four campuses and hold meetings with different constituent groups “just to listen to them and hear their concerns.” He also makes it a priority to attend faculty senate meetings and visits regularly with the senate’s chair to find out faculty’s top concerns, such as compensation, workload and the process for approving curricula.

Tough decisions

When Washington arrived at New River, he found there were few major conflicts between the faculty and administration, but “the flow of communications may not have been as open as it should have been.” To fix that, he initiated an electronic newsletter for the faculty that not only updates them on what’s going on at the college, but celebrates people’s successes.

In his early days at the college, he carried out an exercise with staff to reaffirm the college’s values, including civility and accountability.

“I don’t mind disagreement as long as we’re not being disagreeable,” he says.

Conversations with faculty took on more of an urgency last fall after the governor announced a 7.5 percent funding cut for the state’s community colleges — that’s on top of a 7.5 percent cut the year before. Washington initiated meetings with faculty to “elicit their help on how to prioritize goals and objectives for the coming year” and how the college could be reorganized.

Several faculty members serve on a “human capital committee,” which includes representatives from various constituent groups, that reviews the strategic plan and makes recommendations for savings.

Strong relationships

For Phillip Neal, president of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, the importance of having a positive relationship with faculty is underscored by his own experiences as a psychology professor at another college, as well as former provost at Southcentral.

“Relationship” is the key word, Neal says. And that means bringing faculty into the decision-making process. Neal attends faculty senate sessions and meets with the organization’s leaders regularly.

“We involve faculty on just about every major decision,” he says. “Shared governance can’t just be a concept. It has to have teeth in it.”

Faculty and other staff are also represented on Southcentral’s board of directors and the committees formed around the seven goals outlined in the college’s strategic plan.

Students come here for the expertise our faculty bring. It’s very important to appreciate that.

“Students come here for the expertise our faculty bring. It’s very important to appreciate that,” he says.

On the flip side, faculty conduct the majority of the advising at Southcentral, so “for most of our students, that’s the only ongoing one-on-one relationship a student ever has with an institutional official. That relationship is key to student engagement,” he says.

Addressing a workforce problem

As an example Neal cites a situation where faculty from different departments worked together to develop strategies to prepare students for success in the workplace. That initiative, which won the faculty an award from the League for Innovation in the Community College, stemmed from discussions among faculty and local employers, who cited a lack of a work ethic, particularly among younger employees.

During a series of brainstorming sessions, faculty came up with the idea of integrating a workplace ethics practice into all classes. All students are now expected to show up for class on time, turn off cell phones, pay attention to the instructor and treat one another with courtesy — the same sort of behavior expected on the job.

“We all worked together on this, and the faculty uniformly enforce it,” Neal says.

For more ideas about how administrators can engage faculty in the student success mission, including the importance of integrity and how to be more approachable on campus, read the full story on CC Daily.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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