Professional Development at the University of Tennessee

By David Bassett, Professional Development Chair
January 12, 2004
Senate Executive Committee Report

The Professional Development Committee of the Faculty Senate is concerned with enhancing activities that allow us to continue to learn and grow professionally. We have met four times this semester to discuss various ways of promoting professional development at the University. The committee considers "professional development" to mean participation in conferences, attendance at programs by invited speakers, support for conducting research, things that enhance scholarship and research, and collaboration with colleagues at UT and at other institutions. Broadly defined, it would seem that professional development should include students and staff, but most of the committee's past work has focused on faculty issues. (The committee is discussing the extent to which we should focus on a broader, more inclusive definition of professional development.)

The university-wide academic leave policy was a major focus of the committee's activities in previous years. Although many departments had worked out informal arrangements for academic leave, Fall 2003 marks the first time that a university-wide academic leave policy was put in place (establishing a clear expectation for every department). Since the academic leave policy is probably one of the most important initiatives in the last 10 years, it seems important to follow the success of the program. This might include a study of the number of awards, funding sources, and the impact of the program on numbers of contingent faculty.

In Spring 2003, the committee presented a Report on Faculty Mentoring to the Faculty Senate. A formal survey was conducted in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research in Spring 2002. The survey was sent out to 378 faculty members to ask their opinions of the mentoring process. Of those who responded, it was evident that mentoring was valued (by 84% of respondents), but there were fewer respondents reporting that they had received adequate mentoring. There were also a number of comments such as "WHAT mentor?" indicating that the process had not always taken place. The committee had three recommendations on faculty mentoring:
  1. New hires meet with the unit leader to assess mentoring needs. The new hire has the first semester to choose the mentor(s).
  2. The faculty member, mentor(s), and unit leader meet or exchange memos to clarify roles, responsibilities, and how these will be carried out
  3. The unit leader is responsible for monitoring existing arrangements, reassessing needs, and facilitating changes. Monitoring mentoring relationships should be done annually.
To ensure that these recommendations are followed, this year the committee requested changes in the wording of the Faculty Handbook (and annual evaluation form) to help ensure that these recommendations will be followed.

The committee has compiled a list of Professional Development opportunities on campus:
  1. The Office of Research - SARIF Funds- EPPE fund, the summer graduate research assistant fund, the small grant fund, and foreign travel fund -Grant Matching on External Proposals - SARIF Equipment and Infrastructure funds
  2. Professional Development Awards
  3. Human Resources- offers a variety of professional development workshops
  4. Innovative Technology Center (ITC)- offers grants and workshops to improve teaching with technology, online course development, and wireless instruction
  5. Center for International Education- administers the Fulbright program This year, one of our goals is to place information on these resources, with web sites that link to further information, on the Faculty Senate's website.
The committee is now discussing new ways to foster Professional Development at the university. We are agreed that the focus should be on providing faculty with the time, incentives and support to have them develop effectively. There is a belief that we need to facilitate access to information on professional development activities on campus. In addition, some committee members want to advocate for an increase in professional development funds, since these have been reduced in recent years. We're also trying to establish ways to bring people with common interests together, in order to provide a forum for linking up with others who might be interested in collaborative work. One final thought was to ask professional development award recipients to present their findings to the university community.

We recognize that the Graduate Council, Research Council, and Teaching Council also have a role in professional development. If you have any other ideas, please submit them to the committee.

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