Faculty Handbook 2023-2024

I.4.i. Mentoring Faculty Members

Mentoring untenured faculty members

Untenured faculty members represent an investment made by their academic departments or programs and the College. The department chair is responsible for providing support for that faculty member to continue developing professionally in ways that will realize that investment.

The foundation of this support is the mentoring relationship the faculty member has with the chair (mentor). The mentor should have regular, structured contact with the untenured faculty member to solicit information about the faculty member’s courses and other work as well as to answer questions, brainstorm solutions, offer resources, and normalize and contextualize the difficulties of the early years of academic life. Optimally, this contact should occur weekly or bi-weekly throughout the first semester, and less frequently throughout the second semester. The topics of these meetings might include an orientation to the department, office hours and accessibility, teaching strategies, time allocation, how to make time for research, how to fund research, integrating into the campus community, long-term professional goals, and departmental expectations for evaluations, as well as guidance about logistical matters. Departmental colleagues are encouraged to participate in this support of the faculty member.

Given that much of the untenured faculty member’s efforts in the first year involve teaching, mentors should provide focused support for teaching. Mentors are encouraged to preview and provide feedback on syllabi and other course materials, and to share teaching materials as appropriate. After visiting a class meeting taught by the faculty member, mentors should provide specific, actionable feedback about the class. The mentor might facilitate visits by the faculty member to class meetings of departmental colleagues and discussions with those departmental colleagues about teaching. Teaching should be discussed at formal department meetings or the more informal opportunities departments have to gather.

Additional tips for supporting junior colleagues

  • Facilitate access to nonacademic resources (e.g., housing, child care, school, dual careers). Human Resources is also a good source of information for general information about living in the Conway and Little Rock communities.
  • Foster connections and visibility of junior faculty. For example, accompany new faculty to university events, so you can introduce them to people outside the department. Create an opportunity for junior faculty to present their scholarly or artistic work in a department or campus-wide forum.
  • Make sure junior colleagues have access to college calendars.
  • Protect new faculty from department service, and encourage them to say “no” to most college service requests in their first year. Guide them in selecting service obligations in subsequent pre-tenure years, suggesting areas where their experience and interests could be most useful.
  • Be mindful of the number and timing of new class preparations for junior faculty, especially as they are getting acclimated to the college.
  • Demystify the department and campus culture. For example, discuss the departmental norms for course reading loads, types of assignments, and distribution of grades. Share syllabi to assist their course preparations. Accompany new colleagues to faculty meetings to decipher acronyms and explain nuances in debates.
  • Encourage new faculty members to interact with, and seek advice from, senior colleagues in the department. It is important to communicate early on that you are not the only person in the department that the newcomer can come to for advice. A simple, “You might ask Elizabeth what she thinks, too” may be all they need to feel comfortable approaching a senior colleague.
  • Remind junior faculty of the academic dishonesty policy and offer to serve as a third-person observer when meeting with difficult students.
  • Help translate the formal college policy on what is expected for the pre-tenure reviews and for tenure and promotion. Encourage the junior colleague to talk with the area chair for additional information.
  • Discuss the annual report process. New faculty should anticipate completing an annual report for each calendar year.
  • Advise new faculty to start collecting documents to subsequently use in their pre-tenure and tenure files. This should include graded exams and papers from their courses, letters from colleagues acknowledging service activity, evidence of participation in campus workshops or events, and evidence of professional development (e.g., conference participation, drafts of manuscripts, grant applications, etc.).
  • Encourage junior faculty to attend faculty development events offered on-campus and to apply for professional funds for which they are eligible.
  • Give junior faculty feedback—early and often. This might include reviewing the syllabus for a new course or an exam for a class, debriefing after a classroom visit, or meeting to discuss their annual report.
  • Be aware of common signs that a new colleague is not successfully acclimating to the department or the college.
    Try to identify colleagues who rarely ask questions and generally avoid feedback when offered. 

They may be coming from a highly competitive environment and simply need to be reassured that asking for help at Hendrix is not seen as a weakness and that we are all striving to become better teacher-scholars. Another red flag is a colleague who seems to be constantly overwhelmed. Having a conversation with this colleague about how you manage your work-week between teaching, research, and service and your larger struggles balancing your work and home lives may give them some ideas on how to better manage their time. At the same time, you will be communicating that they are not alone in their struggle. A final sign of a colleague who is having difficulty acclimating is one who only comes to campus to teach and hold office hours, but rarely for larger campus events, informal department gatherings, or to get to know colleagues and students one on one. A simple invitation to join you for the next poetry reading or lunch in the Caf with a small group of colleagues may ease their transition to a more visible, active community member. 

Mentoring Tenured faculty members.

Mentoring tenured faculty members is important in maintaining the vitality of a department. Tenured faculty members face unique career challenges in midlife and/or at career’s end. They are also indispensable resources with historical or institutional memory that can aid a department chair on a range of issues. This is particularly the case for those colleagues who have served as department chair before you. 

Suggestions for creating a supportive environment for tenured faculty members

  • Create opportunities in the department for interaction between tenured and untenured faculty members to prevent generational groups from arising. You might ask a junior and senior colleague to work on an ad hoc departmental committee together or collaborate on bringing in an outside speaker.
  • Ask senior and tenured faculty members for advice on critical matters or for leadership on a particular project. Seeking out a second opinion from someone more experienced than you not only makes your job as chair less isolating, but it also signals to the other person that they are a valuable member of the department.
  • Encourage tenured faculty members to help mentor junior members in the department. You might help facilitate a mentoring relationship based on faculty research or teaching interests and expertise.
  • Celebrate tenured faculty achievements by organizing book signing events, announcing achievements on the department website, or nominating them for awards.  Consider who might be at the right point in their career for a nomination for the Methodist Teaching Award or for a Distinguished Professorship and be prepared to make the nomination.
  • Communicate your willingness to discuss mid or late-career challenges. Point colleagues to useful resources within and outside the college.

Suggestions for enhancing tenured faculty members’ careers

  • Keep informed of your colleagues’ academic work and pass on relevant new book advertisements, upcoming conference and workshop announcements, and funding opportunities.
  • Offer to read your colleagues’ scholarly work if they are looking for feedback from a non- specialist. While you cannot do this for every one of your departmental colleagues, making yourself available when the opportunity arises will communicate your genuine support.
  • Encourage tenured colleagues to apply for internal and external grants to support their research or teaching, if they are not already doing so. Sometimes a little encouragement is all someone needs to submit their work for competitive review.