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The Bottom Line: Broadening the Faculty Reward System

by Charles McCallum - 1994

Universities must become more involved in helping society address vital urban issues, and the faculty reward system should be restructured to encourage faculty involvement in urban service. The University of Alabama at Birmingham has made such a commitment, involving faculty in urban outreach, and university officers in clarifying institutional priorities of community service. (Source: ERIC)

How can universities bring their vast intellectual and social resources to aid the cities of America? I believe that universities must be more involved in helping society address vital urban issues. Indeed, this commitment has been a concrete priority of our university, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), for some time now; and, frankly, it has made for productive as well as deeply satisfying experiences. But my first question raises a second: How can we encourage the faculty of higher education to become an integral part of this process? Without deep faculty involvement, colleges and universities can achieve little of lasting impact in this important area.

I will go right to the point. Faculty involvement in urban outreach is hindered by matters of definition and perception associated with the term service. Unfortunately, when most faculty use the term service they often associate it with an unrewarded but necessary activity distinct from teaching and research or scholarship. This perception may be derived from the fact that we often speak of a university's mission as being three separate enterprises: teaching, research, and service. In this light we often fail to recognize the interdependence of the three. Additionally, we in academia as a general rule have failed to develop effective mechanisms to recognize and reward faculty participation in service.

Perhaps it is because I have spent most of my career in an academic health science center, where we interact daily with patients, that I have always thought of patient care as a type of service. And, frankly, this is a type of service that is required of health-profession faculty and that is fully integrated with teaching and research in the tripartite role of the faculty member. Of course, there are many other disciplines where this model can be applicable, where activities and people outside the university receive the benefit of faculty service as well as their applicable teaching and scholarship efforts. Such fields as social work, criminal justice, and the fine and performing arts as well as engineering and business are arenas where integration of teaching, research, and service can be readily achieved, particularly in an urban environment. But, as I said earlier, the pervasive faculty notion of service frequently is one of intra-university activity; and while some level of this type of service is expected, it is rarely rewarded. Instead, real reward usually goes to those excelling in teaching and scholarship. Under these circumstances, perhaps it is understandable--though not applaudable--that most faculty in comprehensive research universities concern themselves more with obtaining grants and performing research and teaching than with becoming involved with serious, integrated service projects in the surrounding urban areas and at the state and national levels.

Although it is no small task, we must temper this attitude, this misperception of "quality faculty activity." Without eradicating our drive for extramural funds to support the extension of knowledge, we must change the pervasive faculty idea that a university's activities can be executed without regard to the needs of the surrounding community and that the faculty reward structure will be limited in its application to those activities carried out essentially on campus or with colleagues at other campuses. We have an obligation to make this change, and what we meet here today to discuss--getting universities more involved in cities--cannot be achieved unless this change occurs. Otherwise, we offer rhetoric--and no real action.

I urge two mutually reinforcing strategies for bringing about this basic change in our university life in America. First, we must focus greater attention on those elements in our institutions where teaching, research, and urban service (as I have defined it) can be united in high- profile community-need projects. Just as health-care delivery by academic health center hospitals is now evolving rapidly to treating patients with interdisciplinary teams of physicians constructed around a disease, such as cancer or diabetes, rather than through the traditional medical department system, we should seek to offer the talents of resourceful faculty where an understanding of a community problem is the focus of their efforts. In this way--an approach some have called ®service learning," with a research component--students, faculty, and community people work together, while the essential triad of teaching, research, and service is at work too. Granted, not all disciplines are suited for this approach. But where they are--for example, in social work, public health, teacher education, public administration, and urban history--this approach should be pursued vigorously. Second, we must change the faculty reward structure to accommodate these new needs of society. And I would suggest a mix of ®top-down" and ®bottom-up" strategies, a "push" as well as a "pull."

As for the top-down effort, key officers of a university must make it absolutely clear that community-enhancement programs are an institutional priority--a must! At UAB, community involvement is one of four overarching institutional initiatives. The leadership of the university, including the president, the vice presidents, the provost, and the deans, must see to it that this refrain of community involvement is sung loudly. These same individuals must not be just cheerleaders-- they must be highly visible participants, obvious participants, practicing what they preach. Likewise, they must make resources available to seed programs and stimulate substantive off-campus service endeavors. For instance, UAB and the Birmingham City Schools jointly sponsor $40,000 in seed money each year to encourage faculty to tackle a community-based project. And there is a real kicker to this program--the only proposals funded will be those where a UAB faculty member has joined forces with a Birmingham City Schools teacher to plan and carry out the project. This collaborative approach is essential.

Likewise, UAB students and faculty from the Social Work, Public Health, Sociology, Optometry, Nursing, Medicine, Dentistry, and Developmental Psychology departments are deeply involved in what we have called the "Titusville 2000" project. Here middle-school students in a disadvantaged neighborhood adjacent to UAB receive eye examinations and other types of health screening in an effort to help these students conquer what some people are calling the "systemic problems" that often block their academic success and cause them to drop out of school. In a similar way, our Sociology Department faculty and students are working closely with city agencies on the pressing matter of homelessness in Birmingham; and our Theater faculty and students deliver to the K-19 students such programs as a sampling of Shakespeare and ®Kids On the Block," a program committed to increasing children's sensitivity to friends who have learning and physical disabilities.

Finally, it is imperative that administrators tell everyone they can about the richness of such activities. From the local Rotary Club to the local newspaper to the campus alumni magazine, every avenue for communication must be used. And all possible avenues for positive reinforcement for faculty and students involved must be used. You might even consider special faculty and student awards for outstanding community service. At the same time, make certain that basic documents of your university's daily life, such as the faculty handbook and the written tenure and promotion guidelines at the college and department levels, make concrete, high-profile reference to the importance of community service and the scholarship that can be produced through this service. Likewise, annual reports of faculty, chairs, deans, and vice presidents should provide a full discussion of community service activity and the attendant scholarship.

As for the bottom-up strategy, this is essential as a parallel to the administrators' efforts. After all, it is the faculty who determine more than anyone else how they will spend their nonteaching time. Although some guidance is offered by chairs and deans, it is faculty who comprise tenure and promotion committees and help set salary guidelines. So this core of the university, this grass-roots sentiment within the faculty, must reflect an understanding as well as an enthusiastic endorsement of the worth of substantive community activities. And to those who might argue that community service is impossible to measure or document for purposes of faculty promotion or salary increase, I would reply that substantive service is as easy to document, perhaps easier to document, than excellence in teaching--and we always have found a way to reward teaching.

To accomplish this goal of faculty embracing the notion of community activities, at UAB we have not only encouraged the types of community projects I have mentioned, but we have carefully sought the participation of certain high-profile senior faculty--often those with excellent track records in extramural fund-raising and scholarship. They are chosen from an array of disciplines, from Social Work, Teacher Education, and Developmental Psychology to Sociology, Music, Optometry, Medicine, and Nursing. These faculty, along with the personnel of our Center for Urban Affairs staff, serve on oversight and planning committees that develop and implement the community projects. Interestingly, UAB faculty and staff currently are bringing in several million dollars a year in grants to support community-based projects. As this effort expands, other faculty want to join the effort, which will involve not coincidentally more interaction between faculty and more community-based research and scholarship supported by extramural funds. As junior faculty come up for tenure, the senior faculty participants are waiting there in the promotion committee to advise other committee members on how substantive the community-based teaching/research/service projects really are. Recently, we promoted and gave tenure to a sociologist, from a department one might characterize as "hard research"- oriented. He moved through the promotion process with great ease with research and scholarship built on several major community-based projects. His salary has been influenced by this work, too. He certainly has not been hurt by the fact that his key colleague on one community project is a faculty member in another department who is an internationally acclaimed developmental psychologist.

As we reflect on this topic of universities and cities, finally, let us keep in mind two central points. First, looking to history, one will find that the notion of universities' working to assist communities is not radical or even new. The first universities in the world evolved hundreds of years ago in urban areas, such as London, Paris, and Salamanca. These universities were created out of the dynamics of city life. Their faculties, while not engaged in the specific types of projects we are urging today, nevertheless spent great and rewarded time in community-oriented teaching and scholarship. Those early faculties often were out on the street teaching and helping solve problems of immediate importance to the surrounding society; and their students often came right out of the city where the university was located. It is time that we renewed our understanding of this historic truth about the mutual future of cities and universities. Second, simple justice dictates that modern cities and universities have no choice but to go forward together. Remember that many of our universities--public universities, at least--were built through tax revenues. In more cases than not, this has been a tax structure that was heavy on the poor and lower middle class and light on the well-to-do. More to the point, it seems that the less fortunate people of America have funded our public universities, and today a large portion of them live in our cities. So I say it is time that we made universities more sensitive to the needs of those who have paid for them. And it is time we believe that our efforts can make a difference in the quality of life of these citizens. To reiterate--this is a matter of justice. And there is no more effective way to go about serving justice than by taking concrete steps toward revising our faculty reward structures. We have talked about the matter long enough. We now must act.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 95 Number 3, 1994, p. 332-336
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 78, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 10:58:27 PM

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