TITLE: If You Want to Help Students, You May Want to Help Faculty AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 26, 2015 2:59 PM DESC: ----- BODY: In The Missing Middle, Matt Reed recommends a way for donors to have a real effect at teaching universities: pay for conference travel.
I've mentioned before that the next philanthropist who wants to make a massive difference in the performance of teaching-intensive public colleges -- whether community colleges or the smaller four-years -- could do it by underwriting conference travel. Right now, most colleges are lucky to send one or two people to most conferences. When an entire team attends the same presentation, it's much easier to get what chemists call activation energy. I've seen it personally.
This echoes a conversation the department heads in my college had earlier this month. Ongoing professional development is important for faculty, both in their research and their teaching. Faculty who are struggling in the classroom need more help than others, but even good teachers need to have their batteries charged every once in a while. There tends to be more support for faculty development in their research than in their teaching, even at so-called teaching universities. Even so, professional development in research is often a natural side effect of external funding for research, and faculty at these universities don't always conduct research at a scale that is competitive for external funding. And faculty development in their teaching? There aren't many sources to support this other than the university budget itself. Given the current state of funding for public universities, which is likely the new normal, these funds are being squeezed out of the budget, if they were ever present at all. Professors need to stay current in their profession, and many need to address weaknesses over the course of their careers. When universities neglect faculty development, the faculty suffer, and so do their students. Often, the best way to help students is to help the faculty. All that said, I am not holding my breath that dollars will be coming in from donors any time soon. People love to help students directly, but indirect support for students and support for other parts of the university are notoriously hard sells. -----