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Number of full professors trails average

Joe Trombello | Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Less than half of Notre Dame’s faculty members have achieved the rank of full professor and the University has the lowest percentage of full professors among top twenty institutions, which may lower the rankings of individual departments.According to statistics provided by the Office of Institutional Research, 45 percent of Notre Dame’s faculty is at the rank of full professor, a statistic equal to or better than a number of Notre Dame’s Catholic peer institutions but one that falls behind the top twenty peer institutions, that have 55 percent of their faculty at the full professor rank.University administrators said that a number of factors, including the cyclical nature of hiring, the increasing difficulty of the University’s promotion standards, the University’s emphasis on teaching as a factor in promotion decisions and the difficulty that some faculty may have in receiving appropriate mentoring all play a role in why Notre Dame has fewer full professors than other peer institutions.Transitional PeriodCarol Mooney, vice president and associate provost, said that changes to Notre Dame’s standards with respect to tenure and promotion might partially explain the smaller number of faculty who are full professors. Some faculty who were either hired or received tenure before the University increased its emphasis on research may not be meeting the higher expectations.”[The] University has been transitioning to a place where research is more important than it has been historically,” she said. “We have some people hired [and tenured] before the research expectations were higher and they have never performed at a level necessary to be promoted.”Mooney said that a committee has been investigating how top twenty institutions handle long-term faculty who do not produce the necessary research to meet promotion standards. She said the committee’s report, which will be delivered at the April meeting of the Provosts’ Advisory Committee, is not yet complete but has reached some tentative conclusions.”The reason there was a committee constructed was to see if we were out of step with other institutions – are we demanding too much,” she said. “Our tentative conclusion is no.”Women FacultyMooney said that she does not perceive the discrepancy between percentages of full professors as a “significant problem,” but she said she does view the lack of female full and associate professors in comparison with other institutions to be of particular concern.”We clearly lag behind in terms of female full professors,” she said.Maura Ryan, associate provost, repeated Mooney’s concerns.”I think that promotion and hiring of women at the full professor rank is a serious problem here,” she said.Ryan said that statistics provided by the Office of Institutional Research indicate that while Notre Dame has a higher percentage of female assistant professors in comparison with top-twenty institutions, the University has fewer percentages of both associate and full professors who are women. While 39 percent of professors at the assistant rank are women – compared with 36 percent at top-twenty peer institutions – Notre Dame lags behind these peers at both the associate (26 percent versus 33 percent) and the full (11 percent versus 16 percent) ranks.Mooney said that the statistics show that more women faculty members leave before receiving tenure than men, but the percentage of women who make full professor is equal to or higher than male professors here.”Once tenured, women are promoted to full professor at a higher rate,” she said.Mooney said that the women’s group WATCH has discussed and focused on this issue, while both she and Ryan have taken steps, including interviewing junior women faculty, to better assess how women faculty are doing.ScienceJoseph Marino, dean of the College of Science, said that eight out of 80 full professors in the department – or 10 percent – are women. Marino said that his College is making significant attempts to hire and promote the best women faculty.”If we were not doing anything at the front end [hiring women faculty], then I would [be worried],” he said.Marino said that about one of out every three recent hires in the College at the assistant level have been female faculty. However, Marino said that he is careful only to hire the best quality faculty of either gender in order to have fewer problems with denial of tenure or promotion.”The key is trying to hire the best young faculty,” he said. Marino said that hiring women faculty is of special concern as more women are continuing to enroll in the College. “We do want to increase the number of female faculty because we want to have role models for students – you want more female role models,” he said.Arts and Letters and MentoringAccording to departmental strategic plans, some departments in the College of Arts and Letters believe that fewer numbers of full professors may play a role in damaging their rankings or their program’s potential.”Our analysis also identifies small faculty size and a low proportion of senior faculty as depressing our ranking,” the 2002 Psychology department plan reads. The plans for the Departments of Romances Languages and Classics respectively have both made the addition of senior, often endowed, faculty their top priorities.Mark Roche, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, noted that those departments have already made great strides. He emphasized that the Department of Psychology recently promoted two faculty members to the rank of full professor and has hired two additional full professors who will be joining the department in the next academic year. In addition, he said the department has promoted eight faculty members from assistant to associate professor in the last six years, the most of any department in the College.Roche said that although the lack of full professors in some departments may be of some concern now, he believes that the cyclical process means that departments will soon be able to catch up.”[I] don’t view it as a long-term problem,” he said. “Although it may affect the next National Research Council rankings, ten years from now I anticipate that we may have caught up.”Roche noted that he identified mentoring to be an area in which the college could improve, and he said that providing associate faculty members with more feedback on their performance and profiles would be helpful in the promotion process.”I identified early on that we had a significant number of associate professors that were not getting feedback on performance and didn’t know what to do to move on to the next step,” he said.Roche said that the college has undertaken a variety of tasks to promote better faculty mentoring. An annual panel discussion was held Friday to discuss the process and expectation of promotion from associate to full professor. In addition, he said that the college has implemented a policy of providing special leave to associate professors who have been at the level for ten or more years. Two grants were awarded in the 2003-04 academic year, with two or three additional grants available for next year to provide a full year of leave to professors whose research and publication records may not be quite up to the promotion standards.”It’s a way to give extra time to associates who … haven’t been able to turn around a research project,” he said.Roche said the level of commitment that some associate faculty members spend on service may leave them with less time to complete research.Other feedback opportunities, such as pre-screening committees, lunch conversations with associate dean of faculty Gregory Sterling and departmental mentoring also provide associate professors with opportunities to gauge their standing with respect to promotion standards. Roche said that although some faculty members may retire without having achieved the rank of full professor, these faculty should consider themselves a valuable part of the Notre Dame community, especially because Notre Dame’s emphasis on teaching as a standard of promotion means that such faculty are inherently well-qualified teachers.”One advantage of Notre Dame is that the culture here is so supportive of good teaching,” he said. “Faculty who retire as associate professors will be highly esteemed.”