Building an academic excellence framework for faculty

Mark Potter, provost at City Colleges of Chicago, outlines the system's approach to faculty development. (Photo: Adam Auel/AACC)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) has designed a framework to help faculty achieve excellence at all stages of the faculty lifecycle.  

Across its seven colleges, CCC employs more than 500 full-time and 1,000 part-time faculty members. The system on-boards more than 100 new faculty every year – some from industry with little teaching experience.

These faculty are teaching 40,000 students who have “complex lives,” CCC Provost Mark Potter said during a session at AACC 2024. There’s a lot of good work faculty are doing, but student learning experiences have been “uneven,” he noted.

In a Dropped Student Survey conducted in 2020, academic reasons accounted for 21% of students who stopped out. Among those students, the most frequently reported issue was “Faculty did not show interest in my progress or getting to know me.”  

The second biggest issue was quality of instruction.

These results “signal the need for a really intentional approach to supporting faculty in their work to support student learning,” Potter said.

That’s what led to the development and implementation of a framework for faculty.

Pillars of excellence

The academic excellence framework aligns actions and outcomes with the desired traits and dispositions of highly successful faculty. The expected outcomes are improved student learning, a sense of belonging and connectedness, increased student retention and completion rates, a positive college culture and “a sense of purpose and meaning for faculty,” according to Potter.

Through a collaborative process, which included the faculty council, CCC desirable skills and attributes of faculty were determined. They include having a student learning and success focus, being curious and reflective, being self-aware, culturally responsive and actively anti-racist, demonstrating inclusivity in their instructional approaches, integrating technology and more.

To help faculty achieve these attributes, excellence pillars were created and mapped to the faculty lifecycle. That means that whether a faculty member is on-boardeding, has just become tenured, is mid-career (where most CCC faculty are) or has been at the college for more than 30 years, resources and development are available to them.

That’s a different approach. Faculty have always been engaged very deeply in the tenure process, but “we hadn’t been paying attention to on-boarding,” said Deputy Provost Stacia Edwards. And there wasn’t much in development for people after they get tenure.

As a whole, professional development across CCC often came as a “one-off,” Edwards said. Faculty were “so hungry” for more. This new framework can “help them build in areas where they want support,” she said.

Many of the resources are available online so faculty can access them anytime.

The framework also prioritizes “celebration, reflection and accountability,” Edwards added.

Building momentum

There have been challenges along the way in developing and implementing the framework.

Each of the seven colleges in the system is unique, so one challenge is to deliver things specific to each college but that are connected across the district to a similar theme. Fortunately, the presidents at each of the colleges are supportive of framework and “leading with a consistent voice,” Potter said.  

Another challenge: Not all faculty are eager to participate in activities. Sometimes they are compensated for their participation and sometimes “we appeal to their intrinsic motivation,” Potter said.

But it is good to start with a “coalition of the willing and build momentum” from there, Edwards advised.

It was even occasionally hard to convince faculty with demonstrated excellence to participate.

“It hasn’t been part of the culture where faculty could stand up and talk about what’s making a difference,” Potter said. “We’re trying to create that culture.”

None of the work is meant to disparage faculty or be a “gotcha,” Edwards said.

“This is about being meaningful to them,” she said.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.
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