Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!

Julia Williams


Earlier this week I received a notice about the upcoming Fail Fest Wabash Valley 2018, sponsored by our local economic development organization.  During a one-day event, college students can brainstorm new ideas for marketable products, test those ideas, perhaps fail, but then try again.  The premise of the Fail Fest is expressed well in the advertising flyer:  failure leads to insight, understanding, and innovation.

As I considered the allure of Fail Fest for undergraduate students, I was suddenly struck by a thought:  where is the Fail Fest for college professors?  Where is the safe, supportive environment that encourages creative, unconventional ideas?  Where is the place where failure to accomplish a goal results in insight and understanding?   Where is the place where failure results in moving a career forward?

It isn’t easy to envision where the Faculty Fail Fest would take place, since many of us in academic positions understand that failure in our workplace doesn’t usually result in positive outcomes like insight and understanding.

Try a new pedagogy?  If it fails and students record their dissatisfaction in their end of term course evaluations, you may be tempted to turn away from innovation and return to the standard teaching approach.

Explore an innovative research path?  The tenure committee may not recognize or understand the work, or a journal editor may send your manuscript back unread.

Put yourself forward for a new position in your department, college, or university?  As it happened in my case, you may find that the new position goes to another candidate, or disappears entirely because of budget cuts and constraints.  Continue reading “Right This Way to the Faculty Fail Fest!”

Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen

Eva Andrijcic


Does this sound familiar?  You have just completed your PhD and landed your first academic job.  You are the newest member of a department that hasn’t hired a fresh PhD in several years.  Your department head tells you that one of your first tasks as a new professor is to revise and update the department’s core required course, the course that students historically hate and that senior members of the department have taught in the same way for 20 years.  Welcome to your real new job title:  change agent!

Emerging engineering educators like you are often expected to design and implement academic change in the form of new curricula, programs, and pedagogies. The category of “emerging engineering educator,” or E3, includes graduate students close to completion of their degrees and assistant professors who are just entering their first jobs.  And often E3 typically don’t have the mindset or the toolset necessary to implement a successful change project. Think about it:  did your graduate program include seminars on the academic environments and resulting cultures, value systems and constraints that will be the core of your first job?  If not, then you may not feel empowered or capable of implementing academic change. Additionally, emerging educators often lack the skills that are necessary for change agents, like, for example, ability to think strategically, obtaining buy-in, and creating partnerships.

Emerging engineering educators have always been an important part of the Making Academic Change Happen (MACH) workshops and community since we first offered the workshop in 2012 on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. In 2017, we performed a review of our MACH curriculum and conducted a series of interviews with past participants.  From those data, we learned that E3 lack experiential preparation to link MACH to a tangible change project.  They also have a limited and biased exposure to different institutional contexts and academic value systems; for instance, they know their current context and system rather well, but they don’t have much experience with the wide variety of contexts where they might ultimately be hired. Additionally, many of them understand change as something that happens as a result of external forces, and not as a skilled process that is initiated and implemented by individuals.

As a result of our findings, on January 19-20 2019, MACH will host a new immersive workshop, Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen (E3 MACH), open exclusively to emerging engineering educators. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF 1830177), we will fully fund 12 emerging engineering educators from across the U.S.  These individuals will come to the Rose-Hulman campus for an intensive two-day workshop which will focus on three main themes: Knowing Yourself, Cultivating an Allied Community of Colleagues, and Making Change Happen on Campus. Continue reading “Workshop announcement: Emerging Engineering Educators Making Academic Change Happen”

Speaking Truth To Power

Steve Chenoweth

My department once had an idea that we should be able to see the transcripts of all our students, so as to understand how those in our classes, and those who came to ask our help, could be best counseled.

We foresaw this request going smoothly — it would extend our role as advisors in a useful way to more students.  And, as faculty, we were entrusted to give grades, so why were we not also able to see grades?  Other schools allowed this — the notion wasn’t a crazy one-off. The suggestion was so obviously a good thing, we didn’t waste time building a consensus for it before approaching management.

Our request ended, instead, with an impromptu meeting of the entire faculty at which a dean shot down the proposal, while students, administrators, and faculty testified to all sorts of abuses which could be inflicted by it.  Emotions ran high.  Faculty would prejudge students based on past grades, it was claimed.  Who knew what else instructors might do with such unchecked powers?  The word “willy-nilly” was used.  That was that.

The role of the change agent shouldn’t be so crazy hard.  If you know that  something that could be different, and you can say how to improve it, people, especially academic people, ought to listen and consider it using the analytic skills we teach to our students.    This is especially true in STEM educational environments where data and logic prevail.  If this rational approach works in your specific context, then great!  You are all set, and you are almost surely going to offer a change that will benefit students, staff, faculty, and many other stakeholders.

But as my own story illustrates, the change that seems logical and reasonable to you may not appear so to others.  Why doesn’t a good idea always go as planned?  Why doesn’t rationality prevail?  Even as you learn more roundabout ways to appeal to your management, peers, and students, you should understand some of the underlying mechanisms why your objective truth doesn’t “sell” as well as it probably should, or as well as we’ve been taught it should. Continue reading “Speaking Truth To Power”

Change Requires Trust, So Build It

Ella Ingram


I recently read the paper Change Recipients’ Reactions to Organizational Change by Oreg, Vakola, & Armenakis. The authors analyzed 60-years’ worth of research on how the people affected by change experiencing change, with the goals of describing the features of this body of work (like organizational contexts studied, psychometric scales used, sample sizes acquired, etc.) and finding major themes of reactions. They highlighted one implication that stood out for them among all others: “the consistent finding concerning the link between organizational trust and support for change highlights the special significance of trust in times of change” (p. 516). This implication points change agents toward trust-building as a critical tool for making change happen.

The action step emerging from Oreg et al.’s work is for a change agent is to ask herself “What strategies can change agents build trust with those who will be affected by change”? This topic is addressed occasionally in the pages of higher education leadership resources (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education Administration 101 series, Magna’s Academic Leader newsletter). However, it appears regularly in the Harvard Business Review. With just a bit of mental effort, academic change agents can adopt the recommended business-centric guidelines and apply them to great effect.

Robert Hurley describes seven situational factors and associated questions that can influence the Decision to Trust (also the title of his article). Security, number of similarities, alignment of interests, benevolent concern, capability, predictability and integrity, and level of communication represent factors that, when addressed appropriately, increase trust given to managers, and by extension to change agents. Let’s look at just two of these factors: “alignment of interests” and “predictability and integrity”.

When change agents work to gain trust through alignment of interests, they must sincerely engage in understanding the interests of the people their work will affect. Superficialities will not suffice in this arena. Change agents need to know what things their colleagues need to be successful in their goals. Then, ask yourself “How can I bring my work into alignment with these desires?” For faculty, a major goal is often related to professional productivity, things like papers, conference presentations, invited talks, etc. Can your change project create opportunities for this goal to be met? Do you have social capital emerging from your change work that could be contributed to colleagues? For example, if your change efforts increase the funding available to your area, offer to sponsor professional work that simultaneously advances productivity and the interests of the project (e.g., a publishing effort about the change project itself, supported by research assistants, software tools, or a writing retreat). Finding points of alignment is a way to say to people “We are in this work together and can both be successful”.

Predictability and integrity begin with doing what you say you will do. People need to know that your words have weight. Statements like “I’ll send you that article” or “I’ll invite you to that important committee meeting” or “I’ll champion your application for promotion” are implied promises that the person you promised will remember. Deliver on your promises when you say you will, or don’t make them. Other types of implied promises include accepting an appointment request (so don’t miss a meeting without lots of notice), agreeing to contribute to a blog series managed by a close colleague (so don’t blow off the deadline), and offering to buy lunch out next week for a junior colleague who asks mentoring-type questions (so don’t put it off for two months). These example spring to mind because I’ve done all of these trust-harming behaviors. No more. Change agents can’t afford to have their predictability and integrity questioned.

Alignment and integrity are just two important ways a change agent builds trust. A future post will look at the other situational factors that contribute to trust-building.

Some features that affect trust can’t be influenced by the change agent. Risk tolerance, level of adjustment, and relative power of the person giving trust will all influence how much trust she puts in you as the change agent. But, these three factors can be counterbalanced by the situational factors that influence a person’s trust in the change agent. By asking the trust questions regularly, change agents will find that they are led to act in trust-building ways.

So, what will you do in the next day, week, month, and year to align interests, be predictable, and demonstrate integrity? Take action now; you won’t regret it.

Hurley, R. F. (2006). The decision to trust. Harvard Business Review, September, 55-62.

Oreg, S., Vakola, M., & Armenakis, A. (2011). Change recipients’ reactions to organizational change. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47, 461-524.