College Quarterly
Summer 1997 - Volume 4 Number 4

The Challenge of Faculty Renewal.

by Andrew Cheeatow


As we near the new millenium, college educators must confront the classroom manifestations - interelated tranformations in student expectations, attitudes, behavioral norms, pre-enrollment skill levels and ethnographic diversities - of an unprecedented era of rapid and profound socio-economic change. These transformative pressures, compounded by the aging demographic profile of college faculty, present new challenges for pedagogical theory, institutional policy, and standards of practice, and they have led to increased concern about faculty renewal and revitalization.

This brief paper offers an overview of select literature and some commentary on the issues which attend that subject, and argues that teachers, students and institutions all benefit from effective faculty renewal programs.


Much of the pertinent literature on the subject seeks to identify key elements in faculty renewal efforts, and reports on various innovative approaches within the context of continuing professional development. A persistent theme is that improving community college instruction requires strategies, resources, and programs which address professional skills issues through sensitizing and strengthening the institutional culture in which that teaching takes place; in other terms, good teaching is a reflection of its professional environment.

In her review of the current literature on faculty development and renewal, Hirshberg (1992) focuses on instructional improvement, subject-area knowledge and faculty enthusiasm as the interrelated bases of better community college teaching. She argues that the continuing rapid growth of knowledge and, in particular, the exponential expansion of the technical information base requires that in the same way that colleges update their physical plant and equipment, they also must continuously renew and revitalize their 'intellectual assets.'

In the absence of such efforts, the prognosis for college faculty is increased vulnerability to (especially mid-career) instructor burn-out, described as "depression, envy, physical and emotional fatigue ... and a lack of vitality." A self-assured enthusiasm for teaching and an easy familiarity with developments in one's field are perhaps the most important 'tools of the trade' and in their absence, instructors cannot motivate others. Instructors who cannot demonstrate such confidence cannot impart the most current knowledge in the most effective manner possible, and their teaching will not meet student needs (Hirshberg, 1992).

The notion of faculty "burn-out" appears in much of the literature, and represents a major theme in the concern for renewal. McCarty (1993) characterizes burn-outs as typically negative, angry and embittered, and notes that some become "character assassins" who belittle or embarrass their students. In McCarty's experience of working with remedial support groups, successful modification of such behaviors requires a humanistic approach, encouraging personal growth and building self-esteem. Such therapeutic attentions are of unquestionable value, but are unlikely in themselves to address the problems which underly widespread faculty disaffection.

Those problems have to do with institutional culture and perception. In the context of a 20-year decline in public belief in public-institutional legitimacy, what the public thinks of educators (and many others who work in similar public and private non-profit organizations) cannot help but condition what educators think of themselves. Declining faculty morale can be seen across all educational levels and in virtually all institutions, and the message of that malaise is making the teaching profession a less attractive career option.

Simpson and Jackson's (1986) paper documenting implementation of a faculty development model for the University of Georgia argues that "... economic and demographic factors have combined to produce relatively immobile, 'graying' faculties in need of opportunities for both personal and professional renewal," and they note that faculty substance abuse (mainly alcohol) has become a serious problem on US campuses.

Similar comments appear in reports of a two-year study by Hoerner et al (1991), which surveyed the professional development programs of over 1,200 American community, technical and junior colleges, more closely examined a small number of individual cases, and found common and persistent concern about faculty morale, efficacy beliefs, confidence, and vitality.

It is arguable that traditional professional development efforts have failed to address these needs, a particularly significant shortfall in the context of an aging faculty profile. Saffell (1986) calls for colleges to recognize these difficulties by way of research grants and sabbatical leaves, allowing mid-career faculty members to bring new insights and experience to their classrooms and institutions. In exploring ways to better match faculty development efforts to individual needs through teaching portfolios ("a collection of documents and reflections representing a faculty member's teaching ability") Murray (1994) notes that veteran faculty "... usually do not need to be developed; they need renewal - renewal of the spirit. They need a chance to recall and reflect on why they became teachers."

Increased business community demands that educators better prepare students for the complexities of the modern workplace has led to calls for major changes to educational practice, and this has important implications for professional development. Research by the Irvine Group (1990) concluded that general efforts to rehabilitate undergraduate education must include faculty revitalization. Rossmiller's (1984) review of professional development literature uncovered links between faculty renewal programs and increased learning, and cited the (US) Task Force on Education for Economic Growth's finding (1983: 37) that despite the usual claim of a high priority for improving educational practice, "the lack of opportunity for in-service training is deeply discouraging."

That report also recommended that improvements in the US public educational system include "... better pre-service and in-service education programs for teachers, so that they can constantly enrich their academic knowledge and improve their skills."

The American Federation of Teachers Professional Development Guidelines (1995) note that while educational reforms depend on professional development traditional staff development efforts have failed, because: (a) professional development experiences are not deep enough, varied enough or well-enough supported, (b) school policy and organization are at odds with new theory, (c) individual and/or collective employee concerns are ignored, and (d) fads and new doctrinal approaches are accepted without full understanding or consideration of their implications. In response, the AFT guidelines represent a reformist focus on content knowledge, pedagogy, student instruction, and faculty involvement in the developmental process.

In this author's own experience, the challenge of faculty renewal extends beyond the traditional classroom to encompass clinical instruction in a hospital setting, in which faculty and staff are responsible for the supervision and instruction of students during their various learning rotations. When increased public advocacy and government scrutiny of health-care professional practices is added to the usual pressures of daily performance and adaptation to improved technologies and new therapeutic modalities, and when now-commonplace fiscal restraint, restructuring, and downsizing policies give veteran therapists and instructors little opportunity for advancement or change, the result is widespread uncertainty and a serious decline in staff morale.

Under such circumstances, it becomes all too easy for institutions to put aside the need for professional development programs in favor of other priorities, and some health-care institutions have down-sized professional development efforts out of existence. This is short-sighted and counterproductive, for restructuring cannot be successful without the understanding and "buying-in" of employees, and professional development programs are key facilitators of just that sort of participative change in institutional culture.

A retreat or "renewal conference" is one way to jump-start professional renewal. Participants can more easily interact, reflectively and co-operatively, away from the constraints of time and the distractions of daily work; physical separation from their usual institutional setting breaks down organizational and hierarchical barriers which otherwise inhibit free expression and collegial exchange. Locating professional development workshops and conferences at resorts or other non-institutional venues often attracts more volunteer participants.

Blank and Kershaw (1993) report on the positive outcomes of a retreat, which involved both faculty and parents, designed to promote the revitalization of a rural high school. In this case, the primary goal of the organizers was to improve the quality of school life for all members of the school community. Team-building exercises with clearly defined processes allowed participants to get to know each other in a non-threatening and relatively unstructured environment, and helped them to create a single collaborative vision of the "ideal" school.

All of this was helpful to individuals, and some of it was very useful to some particular groups, but the researchers concluded that the chief benefits of this experience were generalized, integrative, and cultural: enhanced relationships, better-understood roles and perceptions, strengthened efficacy beliefs, and greater community confidence in the institution.

Jackson and Simpson (1986) report on the particular success of an annual renewal conference developed by the University of Georgia's Office of Instructional Development, in a program which addresses both personal and professional issues. The program recognizes that despite a variety of institutional circumstance, post-secondary faculty now face common problems of stress, burnout, lack of opportunities for change, and limited financial reward.

The success of the two-day Georgia conference was attributed to a number of key elements, including (a) co-option of senior faculty and support staff in planning, (b) participation of all elements in agenda-setting, (c) the use of presenters and facilitators drawn from within the institution, (d) the identification of follow-up activities, (e) the involvement of spouses, and (f) an emphasis on thorough organization.

That success reinforces the notion that useful faculty renewal efforts alter conventional patterns of perception and change personal, professional, and social interactions; thus, renewal involves nothing less than changing and revitalizing the institutional culture.

A report on a faculty renewal program hosted by Leland Stanford University endorses a broad approach to faculty development which includes "relationships between what instructors teach, what they think about when they teach, what they think about themselves personally and professionally, what they think about their institution and finally, how this relates to classroom practice" (Menges et al, 1988: 291). The Stanford program was comprised mostly of brief annual summer workshops established to give post-secondary faculty members from throughout the country an opportunity to revitalize scholarly commitment through contact, study and discussion.

In surveying participants' evaluation of that experience, the researchers suspected that most participants' satisfaction with particular elements of the conference experience would be strongly related to their pre-stated workshop interests, and this was generally supported by the data. Menges et al found high levels of conference participant satisfaction relating to discipline knowledge, scholarly enthusiasm, teaching methods, attitudes toward colleagues and integration of personal and professional goals.

Research observations of some of the workshops showed a clear need for emotionally supportive activities, and feature numerous faculty descriptions of demoralizing professional situations arising from increased teaching hours and other additional responsibilities. The conclusion was that development efforts "need to foster emotional renewal" alongside disciplinary and pedagogical development, and the Stanford program has attempted to further this process by holding reunions for the workshop groups (Menges et al, 1988).

Hanoch McCarty's professional growth strategy is similarly about 'addressing human needs,' in which she refers to 'nine building blocks of self-esteem' in working with burned-out faculty: safety, identity, connectedness, power, meaningfulness, risk-taking, models and mentors, counseling and fun; individuals who can successfully address these needs gain confidence and are more likely to behave in motivated, productive and creative ways (McCarty, 1993). In this view, suitably designed developmental workshops and faculty retreats are those which promote such personally-restorative concepts and take a holistic approach to faculty renewal.

Another, not uncomplementary approach is the use of teaching portfolios (as described above). While teaching portfolios are often required in assessment for promotion or in performance appraisals, they also can be used to individualize faculty development efforts, and to inspire personal renewal and greater positive motivation (Murray, 1994), through providing a better understanding of one's own accomplishments and the patterns revealed by such collections. Teaching portfolios also help to maintain institutional memory, and by documenting events and responses to change in the experience of individual careers, can provide a cumulative source of guidance for those struggling to manage current difficulties.


While college educators in unprecedented numbers are now experiencing the not inconsiderable personal and professional angst associated with their passage through middle-life and mid-career, they must also cope with significant change in the characteristics of student populations, in the expectations of the community, in the demands of special interests, and in the natures of public policy, pedagogical theory, and professional practice.

There is a crisis of confidence both in and within post-secondary educational institutions and particularly community colleges. That is exacerbated by an often aging and overworked faculty, a decaying knowledge base, omnipresent funding shortfalls, and increased demands for greater efficiencies. And that crisis is further aggravated by an inherently conflicted attempt to deliver institutionally-competitive college programs which purport to simultaneously provide extraordinarily diverse student populations with remediation, self-realization, the opportunity to redress social grievance and historical disadvantage and of course, vocational preparation.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that many college faculty members are disaffected, unconfident in their institutions, and increasingly cynical about their profession, and that in competition with other career choices fewer of our best and brightest students choose academic scholarship and teaching.

These problems have profound (if often seemingly indirect) socio-economic implications, even in the near-term. They are difficult to manage within the conventions of traditional labor-management relations, and they are remarkably unamenable to technological remedy. They all too often attract expedient quick-fixes and faddist solutions, and their persistence threatens the core values of liberal education.

Research in this field has demonstrated the success of faculty renewal and revitalization efforts under the aegis of professional development. Those programs variously address work conditions, collegial and community perceptions, the links between personal and professional well-being, maintaining discipline knowledge and teaching skills, and morale issues. That requires sensitizing and strengthening the institutional culture and providing faculty with participative opportunity to influence institutional governance and the process of organizational change, fostering collegial exchange and professional recognition, encouraging personal growth, and building self-esteem.

These objectives can be operationalized through the use of teaching portfolios, in-house workshops, individual counseling and group support, through financial supports for continuing education and for research sabbaticals and even non-academic leaves, and through the organization of conferences and retreats, follow-up working groups and like activities.

In facilitating faculty renewal, colleges can promote individual growth, scholarly enthusiasm, and a renewed interest in knowledge and teaching. Improving the professional environment and creating a more capable and confident faculty will be reflected in better community college instruction, a revitalized institutional culture and increased public respect and support.

Ultimately, faculty renewal enriches the institution and will produce better students who know more, and can learn more, and community colleges can make no better investment than rebuilding their 'intellectual assets' through programs of faculty renewal and professional development.


American Federation of Teachers (1995). Principles for Professional Development: AFT's Guidelines for Creating Professional Development Programs that Make a Difference. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Blank, M., and C. Kershaw (1993). "Promote School Renewal: Plan a Retreat." Clearing House, 66(4): 206-208.

Hirshberg, D. (1992). "Faculty Development and Renewal: Sources and Information." New Directions for Community Colleges, 79: 95-101.

Hoerner, J., D. Clowes, M. Lichtman, and M. Allkins(1991). Professional Development Programs, Leadership and Institutional Culture: Lessons from a Study of Professional Development Programs for Community College Occupational-Technical Faculty. Berkeley, CA: National Center for Research in Vocational Education.

Irvine Group (1990). Renewing Undergraduate Education: Recommendations from the Irvine Group. New York: Carnegie Corporation.

McCarty, H. (1993). "From Deadwood to Greenwood: Working with Burned Out Staff." Journal of Staff Development, 14(1), 42-46.

McDade, S. (1987). Higher Education Leadership: Enhancing Skills Through Professional Development Programs. Association for the Study of Higher Education: Washington, DC.

Menges, R., B. Mathis, D. Halliburton, M. Marincovich, and M. Svinicki (1988). "Strengthening Professional Development: Lessons From the Program for Faculty Renewal at Stanford." Journal of Higher Education, 59(3), 291-304.

Murray, J. (1994). "Why Teaching Portfolios?" Community College Review, 22(1), 33-43.

Rossmiller, R. (1984). Changing Educational Practice Through Continuing Professional Development Programs. Paper presented at the 1984 meeting of the Inter-American Congress on Educational Administration, in Brasilia, Brazil; available on Internet through the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) resource database.

Saffell, D. (1986). "The 15-Year Itch: Career Renewal for Middle-Aged Faculty Members." Chronicle of Higher Education, 33, 44.

Schoenbach, R. (1994). "Classroom Renewal Through Teacher Reflection." Journal of Staff Development, 15(1), 24-28.

Simpson, R., and W. Jackson (1987). New Directions for Teaching and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Simpson, R., and W. Jackson (1986). "The Implementation of a Faculty Development Model Emphasizing Personal as well as Professional Renewal." Education, 106(4), 434-441.

Task Force on Education and Economic Growth (1983). Action for Excellence. A Comprehensive Plan to Improve Our Nation's Schools. Denver, Colorado: Education Commission of the States.

Andrew Cheeatow is a registered respiratory therapist at a Toronto hospital, a medical technology firm sales representative, and an MA(Ed) candidate with a special interest in professional development in clinical teaching organizations.


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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1997 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology