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On the Challenges of Finding and Keeping Good Faculty

April 19, 2008

By Fields, D Michael

The next ten years are likely to provide the most difficult environment Colleges of Business have ever faced. Finding and retaining good faculty has historically provided challenges, but past challenges will likely pale when compared to what we will face in the near future. Unfortunately, Colleges have become all too accustomed to dealing with the staffing challenges that are created by the shortage in business faculty Since its 2002 Management Task Force report entitled “Management Education at Risk” and more specifically a year later when the Doctoral Faculty Commission issued its “Sustaining Scholarship in Business,” AACSB formally warned business colleges about the severity of the impending problem. In the last five years, in most business disciplines – information systems is a notable exception – we have seen costs of faculty continually be bid up in a classic example of a supply and demand imbalance. AACSB salary figures are an excellent tool to see the effect in the past year and project the magnitude of the increase in the coming year. The key is selecting the frame of reference that provides the most value to you. For me, it has most often been the median figure for public, accredited institutions. Regardless of the basis of comparison, a constant escalation of new hire salaries can be seen. The accompanying problems of salary compression, or worse yet, salary inversion have become our constant companions. A particular frustration that many have and apparently will continue to encounter is the retirement of a full professor whose salary is often not high enough to cover the salary of his/ her new doctorate replacement hire. This is a problem that our colleagues across the campus do not typically appreciate.

If AACSB projections are valid, and there is no reason to think otherwise, the next five years will be even more challenging. While the result of the current imbalance may be a classic example of supply and demand, the reaction of the supply side does not follow a classic model. Although there are exceptions, most business schools with Ph.D. programs cannot find the economic justification to increase their output. Neither have they been able to make fuzzy retail logic work for Ph.D. programs; lose money on every sale and make it up on volume. Globally, AACSB has taken steps such has the bridge program, but I don’t see adequate answers coming from the supply side.

From my vantage point, the demand side in the near future is even more of a source of concern. Market forces, reacting to an increasing shortage, will continue to push up salaries of new hires. In addition, each year, schools with differing priorities, sometimes prompted by an approaching accreditation visit, are temporarily willing to “up the ante” to get a faculty member in a particular specialization. This makes it especially difficult for peer schools that happen to be in the market for that particular position. It increases the likelihood of an unsuccessful search. But the part that concerns me the most occurs when I look at the ages of my faculty and realize that we are typical. The number of hires my college will be making in the next five to eight years is staggering. Knowing that most other schools are in a similar situation leads me to the conclusion that in the next five years, the employment picture with regard to hiring new business faculty is going to be much worse than it is now. At last April’s AACSB meeting, I repeatedly heard deans summarize their recruiting season with exclamations such as: “five positions and two hires” or “three positions and one hire.” My concern is that these less than ideal results may soon be coveted. If you are one who looks for a silver lining, business colleges should get some relief from budget pressures because of the benefits of increased salary savings. The implications are twofold: (1) department heads/chairs should maintain an increased cadre of temporary faculty who can be moved into a class schedule on relatively short notice, and (2) if your college is not presently allowed to retain your salary savings from open positions, there would be no better time than now to lobby for a change in that policy.

So, here is the environment we are likely going to face: (1) the global environment for business faculty is a worsening shortage; (2) salaries are going to continue to escalate, increasing the problems of salary comprehension and salary compression and (3) some peer schools, facing a perceived sense of urgency, are going to make higher offers that we cannot afford or cannot get approval to meet. Regardless of the magnitude, most schools will face a situation in which they will not be able to match a potential faculty member’s highest offer. Schools that have a clear marketing strategy for recruitment will likely realize the best results. Things that have always been common sense – the ability of the department head/ chair and/or the faculty to establish a personal relationship (i.e., connect) with the candidate(s) and fully marketing your department, college, university and community – are going to become essential. If you cannot meet the highest offer, then you must give reasons for the candidate to come to see your offer as the best total package, even though it is not the best offer in terms of money. We have had some success in this area, but it will likely never have the results we would hope.

While we in academe have had something of a “if you build it, they will come” mentality in the recruiting of faculty, we have historically done even worse once we have enticed new, young faculty to join our department/college. In the past, too often we have adopted a “let’s throw them against the wall and see who sticks” mindset. To start, we expected these faculty to be excellent teachers, even though they may not have any specific instruction in that regard in their doctoral programs. second, although we can reasonably expect new faculty to be sufficiently grounded in research methods, it is not uncommon for new faculty to enter their first tenure track position without an understanding of what is necessary to achieve consistent journal publication. Even with this realization, we have in the past too often been willing to invoke the survival of the fittest mentality – a sort of “If I had to adapt and learn the process in order to survive, then so should they” view. In fairness, many – perhaps most – departments adopt a more collegial perspective when it comes to mentoring new faculty But the difficulty lies in the variance that can be found among departments and this speaks to the need of a formal mentoring program of some type. It doesn’t seem right that something so critical to a person’s professional success should be either left up to the luck of the draw or only to those faculty prospects who are savvy enough to inquire about the mentoring they will receive and then include it into their decision making process.

In addition to being more collegial, there are other reasons that we need to more effectively mentor our new faculty Not the least of these is the sheer economics. I have done some back of the envelope calculations that suggest a strong economic argument for having effective mentoring programs. I looked at the cost of a new doctorate hire over five different business disciplines. For each of these, I used AACSB figures to calculate the average salary increase for each year over a six year period for each particular discipline. I applied these percentage increases to the starting salary for that discipline. The result provided a projection of what a faculty member hired in a tenure track position would be making starting their seventh year, which under normal circumstances would be the first year after their tenure decision. As a comparison to this amount, I looked at the cost of a new doctorate hire in that discipline for the seventh year. I repeated this comparison process for each of the disciplines for several consecutive hiring through tenure decision cycles. In an overwhelming percentage of the time, the projected amount the newly tenured faculty member was making was less than the amount the College would have paid for a new doctorate hire in that particular discipline. There are several stones I could throw at my envelope calculations. For example, I am dealing with averages throughout the comparison, the disciplines considered are the result of established AACSB divisions and a salary increase for any accompanying promotion in rank was not considered. Regardless, the results of the comparison merit consideration and further provide support for effective mentoring programs.

I am not advancing any one specific mentoring program. Effective programs will likely be dependent on the environment that exists in a particular college. The most prevalent options are: (1) the department, through the chair or its Personnel Committee, pairs each new faculty member with another faculty member from that department who serves as a personal mentor; (2) the department (or its Personnel Committee) identifies a faculty member who acts as the mentor for all new faculty in the department; or (3) one or two faculty members serve as collegewide mentors for all new faculty in the college. We have initiated a mentoring program using the latter of the options and initial response to the program has been very favorable. However, the point is not that our program is most appropriate for you – that is going to be situation-specific. Rather, it is critical that a college provide sufficient attention to effective mentoring of its new faculty. While faculty recruiting is highly visible and will perhaps require an increasing amount of our time, faculty mentoring goes on well below the surface. Ineffective mentoring can be viewed as a cancer on the college that destroys what otherwise might have been valuable contributing faculty members. Colleges that insist on effective mentoring will achieve little, if any, added prominence because of the programs. The payoff will be better teachers and researchers and more faculty who will successfully move through the tenure process. Whatever steps we can take in the near future to reduce our need to go into the market for new faculty will be particularly valuable to our respective colleges.

D. Michael Fields


College of Business Administration

Central Michigan University

Copyright Ball State University Spring 2008

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