Last year, when Catholic Theological Union (CTU) initiated a furlough program — five unpaid days — for members of its support staff, an overwhelming majority of its faculty volunteered to join in the cost-saving effort. Since professors can't vacate their classrooms for a week, "they contributed the equivalent funds," says Father Donald Senior, president of the Chicago school, which is operated by a group of 24 Catholic religious orders, providing training for priests and lay people. He attributes the show of solidarity in part to the seminary's decision to disclose fully its financial data at a series of assemblies attended by faculty, staff, administrators, and a member of the board's finance committee.
"There were no surprises. We told them, 'The information you're receiving is the same information our board has,'" recalls Senior, who joined the school's chief financial officer in outlining budget-trimming options and asking for feedback. The response was positive. "People felt informed; they knew we weren't hiding anything, and they wanted to participate."
One of several ways that CTU's administration showed appreciation for the faculty action was to ease the school's sabbatical policy to better accommodate professors' schedules. "We made sabbatical leaves more flexible," says Senior. "It was fine with us if a professor was working on a book project and wanted to take his sabbatical a year early." Faculty also had the opportunity to break up their sabbaticals into increments — a month here, a week there - if that worked to their advantage. "Time is precious to faculty," notes Senior. "If a school can't give more money, perhaps it can give more time. That's what we've tried to do."
Others agree with him. "One resource that faculty appreciate is flexible hours," says Larry Perkins, past president and current professor of biblical studies at Northwest Baptist Seminary in Langley, British Columbia. "The opportunity to work at home or away from the office perhaps one day a week saves on travel and allows time to focus on research, writing, or class preparation."
Name your perk
In a year when budgets are tight, discretionary funds are limited, and salary increases may be out of the question, many theological schools are looking for affordable ways to maintain morale and demonstrate support for faculty and staff. "The key is to make teaching as satisfying as possible," says Eugene Roop, an In Trust Governance Mentor whose 15-year tenure as president of Bethany Theological Seminary convinced him that "schools have more flexibility than they think."
Evidence of this flexibility is surfacing as schools experiment with perks and programs that keep faculty motivated while waiting for the financial picture to improve. A recent survey of administrators and professors at several seminaries and undergraduate Christian colleges yielded a range of creative strategies. Among them:
■ Invite each faculty member to name a "personal perk" that would ease stress or increase job satisfaction. Requests may be as simple as a designated parking space, release from a time-consuming committee assignment, or permission to keep abbreviated office hours on Friday afternoon. Accommodate all requests that don't disrupt the learning environment.
■ Assign a tech-savvy "coach" to every faculty member who assumes online teaching responsibilities as part of the institution's income-generating e-course offerings. "I've only known one professor eager to teach online," says Eugene Roop, who volunteered to oversee a distance-learning course himself because "if I was asking others to do it, I had to be willing myself." Give compensatory time so teachers can build confidence and acquire the necessary skills.
■ Offer full-time faculty the option of teaching classes usually staffed by adjunct personnel. Yes, this adds to their academic load, says Larry Perkins, "but for those with young families and significant financial obligations, this might be helpful for the short term."
■ If professional development funds are reduced, move to a two-year schedule, with faculty helping to establish guidelines for "approved" journal subscriptions, organizational dues, and seminar attendance fees. A faculty member's rank might determine the amount of funds allocated: $250 for an assistant professor, $500 for an associate professor, and $1,000 for a full professor.
■ Schedule one-on-one visits between the school's president and each faculty member, and make sure the meetings occur on the professor's turf. "I get an email a couple of times a year saying he's going to stop by not to talk but to listen," says Dennis Hensley, a department chair at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. "I remember bragging to him about my students' accomplishments and saying that I hoped to get an oversized bulletin board to display their work. The bulletin board was delivered the next day." He laughs. "Now I keep a list of items to discuss when he stops by."
■ Use the school's website to acknowledge faculty and staff achievements that go beyond announcing publication credits or successful grant awards. As an example, on November 11 each year, one Midwestern school lists the names of all campus personnel who have served in the military.
Time to work
|Azusa Pacific University holds its annual writer gatherings at the Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, California.
(Photos courtesy of Michelle Spomer)
One of the most creative ideas comes from Azusa Pacific University, where the provost hosts two writer retreats annually at a nearby Franciscan guest house (pictured above and below). All full-time faculty members can apply for slots, and "I generally have both
retreats filled within 48 hours and have a waiting list," says Carole Lambert, director of research and professor of English.
The purpose of the retreat is to offer professors a commodity that faculty agree is in short supply: time. To qualify, professors must have writing projects under way that they could advance if given two and a half days of dedicated, unstructured time. The schedule includes only two required meetings. At the opening session, participants announce their projects; at the closing session, they report their progress. A publication consultant is available to anyone who wants marketing ideas or who would like advice about preparing book proposals or negotiating contracts. The cost to the university is modest, and the benefits are great. "Genuine community occurs on these retreats," says Lambert. "We have a cordial group of professors across the disciplines who really enjoy being with each other and listening to descriptions of their colleagues' publications endeavors."
The return on the university's investment goes beyond "community." Several of the writing projects have evolved into published books, which boost the reputations of the authors as well as the school. And the benefits don't stop there. A nearby Barnes and Noble now hosts annual book-signing events that feature works that have come out of the writer retreat. For every purchase made, 10 percent goes to support the faculty retreat.