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Academic plan town hall focuses on ‘faculty of the future’

02/02/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Scenes during the Town Hall Meeting held in the Alumni Center at Northeastern University on Feb. 2, 2016. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

How can Northeastern recruit a faculty that reflects the diversity of the world? How can cross-unit research groups best be supported? What lifelong learning, mentoring, and professional development will be needed for faculty careers in 2025?

These were among the many questions members of the Northeastern community discussed Tuesday at the latest town hall meeting on the university’s next academic plan, which will guide the university’s course over the next 10 years. About 80 students, faculty, and staff attended the meeting, which was held in the Alumni Center.

The topic of Tuesday’s meeting, “Faculty of the Future,” is one the strategic themes that emerged from earlier discussions of Northeastern’s “essence.” The meeting focused on five discussion areas: diversity, interdisciplinarity, flexible faculty appointments, scholarship and teaching, and faculty recruitment and development.

“We really want to spark a conversation,” said Jay Aslam, professor and associate dean of faculty in the College of Computer and Information Science, who is chair of the academic plan’s “Faculty of the Future” working group.

Northeastern has launched an interactive website for the university community to learn more about the process and provide feedback. The academic plan will serve as the framework for the university’s next long-range plan, which will map out how the academic plan will be put into action. The plan will take shape over the next year through extensive discussions with students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors, and community members. The final plan will be ratified in fall 2016.

Aslam and James C. Bean, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, urged members of the Northeastern community to continue to post suggestions and comments to the academic plan website to foster that dialogue.

On the topic of diversity, law professor Richard Daynard suggested the university look at recruiting more faculty members from underrepresented minority groups through cluster hiring. Political science major Ashley Clerge, SSH’16, urged the university to reimplement support systems for faculty members from underrepresented minority groups in order for them to connect with one another and learn how to better advocate on behalf of themselves.

Other ideas ranged from looking at recruiting more faculty who are working on issues related to diversity to making sure that tenure expectations are tailored to the faculty members’ areas of research and scholarship.

When the discussion shifted to the topic of interdisciplinarity, some faculty members noted that more students are gravitating to study areas that combine or fall in between disciplines. Public policy professor Chris Bosso said that the discussion of interdisciplinarity must also include what the roles of the individual disciplines will look like in 2025. It was also suggested that the university look at what structures are in place that incentivize as well as disincentivize faculty to work in teams.

The discussion later moved to the topic of faculty recruitment and development, with a few attendees suggesting that university-level faculty development programs be supplemented with more programs tailored to faculty in specific colleges or departments.

Tuesday’s discussion marked the third town hall meeting on the academic plan. The next town hall meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1.

Northeastern’s 2006-07 academic plan led the university to substantial new investments in tenured and tenure-track faculty. The university recruited 502 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members between 2006 and 2015, many of them in the senior ranks and with interdisciplinary appointments. Over that same time period, the total number of full-time faculty has increased from 884 to 1,405.

Meanwhile, Northeastern has created the Center for the Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research, known as CATLR. The university has also launched internal grant programs for research and the National Science Foundation-funded ADVANCE program to support women in STEM disciplines, an initiative that has since been institutionalized as the Office of Faculty Development.

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