Best Practices: Mentoring

Mentoring is perhaps the single issue that most affects faculty productivity as well as faculty retention, particularly for junior women and minorities. Mentoring has been a focus of attention in the College over the recent years, and several new standards and programs have been implemented as a result. Mentoring is complex. In part this is because the needs of different faculty members can differ greatly: some may wish to seek detailed guidance about professional matters, including preparing for the tenure process, publishing, participating in conferences, teaching, and so forth; others may appreciate receiving more general encouragement and affirmation; while still others are more self-reliant and do not feel a particular need for mentoring of any kind.

Mentoring is also complex due to the specifics of individual departments: if the faculty member’s research lies in an area not represented by any other member of the department, or if the faculty member is part of a small department where all available senior faculty are members of the departmental CAP (Committee on Appointments and Promotions) and thus serve in an evaluative role.

For these reasons the College of Arts and Letters has chosen to employ a diverse portfolio of mentoring strategies and principles:

  • All senior faculty should naturally serve as mentors in varying degrees
  • Mentoring (both informal and formal) is one of a chairperson’s most significant responsibilities
  • Annual written performance evaluations of junior faculty by the departmental chairperson are required each January, and annual written reviews of all departmental faculty are strongly encouraged (these reviews serve dual purposes: mentoring and salary recommendations)
  • In the case of non-tenured faculty, ideally CAP or some subset of CAP members should be involved in the annual review
  • Teaching observations and peer review of teaching should be conducted periodically by various senior faculty, not only by the chair and not only during the tenure review process
  • Incoming faculty should be asked what type of mentoring they would like, and whom they might want as a mentor
  • All junior faculty are paired with an official mentor, usually a senior colleague from the home department; the mentor, ideally, should not be heavily involved in evaluation of the faculty member
  • In certain cases, a new faculty member may be given separate mentors for teaching and research, one or both of whom might come from outside the home department or even, in rare cases, from outside the university
  • Cross-departmental mentoring: faculty at any rank who feel they need more or different mentoring should be invited to consult the volunteer mentor list maintained by WALcome (Women in Arts and Letters Coming Together) on this website and make contact with a mentor outside the home department
  • Mentoring should be counted by the departmental chair as a service contribution, and small incentives (such as a modest budget for meals) should be provided
  • Recently tenured associate professors, particularly women, may continue to benefit from mentoring from senior colleagues on issues such as retooling the research agenda post-tenure and managing service demands
  • The Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (ISLA) offers awards of up to $1,000 to faculty members, especially those at the junior level, who seek academic or professional mentoring beyond what is available on campus
  • The College organizes an annual dinner for newly tenured associate professors that serves a dual purpose: mentoring and celebration
  • The College organizes biennial fora for assistant professors on the tenure process and, in alternating years, fora for associate professors on promotion to full professor
  • The Dean and/or Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development (currently John McGreevy and Maura Ryan, respectively) periodically meet with groups of faculty to address matters of general concern
  • Various university and College entities such as the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts (ISLA) and the Kaneb Center organize periodic mentoring workshops on topics such as how to be successful in grant applications and “Teaching Well, Saving Time”