In this two-part series, Georgiana Bostean and Richard Carpiano discuss both the promises and the pitfalls of joint appointments. In Part 1, they discuss the structural challenges facing both institutions and scholars. In Part 2, they present important actions for both administrators and faculty negotiating these exciting and challenging roles:
In an effort to increase interdisciplinarity, institutions are increasingly hiring tenure-track faculty in joint appointments across departments, colleges, or schools. These positions provide strategic opportunities to augment or expand a unit’s profile and expertise into exciting and vibrant intellectual areas that either draw on existing campus strengths or help to foster new ones.
Scholars who are interested in, or are currently in, a joint-appointed faculty position should be aware of both the potential opportunities and challenges of these positions. In this post, we discuss some of the structural issues of these positions, and offer strategies for success regarding what institutions can do to facilitate faculty success, and what individuals can do to successfully navigate the challenges.
The structural realities
To develop individual strategies for success in such positions, it is essential to first recognize the structural realities. Perhaps most importantly, consider how interdisciplinarity may or may not fit into institutional priorities, culture, and policies at many universities. Success in a joint appointment is not simply the job of the scholar. Success also depends in large part upon the institution—namely administrators (dean, chairs) and even colleagues who may vote on merit evaluations as well as tenure and promotion reviews.
Institutional challenges and barriers to success include:
- A misalignment between the stated value of interdisciplinarity and actual institutional procedures, such as those regarding tenure, raises, reviews, and promotions.
- Undervaluing the interdisciplinary research of joint-appointed individuals in institutions with strict disciplinary structures.
- Faculty retention, especially when faculty in joint positions report higher workloads. A common adage is how a joint (“50-50”) appointment on paper becomes a 75-75 appointment in reality. Some have gone so far as to call for “re-disciplining” of academic careers (i.e., moving away from interdisciplinary positions) since the tenacity of disciplinary structures throughout academia has often impeded the careers of interdisciplinary scholars.
Scholars have called for universities to have reasonable and clearly communicated expectations for candidates in joint positions. A few examples of steps that some universities have taken toward this end include:
- Creating interdisciplinary advisory councils (e.g., Miami University)
- Instituting best practices for joint appointments (e.g., University of Missouri, Washington University in St. Louis)
- Providing periodic course releases to offset the increased workload of joint appointments (e.g., University of Nebraska, Lincoln).
What institutions can do to facilitate success of joint positions
Though joint appointments can provide wonderful recruitment opportunities for campuses and specific units to expand in particular focal areas, such positions (before and after recruitment) cannot be planned and managed the way other faculty job opportunities are. Below are specific issues and actionable steps that deans and department/unit heads need to consider and formulate—starting when they’re developing the position and continuing during the interview process, hiring, and on-boarding.
- Make the workload and work distribution expectations clear. It is incumbent on unit heads (chairs, directors, deans) to meet and formalize agreements of understanding for joint positions. Such agreements need to include provisions for a) ensuring the established principles/rules are maintained/enforced and b) regularly evaluating and potentially revising the rules if the circumstances warrant it.
- Adjust the workload expectations. Joint faculty should have workloads (e.g., teaching, service) similar to those of their colleagues. Nevertheless, a joint position comes with more time in meetings and in developing relationships with colleagues, students, and administration in two units. Likewise, if multiple joint-appointments are part of a campus or unit’s hiring plan, remember that doing so means fewer faculty will be available to serve each unit and the institution. For example, a joint-appointed faculty member should not have to serve as a search committee chair for both units during the same period, or to serve both units in service-heavy roles (e.g., department chair, graduate program director) when sole-appointed colleagues would only serve in one unit—all of which could be a challenge at institutions with small departments or programs.
- Create tenure, promotion, and merit guidelines specific to these joint positions. It is understandable that different units will have different expectations and evaluation criteria for academic publications (forums, co- versus single authorship, books), grant seeking, and non-academic output (e.g., public and community engagement via non-academic writing and professional reports). For example, a joint appointment between a traditional academic unit (sociology, anthropology, political science) and a professional school (public health, public policy, social work) may mean that community engagement and other traditionally non-academic work activities are evaluated very differently. The key concern is that the differences do not undermine someone’s ability to succeed. It is important for unit heads to make each other aware of these expectations as soon as possible. Ideally, to ensure equity across joint positions within units or on campus, general ideas and expectations should be formalized before the candidate is offered the position. However, given the nuances of different joint-appointments (and who is hired in terms of their academic areas), details and specifics should be defined in conjunction with the successful faculty candidate for each specific position.
- Be an advocate. Unit heads for joint-appointed faculty should be advocates for the faculty member—both within their unit (to colleagues) and outside their unit (e.g., to deans and campus academic evaluation committees). Within the unit, unit heads should make other faculty aware of the specifics of their colleagues’ joint appointment unique requirements and expectations. This will help ensure that the within-unit evaluation is fair and that the faculty member is not held to the same standards as lone-appointed faculty are. Beyond the unit, the faculty member’s unit heads should communicate (as one voice) the performance expectations to deans, campus review committees, and higher administrators who review tenure, promotion, and merit files