Thursday, April 05, 2012

Star Facuty Do not Necessarily Equal Star Customer Service or Hospitality

Colleges and universities are on a tear right now trying to attract star faculty to the campus so they can brag about their celebrity professors. Many time the university will set up a special chair and allow the new start to spend most of his or her time doing research and not teaching., After all who would want to waste celebrity faculty on students?

This is a bad idea. It may bring in some more star power and even bring in some more money from research grants or donors to create a chair to attract the celebrity but it is like what can happen at a good restaurant when it hires a celebrity chef. It all become about the star and not the entire team. This can be very demoralizing and will disrupt the morale which is so important to providing academic service excellence to students.

When a restaurant hires a celebrity chef it can attract more diners to the place but the whole restaurant ends up being about the chef not the food itself and certainly not the service.  In fact, the new celebrity chef is usually so focused on bringing even more fame to him or herself that the entire restaurant starts to feel the pressure to build the star’s brand. The kitchen staff might at first be proud that they are now working under a renown chef and that can bring some immediate provide but after a while it usually turns out that the hew star is focusing on burnishing his own glow more than that of the whole kitchen team and does not share the glory very well. The team begins to become demoralized and realize that there is no longer a real team just a star and the revolving people whi are there to make him shine.

The kitchen and  service staff often feel the breakdown in the team effort and since they area at the bottom of the ladder they begin to resent the new star. The same can happen in an academic department. A new star is brought in with a very reduced teaching load if any at all and all the other members of the team feel diminished. The courses need to be taught so they either have to pick them up or more adjuncts (read academic indentured servitude) need to be hired so the new star can spend their time researching and not teaching. The basic work has to get done after all.

I am aware of a school which brought in a star poet and scholar of contemporary poetry and gave him a one course (actually a graduate seminar) to teach a year. And he was given a chair so he was sure to have a pile of money to sit on quite comfortably. At first the department was proud to have this poet and scholar.  But then others who had been working at the university for years and not gained much recognition even though they too had written books and even publishes some poetry and fiction began to feel as if they had been overlooked.  They had reduced teaching loads (after al who but community college, lower level professors and adjuncts who work for pennies on the hour teachers do not have reduced teaching loads it seems).

The morale in the department began to drop and it affected the students who could feel and even hear the tensions between the new start status professor and the faculty in the classroom. The halls became abuzz with comments and complaints and the new start just kept to herself anyhow. Within two years the star moved on to another school but the damage was done, The department felt that they had been slighted especially when the celebrity moved on to an even more prestigious school.
The department morale never quite recovered from the celebrity experience because it left most of the professors feeling under-appreciated.  They also saw even more that the reward for becoming a celebrity faculty was to teach even less and that became a greater goal of the faculty. The less one taught; the more important one was. Teaching was even more denigrated in that department to the point that if a faculty member was “stuck” with undergraduate courses he or she felt as if he had been saddled with the weight of the academic world.

Undergraduate students the bread and butter and real reason why colleges exist were the big losers in all of this. They ended up with faculty who did not want to teach them. They were led to faculty whose morale had been brought low. They were just not provided the academic service excellence they had paid for. And interestingly enough, retention in this department dropped off for all these reasons. Students felt, rightly so that the faculty did not care and as we know students place being cared for at the top oif the taxonomy when making decisions to stay or go.

Hiring ad staffing are such major decisions that departments and colleges fail at so often. They think of their prestige and themselves rather than what is best for the students. For the cost of the celebrity faculty member they hired they could have actually hired two full time faculty who may have actually wanted to teach. They could have added to their full time faculty rather than go for the name brand that caused the department years of problems.

One of the best ways to assure that there will be academic service excellence in the classroom is to have a solid core of full time tenure track faculty who care about teaching. But I fear that universities and college shave forgotten that and embraced celebrity and anti-teaching attitudes more to the deficit of students.

And that is too bad since a good teacher will also do good research just as part of what she or he does as a professional while a good researcher may well not be a good teacher nor even care about helping students grow and learn.

UMass Dartmouth invited Dr. Neal Raisman to campus to present on "Service Excellence in Higher Ed"  as a catalyst event used to kick off a service excellence program.  Dr. Neal Raisman presents a very powerful but simple message about the impact that customer service can have on retention and the overall success of the university.  Participants embraced his philosophy as was noted with heads nods and hallway conversations after the session.  Not only did he have data to back up what he was saying, but Dr. Raisman spoke of specific examples based on his own personal experience working at a college as  Dean and President.  Our Leadership Team welcomed the "8 Rules of Customer Service", showing their eagerness to go to the next step in rolling Raisman's message out.  We could not have been more pleased with his eye-opening presentation.    Sheila Whitaker UMass-Dartmouth
If you want more information on NRaisman & Associates or to learn more about what you can do to improve academic customer service excellence on campus, get in touch with us or get a copy of our best selling book The Power of Retention. 

1 comment:

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