Story posted September 14, 2009
Bowdoin’s innovative approaches for supporting faculty career flexibility have been recognized as among the most groundbreaking practices at liberal arts colleges in the nation.
The College recently was awarded a prestigious 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Faculty Career Flexibility, sponsored by the American Council on Education. The award recognizes baccalaureate colleges for their leadership in developing best practices to recruit and retain tenured and tenure-track faculty throughout their careers.
Bowdoin was one of only eight liberal arts colleges and universities in the nation to receive the award. Other institutions to receive the $200,000 award were: Albright College, Middlebury College, Mt. Holyoke College, Oberlin College and Washington and Lee University. Additionally, two innovation awards were given to Dickinson College and Smith College.
"The whole College community can be very proud of this award," noted Bowdoin Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "Many committees and individuals have worked hard to develop career-flexibility policies that offer broad support for faculty in balancing their scholarly careers with personal and family lives.
“These changes are critical for helping us maintain institutional excellence and academic competitiveness in a global market. As a result, Bowdoin has been able to attract a diverse community of scholars and artists that is among the most vibrant among liberal arts colleges today.”
In response to the changing nature of the professoriate, the College systematically implemented more “family friendly” and flexible career policies in the 1990s to support family-work balance for women and men. Among these were Parental Leave, the Children’s Center, Domestic Partner Medical Benefits, and a Phased Retirement Plan to support tenured faculty in making a transition to retirement or another career.
More recently, the College has made significant enhancements to its parental leave and sabbatical policies, as well as a restructured governance system that maintains a strong shared governance while keeping committee service in balance with teaching and research.
One of the most innovative of Bowdoin’s new faculty-career supports is a partner accommodation policy for tenured or tenure-track dual-career couples that includes options for half-time tenure track positions, a single position shared by two people, or a 1.5 FTE teaching appointment that may be shared.
“When you think about what your career will look like in the long term, the partner-accommodation policy is one of the things that makes it feasible to be here,” observes Assistant Professor of History David Hecht.
Hecht, a historian, is married to Associate Professor of English Aviva Briefel. The two academics met after Briefel had been hired in a tenure-track position at Bowdoin, while Hecht was teaching in Boston at Northeastern University and Harvard.
Such dual-career couples often are faced with tough choices, such as commuting marriages at different institutions, or uprooting and moving to a different institution altogether.
Hecht came to Bowdoin as a visiting faculty member for several years, then applied for consideration for a shared partner accommodation when that new process was established. He was hired in a tenure-track, half-time position in Bowdoin’s history department in 2009.
“David brings a new and important discipline to Bowdoin—the history of science,” notes Dean Judd. “His addition to the faculty keeps us on par with expertise available at peer institutions and opens new fields of exploration for Bowdoin students. It’s a win-win situation.”
The security and flexibility of having the full- and half-time teaching loads also has made it possible for the academic couple to start a family while continuing their teaching and research, says Hecht.
“It didn't affect our decision to have our son,” says Hecht, “but at the very least, the parental leave and spousal hire has made it possible to really be parents and to be productive professionally at the same time. It makes it easier to balance everything and to not have to make a career vs. family choice.”
Dual-career Bowdoin professors Matthew Klingle and Connie Chiang have been able to parlay their joint expertise as environmental historians into a shared 1.5 FTE position in Bowdoin’s history/environmental studies departments.
Collectively, the couple teaches six courses per academic year, typically switching off one- and two-course teaching loads per term. The lightened course load allows each professor to maintain their research and participate actively in committee and service work at the College.
While the career flexibility has benefitted their professional accomplishments—both have published well-received books within the past year—Chiang says it is the parental leave and childcare benefits that make it all work.
“Parental leave has given us some relief from our usual teaching and service responsibilities,” she says. “Having the flexibility to take time off and spend time with my children when they are infants is time I can't get back. It's invaluable to me.
“Both of our children are at the Children's Center, which is another amazing resource at Bowdoin,” adds Chiang. “To know that my kids are literally a two-minute walk from my office and are receiving an outstanding quality of care makes it easy for me to go to my work and concentrate on teaching and writing.”
According to Judd, the College will use the funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Award to broaden awareness among faculty about career-flexibility policies and to build a pool of funds to be used to replace faculty who are away on family leave.
Bill VanderWolk, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Professor of Romance Languages, has been appointed to a half-time position in the Dean’s office as Associate Dean for Faculty Development. Among Vanderwolk’s responsibilities will be helping faculty understand Bowdoin’s career-flexibility options over the course of their careers.
“It truly is an honor to be recognized among our peers not only as a great place to be a student but also as a wonderful environment for nurturing an extraordinarily talented and committed faculty throughout their careers and lives,” says Judd.