College of Liberal Arts

Mentoring: A Preliminary Position Paper

Mon, Jan 31, 2011

In 2007, and again in 2010, the Dean’s office requested information from COLA departments regarding their mentoring practices. We provide here a synopsis of the information received from the departments in 2010, and conclude with some comments based on our observations and research that may help frame future conversations on mentoring in COLA. 

Goal and target

Departmentaresponses indicatvery clearlthamentoring ialmosexclusivelperceiveas an efforwhosgoais the successfupromotion of junior faculty.

One department reported instances of post-­‐tenure mentorship, and another reported a plan to mentor entering lecturers. A handful of departments indicated the socialization of junior faculty into the department as a goal of mentorship. One department noted the role of successful mentorship in enhancing the reputation of the department.

Formaor informal?

Mentoring iCOLA iprimarilinformal. Some departments indicate mixed models, and others indicate formal mentoring. For most of the latter, the narratives suggest a model that is mixed at best.

Two departments noted adamant preference for informal mentorship, raising concerns about the complications that formal mentorship may introduce into the life of the department.

Documentation and evaluation of mentoring

Wfound onreference tdocumenting mentoring practices (specifically: a written evaluation following class observation). Mentoring takes place almost exclusively in verbal communication. Departments rarely provided an indication of broad thinking in terms of evaluating the overall success of their mentoring practices. Individual faculty satisfaction and success in promotion are viewed as the maiindicators of successfumentoring. successfuthird­‐year revieis occasionallmentioned in thacontext.

One chair noted the difficulties that arise in assessment of success when mentoring turns into a friendship. One chair noted that failure in promotion sometimes occurs in spite of good mentoring.

Starting point, duration, and milestones

Neithethe starting poinnothe duration omentorshiiwell defined ithe narratives. With some interpretation, one can suggest that the probationary period is regarded as the time for mentoring in most departments.

In some instances the starting point is recruitment, in others the first year. The narratives suggest that in some cases the third-­‐year review is perceived as the endpoint of mentoring. The third year review is perceived as the primary milestone during the probationary period, and, as such, the first obvious milestone in the mentoring process. The department that indicated mentoring of senior faculty viewed the post-­‐tenure review as a milestone in the mentoring process. 

Who are the mentors?

In most cases the narratives suggest individual senior faculty who mentor individual junior faculty. In some cases more than one mentor is involved, and in one case an area group is mentioned as the primary mentoring body. ECs are rarely mentioned in that context. The role of the chair in mentoring is often highlighted in the departmental reports. (1)

In general, mentoring is viewed as part of the chair’s duty and that of senior faculty. There is little reference to incentives for mentors. There is some indication of difficulties in assigning mentors when a department is small or when mentorship occurs across academic units. One chair indicated a decline in her ability to mentor successfully because of the increased administrative burden that comes with chairing a department.

Mentorship in what areas?

Mentorship is clearly geared toward the establishment of a successful research/publication profile in preparation for tenure. Some departments note, in addition, emphasis on successful teaching, and very few mention service, primarily in the context of minimizing service duties to assure success in the area of publication.

The role of junior faculty

The role of junior faculty in the mentoring process is rarely addressed in departmental reports.

There was one clear reference to the need of junior faculty to seek ownership of the mentoring process and assure its success. Otherwise the narratives seem to suggest that the onus is on the department. We found one note to the effect that junior faculty are themselves involved in reviews of other faculty as part of a learning process which enriches their own experience and facilitates their socialization into department. We found one note to the effect that new hires in the department were good enough to flourish on their own merit and could have probably done it without the mentoring provided.


The articulation of challenges is not well developed in the reports.

One department indicated an ongoing discussion on the tension between helpful mentoring and assessment. One department noted that mentoring is a relationship that is hard to institutionalize. Mentees often get mentors that do not fit with their style of work or intellectual needs. Mentors are not always abreast of changing criteria for tenure, and mentees do not feel that they are in a position to speak out on these kinds of issues.


Notes: (1) The documents were written by chairs, which may explain the focus on the chair’s role in mentoring.

Paper produced by the Liberal Arts Gender Council Subcommittee on Mentorship. Members: Ann Cvetkovich, Professor, English
Randy Lewis, Associate Professor, American Studies
Karen Grumberg, Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern Studies
Lauren Apter, Institutional Research Analyst, College of Liberal Arts

For additional information contact Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, Executive Assistant, Office of Research & Graduate Studies. 

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