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History of the Faculty Development Program:   1974-1994

The presentation below was made by Dr. James E. Gueths in May 1994. Dr. Gueths was assistant vice chancellor at the University until 1985 and a leading founder of the Faculty Development Program.

Presentation to Faculty Development Recognition Reception, 1994

Twenty years ago, in Spring 1974, the UW-Oshkosh Faculty Development Program was "born."

At that time, the organizational climate was very turbulent. The total enrollment for Academic Year 1973-74 was well over 10,000 students, but the anticipated incoming freshman class was only large enough, if future classes remained as small, to form a university of 7,000 students. Budget cuts were very severe. Tenured faculty had been laid off. Dreams had turned to disillusionment. The organization was at war with itself. Life was not fun at UW-Oshkosh.

The new chancellor, Dr. Robert Birnbaum, was organizing a turnaround/reform program to be known as "the Oshkosh Calendar Plan." Bringing the budget under control was a very high priority. Key features in the reform program included the following: changes in the academic calendar; modification of faculty contracts so that summer school would be taught as "part of load"; reduction of pay for any teaching "above load" by approximately one-third.

All in all, bitter medicine indeed.

In the professional development arena, only two small programs (one in the Graduate School, one from the college deans) provided support. A total of $30,000 in small grants was available. Even in 1974 dollars, a pittance.

The idea for a Faculty Development Program was conceived the first time I met Chancellor Birnbaum for a private working lunch in Reeve Union cafeteria. Over a hamburger, he outlined the preliminary pieces of his reform program. He then asked the price for me to personally support the idea and persuade faculty members in my "network" to do the same.

I noted that a strong professional development dimension was missing.

"How much?" he asked.

My response was, and still is, that no matter the amount, it will never be enough. We settled on 2% of the GPR budget (a little more than $200,000 in 1975 dollars) as a planning guideline.

In Fall 1974, Chancellor Birnbaum appointed a spectrum of "Kleenex" (temporary) committees to bring final shape to the Oshkosh Calendar Plan, which was to begin in Summer 1975. He named 10 faculty and academic staff to the committee ... and charged them with designing the new Faculty Development Program. Five of those committee members still serve at UW-Oshkosh today.

Beginning that fall, the Faculty Development Program Design Committee met 2-3 times each week. Over a period of several months we crafted a set of five "Faculty Development Papers" that shaped and defined the program. These papers were reviewed and ratified by the "Calendar Coordinating Council" and the Faculty Senate. We moved very quickly and taped all meetings so that all ideas were captured, and no good ideas were lost.

The design ideas and principles came from anywhere and everywhere. It was, perhaps, the most creative, rewarding group experience of my professional life. In our committee meetings, we developed a new paradigm for one of the University's core business processes. Segments of that paradigm are as follows.

A broad spectrum of professional development activity (research, teaching improvement, in-service workshops, participation in expensive off-campus programs, contracted services, new organizations forms, "near sabbaticals") would be supported.

Strong incentives would be provided for the pursuit of funded contract and grant activity.

Faculty and administrators together (not administrators alone) would collegially guide professional development.

A stable, predictable, and highly visible proportion of the University's resources would be set aside "off the top" for investment in professional development. As with sound personal financial planning, the faculty would "invest in itself first."

It was a new paradigm for one of the organization's core business processes. Today, such change in business process is called "re-engineering."

As the program took visible form, the graduate dean stopped me in Dempsey Hall to tell me that it would be "gone with the next budget cut." He was wrong.

One college dean told me that "the deans (not the Faculty Development Board) would be allocating the money in three years." He was also wrong.

Some faculty said that the grants would never really happen, and so they did not prepare proposals for Summer 1975. The boat sailed without them.

Buildings and rooms last for many years. Only very rarely in life does one have the experience of working on an idea-based program that visibly changes an organization and thrives for more than 20 years. Why has the Faculty Development Program not only survived, but thrived?

I believe that the answers to this question provide important lessons for all of us who are interested in change. The UW-Oshkosh Faculty Development Program has endured because:

The program is obviously a good idea, linked to a vital organizational/cultural value--professional development.

The program was designed by those it was intended to benefit. The design committee knew what was required for its professional development.

The program's genesis was written down, carefully and completely. The origins of the program are available for all to study and consider, particularly those who do not have a living memory of the forming events.

The program was given legitimacy by important constituencies, though in many cases the latter almost certainly did not comprehend what they were approving.

The program was paid for "up front" by all of the stakeholders. UW System wanted one of its campuses to "lead" in faculty development and made a substantial base budget adjustment when UW-Oshkosh accepted the call. The faculty paid with reduced compensation for additional service. Academic administration paid by visibly distributing power to a collegial group. Support administration had to develop and support substantially more complicated personnel rules and procedures. Everyone invested. No one got a free lunch.

The program's power was distributed in balanced relationships among different groups: the Research Board and Panel; the Faculty Development Board and academic administration; the chancellor and the Faculty Senate. A shared decision design was intentionally and carefully crafted into the program.

The program's mechanisms for future change and evolution were also carefully designed into the program from the beginning. No outsider could easily claim the right to redefine the program in future years.

The program's management was collegial in form. The vice chancellor and graduate dean were invited to sit with the Board right from the start. Curiously, throughout most of the program's history, they have not elected to do so.

The program was protected and nurtured by powerful sponsors and funding partners through its formative years. UW System, the Lilly Endowment, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, and the National Science Foundation all became highly visible partners in one way or another.

The program invested its resources in the faculty, not in a bureaucratic structure, nor a large staff. Using volunteer labor for administration, the program put its money to work for the beneficiaries.

Programs designed around ideas are very vulnerable in their infancy. During the program's first few years, the attacks on it were numerous and varied.

The college deans would have little to do with a program that was not "theirs." They blustered and dragged their heels. The vice chancellor prodded them to acknowledge and support the program.

The budget cutters wanted to reduce the level of investment, seeing an easy, faceless way to balance the budget. The chancellor would not listen. A deal was a deal.

The Faculty Senate sometimes forwarded weakly credentialed nominees for the Faculty Development Board to the chancellor. After consulting with the Board, the chancellor asked the Senate for new nominees.

The campus rumor networks occasionally carried news of "back-door sweetheart" deals with the money. The "books" were always open. No money was allocated without full Board knowledge and support. The rumors withered and died in the glaring light of fact.

After several years of stabilizing its policy structures, cultural norms, and decision technologies, the Board moved to elect its own chair and stand on its own. While it continued to welcome sponsors and partners, it no longer depended on them.

As its first elected chair, Gene Drzycimski led the Board into its adult life. Gene has recently retired, which reminds us that there is a second, critical time when a program designed around ideas is particularly vulnerable. That is when those with the "living memory" of the events that shaped and formed the program leave the organization. In the next few years, all of those involved in the early years of the Faculty Development Program will also depart.

With the "living memory" absent, many will argue that a "new deal" is needed. They will say that the faculty can afford to invest less in itself, because the money is needed to achieve one or another immediate objective. They will argue that collegial decision structures are too slow and cumbersome, and that full-time managers will do a better job of professional development. They will say that the program was really not paid for in full in 1975.

They will be wrong.

But they will succeed unless those who continue at the helm of the Faculty Development Board, return on a regular basis to study the writings that chronicle the circumstances under which the program was formed and the principles under which it was designed to operate.

The rush into the information age will increase, not reduce the faculty's need for professional development. You will need to invest more, not less, in yourselves.

I wish you all success, and the best of luck in meeting this challenge.

Historic Calendar Papers

The following historic calendar papers are the official documents pertaining to the founding of the Faculty Development Fund.

Historic Faculty Development Reports

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by Reinke, Heidi L last modified Apr 12, 2014 03:48 PM