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New vice provost named to reform faculty mentoring

Associate psychology Professor Anne Fernald has been named to the new position of vice provost for faculty development, in part to tackle what a 1993 report on the status of women faculty called "the absence of a culture of support" for newcomers to Stanford.

While the issues Fernald will handle were first raised by women, they cut across gender lines to touch almost all junior professors, according to Provost Condoleezza Rice, who announced Fernald's appointment at the May 29 Faculty Senate meeting.

New faculty need support from fellow scholars to develop their intellectual potential. They need to learn the ropes to adapt to the culture of a major university. A recognition that this support is lacking in many departments led to the new position, Rice said in an interview June 9.

Fernald said that she sees the post as an indication that concerns of junior faculty are being taken seriously. "This is an attempt to be pro-active, to design and implement structural changes that will provide support across the university," she said.

Rice said that Fernald would be charged with developing new ways to improve mentoring and support for junior faculty, as well as to address issues unique to women. Fernald will join law Professor Robert Weisberg, who was appointed vice provost three years ago to work on issues of faculty recruitment and retention, salary equity and affirmative action.

The Women's Faculty Caucus provided part of the impetus to create the new position, Rice said. In recent discussions with the caucus, "some, though not all, of the issues raised turn out to be common to almost all faculty, and especially to junior faculty," she said.

Another important impetus, Rice said, was the realization that mentoring must come from academic departments ­ but departments and their chairs are given very little help to learn the management skills that foster support for new scholars.

The absence of such a "culture of support" at Stanford was a primary finding of the 1993 Provost's Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Women Faculty, chaired by education Professor Myra Strober. Rice acknowledged what she called "a cultural change, not all for the better," since she joined the Stanford faculty in 1981. She said that as an assistant professor in political science, she received the kinds of critical support that Strober's committee found missing in many departments now, including critical feedback on the quality of scholarly work, and training. "People read my work," she said. "The most senior faculty members offered to co-teach with me so I could learn the ropes.

"I feel like an old-timer saying this, but that was a more leisurely time."

Rice said that faculty now may feel they have less time to reach out to new scholars. "For example, I've come to appreciate how really complicated the position of department chair is. The department is the most important administrative unit in the university, and I think the most under-supported." She said that Fernald would be charged with helping departments find ways to foster mentoring and training for junior faculty.

"There also are issues specific to women that Anne can address, having to do with work and family. These maybe shouldn't be specific to women, but often they are," Rice said.

Fernald said that some support could be provided on a university-wide basis. "It would be very valuable for junior faculty to establish connections with colleagues outside the departments where they are being evaluated, to get a sense of the larger community," Fernald said. "In some departments, junior faculty feel well supported, but in others they feel more adrift. It's important that the university provide resources for them and places where they can turn when they need guidance and advice. So one goal will be to think of a better and more systematic way to provide mentoring, to help them succeed here.

"Another issue will be new faculty orientation: setting up stronger networks for junior faculty in general, and perhaps women in particular, to increase communication about shared concerns," she said.

Strober said that it is not surprising that issues raised by a report on women's status should lead to a program to support both women and men. She said that she often consults with industry on issues raised by women and minorities. "When I go in and do focus groups, I find that the same issues are shared by the men.

"The issue is: When you bring in a highly educated person [to a university or a corporation], you are making a large investment in that person," Strober said. "You want that investment to pay off. Even if [young faculty] don't stay, we have an obligation to the professoriate to make sure these people are as successful as they can be in their fields. It's a waste of human capital to allow people to flounder after so much investment has been made in them."

She said that based on the committee's findings, there are some issues the new vice provost must address. "Certainly [she] must work closely with sexual harassment advisers to make sure that is not happening," Strober said. "Where sexual harassment existed, that was one of the worst kinds of junior-senior faculty relationships ­ that's not only zero mentoring but negative mentoring."

In addition, she said, better ways must be developed to explain the tenure process to junior faculty on an ongoing basis. "Just saying, 'Oh, don't worry about a thing, we'll let you know when it's over' is not adequate," she said. An open process will also prevent abuses: She said there have been cases where the tenure clock was stopped to allow a faculty member to tend to a young child. But when tenure was considered, the criteria used to judge the scholar's progress did not take that clock-stopping into account.

While Fernald's new portfolio is welcome, said Joanne Martin, professor of business and an organizer of the Faculty Women's Caucus, there are a number of additional issues that should not be forgotten. One example: a pattern of salary inequality for women faculty at the full professor level, which Martin said the caucus had documented in surveys over the past several years.

"I'm delighted that Anne Fernald has been appointed to this position and I am confident she will find ways to provide concrete kinds of support for junior faculty across the campus," Martin said. "I hope she also can find ways to address the problems that are unique to women and to minority men and women."


By Janet Basu