Because circumstances vary among disciplines, departments, and institutions, there is no formula for bringing about change, says Jill Perry, program director of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate at Duquesne University School of Education. However, she has observed that successful change efforts share the following characteristics:
Collaborative decision making. Decide what change to tackle first. Perry recommends a collaborative rather than authoritarian approach to decision making. “There has to be some form of consensus among faculty to want to make this change. It can’t just be the dean’s decision. The dean has to work with the faculty,” Perry says.
Faculty ownership. Collaborative decision making helps give faculty ownership of the change process. “In the places where we saw collaborative decisions, the faculty in the department or school had more of a sense of ownership. They didn’t necessarily want to do all the work, but they saw why it was important and stepped up to the plate to make it happen,” Perry says.
Empirical evidence. When faced with the prospect of making substantial changes to academic programs, some faculty get defensive. The reluctant faculty say such things as, “Our students like these courses. They’re happy with [the program].” In one case, the dean was able to support the need for change with empirical evidence—surveys of current and potential students and employers. “When you’re working with faculty, anecdotal evidence doesn’t work, but empirical evidence does,” Perry says. Being able to point to market research, enrollment trends, and assessment data can help persuade reluctant faculty of the need for change.
Student involvement. In addition to providing useful data to help convince faculty of the need for change, current and potential students and alumni can provide useful insights when changes are being made to academic programs. “Go out and talk to people who are receiving the degrees,” Perry says.
Faculty benefit. Because of the work involved in making change happen, there needs to be an incentive beyond the benefit to the department for faculty to take an active role. For example, some of the change agents that Perry has worked with have had articles published that came out of their work on program redesign. Perry also says that change agents should be associate or full professors, because pre-tenure faculty have other priorities and should not be placed in the awkward position of trying to convince colleagues who have a say in promotion and tenure decisions that the proposed change is the way to go.