Department Culture

Building an Equitable Department Where Faculty Want to Work and Stay

Department Chairs will find here a synthesis of reports from the Department Enhancement Program (DEP), an Iowa State University ADVANCE initiative. It is an innovative, action-oriented program suited to improving departmental climates. Here we outline practices for cultivating transparent, inclusive, and equitable department cultures

Be Transparent

Possible Faculty Concerns

Proposed Departmental Considerations

  • Lack of transparency and equity causes friction among faculty and affects their morale and department engagement.
  • Decisions made by university and department leaders without an explanation of how and why.
  • Decline in morale when decision-making processes do not consider faculty input.
  • Areas for greater transparency include teaching buyout/loads, procedures and criteria for assigning teaching assistants, resource allocation, tenure and promotion expectations, budget, space allocations, and hiring process.
  • Transparency increases faculty sense of belonging and work productivity, cohesion, morale, and engagement.
  • Transparency decreases faculty stress levels, myths, and misconceptions.
  • The limitations of transparency, such as confidential matters, e.g., personnel decisions and performance evaluations, should be acknowledged.

Opportunities to increase transparency:

  • Demystify the promotion, tenure, and advancement processes through frequent and regular communication with faculty.
  • Seek faculty input in decision-making processes.
  • Communicate the rationale for decisions and outline challenges and relevant factors.
  • Solicit input from affected faculty before change(s) are implemented to obtain buy-in and proactively address potential resistance and challenges.

Be Clear

Possible Faculty Concerns

Proposed Departmental Considerations

  • Lack of consistency and clarity in communication.
  • Lack of documentation of departmental practices and governance.
  • Lack of specific details around promotion, tenure, advancement, and evaluation.
  • Faculty work does not match position responsibilities.
  • Inconsistency in promotion, tenure, and advancement expectations and/or practices between department, college, and university.
  • Provide departmental guidelines on and expectations for position responsibilities in the promotion, tenure, and advancement process.
  • Hold open discussions with faculty to promote understanding and address myths, misunderstandings, and varying perceptions about the meaning of scholarship and productivity.
  • Offer constructive feedback, including faculty assessment of strengths and weaknesses in evaluations and throughout the promotion, tenure, and advancement process.
  • Provide regular training/guidance to the promotion, tenure, and review committee on sources of bias, best discussion practices, and resources to follow Michigan Tech policies.

Be Inclusive

Inclusion means feeling connected to, and accepted by, colleagues as well as feeling satisfied with professional interactions in the department. Elements of department climate include collegiality, respect, cooperation, support, equity, fairness, and inclusiveness (see University of Massachusetts/Amherst ADVANCE Program. 2020. Inclusive Community Findings Report).

Possible Faculty Concerns

Proposed Departmental Considerations

  • Unequal distribution of workloads.
  • Heavier workloads hinder research productivity and promotion.
  • Inequity that arises when faculty do not follow through on commitments, resulting in disproportional workload for others.

A. Workload Equity

  • Workload equity, including faculty productivity, retention, satisfaction, sense of fairness, and sense of inclusion, is associated with positive outcomes for the department.
  • Improve transparency in the workload distribution process (e.g., how courses are assigned) and interactions (e.g., who is asked).
  • Be clear about workload as well as the varying amount of time and effort required.
  • Disparate allocation of resources may be perceived as favoritism.

B. Resource Allocation Fairness

  • Discuss how to ensure department procedures support faculty work and fair resource allocation.
  • Use the ADVANCE Faculty Equity Query Tool (AFEQT) to examine data for your unit. Historic and current data can include student credit hour distributions, research space, start-up resources, years in rank, turnover, and many others.
  • Develop criteria and guidelines for appointing student assistants (e.g., graduate, undergraduate, teaching, research) and communicate a standardized procedure to request support.
  • Discuss ways to resolve unequal distribution of faculty assignments.
  • Develop and communicate a standard departmental process for allocation and assignment of office and lab space.
  • Not feeling valued for their work.
  • Certain types of work being more valued than others.
  • Outlined and stated position responsibilities only being valued by some departmental faculty.

C. Value Different Skill Sets and Strengths

  • Value and appreciate the different strengths, skill sets, and academic expertise of faculty.
  • View diversity in different departmental areas as a strong component of the unit's identity.
  • Acknowledge publicly the value of the department's various missions (e.g., research, teaching, extension, DEIS, professional practice, etc.).
  • Perceptions that the department chair supports some faculty, but not others.
  • Hesitancy to attend social events and build camaraderie.
  • Newly appointed faculty have little to no interaction with other departmental faculty.
  • The department's use of space is distributed across multiple buildings, which hinders faculty interactions, collaboration, and the ability to communicate about each other's work.
  • Unproductive interactions among departmental faculty cause worry and create a negative working environment.
  • Faculty do not engage because they do not feel supported, included, and valued.

D. Create an Inclusive and Supportive Culture

Interactions with the Chair

  • Ask faculty about needs in annual evaluation meetings. 
  • Provide resources and support to help faculty in their work.
  • Listen to faculty concerns and take actions to assist them.
  • Show genuine interest in faculty work and accomplishments.
  • Seek faculty input on major department decisions and ensure their voices are considered.
  • Know about faculty activities and goals across their position responsibilities.
  • Take action to support faculty work-life integration.
  • Give faculty appropriate levels of autonomy and trust.
  • Ensure fairness in decision-making processes and be open to input and feedback.
  • Value faculty strengths, skills, and competencies.


Interactions with Colleagues

  • Foster a communicative and collegial culture in which faculty know their peers are supportive.
  • Host departmental activities that bring together faculty to allow them opportunities to learn what their colleagues are working on.
  • Set expectations for support staff to be helpful and responsive. 
  • Identify ways for faculty who are located in separate buildings to come together, collaborate, and network.

Faculty want the department chair to...

  • Build a work environment in which everyone is included and has a sense of belonging.
  • Focus on faculty strengths and provide constructive feedback rather than criticism.
  • Provide support for promotion, tenure, and advancement (e.g., reducing teaching loads, service responsibilities, identifying new funding sources, encouraging flexible faculty programs).
  • Create opportunities for faculty working in different program areas to converse and interact.
  • Senior faculty and/or the department chair are inconsistent in their guidance to faculty.
  • Faculty find it difficult to collaborate because they are not familiar with each other's strengths and scholarly activities.

E. Create a Collaborative Culture

Senior faculty and/or the department chair can...

  • Connect potential collaborators with junior faculty members, as is done during the Early Career Management Committees (ECM) or Advanced Career Management (ACM).
  • Invite faculty to collaborations and opportunities.
  • Be available and accessible to faculty colleagues.
  • Invite underrepresented faculty to network with you over coffee or a meal.
  • Have regular gatherings (e.g., coffee, lunch) with pre-tenure faculty to listen and respond to their questions about promotion, tenure, and advancement.
  • Build a database of successful grant proposals that is readily available to faculty to examine good models.
  • Encourage faculty to attend workshop sessions regarding promotion, tenure, and advancement in order to learn about process and expectations.
  • Provide a department-level orientation for new faculty.
  • Create opportunities that will allow faculty to learn about their colleagues' scholarly activities (e.g., 5-minute talk for faculty to highlight activities and points of pride).
  • Match faculty to mentors with similar interests, such as research interests and commitments.
  • Underrepresented faculty feel the need to make an extra effort to be seen as an authority and given respect in the classroom.
  • Faculty perceive gender bias to impact the hiring process as well as promotion, tenure, and advancement decisions.
  • Teaching assignments appear to be unequally distributed between faculty who identify as men or women.

F. Recruit and Retain Faculty Who Identify Who Identify as Women or Persons of Color

  • Validate the experiences of underrepresented faculty. Aim to understand the challenges they face and remove barriers to their work.
  • Leverage one's privilege to ally and speak up for faculty colleagues and call out questionable behavior and decisions. See Michigan Tech's Advocates and Allies program to learn techniques and strategies.
  • Ensure everyone is supported, included, and valued.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences.
  • Actively address and provide avenues to discuss diversity, inclusion, and equity.
  • Enhance awareness about diversity, equity, and inclusion as well as strategies to advance this work for all faculty.
  • Increase the number of underrepresented faculty in the candidate pool.
  • Increase awareness of, and take action to address implicit bias in faculty hiring, promotion, tenure, and advancement. 
  • Increase awareness of, and take action to address insensitive comments that might make others uncomfortable.
  • Increase awareness that underrepresented faculty might be asked to take on an uneven share of service.
  • Improve retention for underrepresented faculty and provide dual career resources, where relevant.
  • Assess equity in teaching assignments according to gender, race, etc.
  • Educate others to respect, appreciate, and embrace diversity. Please use any resources on the ADVANCE page, or join A&A workshops.


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MTU Strategic Planning Framework for DEIS