Five Tips for Nurturing Faculty Relationshipsby Voltaire Santos Miran
ESTIMATED READING TIME: 2 minutes
Promoting faculty expertise is essential to building an institution’s brand.
Prospective undergraduate and graduate students routinely review faculty biographies and academic department pages when exploring admissions. Prospective faculty members scrutinize the research, publications, grant awards, and educational credentials of potential colleagues. And senior leaders and board members thrill at quotes from their institution’s best and brightest minds in cover articles from The New York Times.
It’s supposed to be a win-win. When public relations, admissions, alumni, or development offices partner with star faculty, the institution’s profile rises, as does the faculty member’s. But the institution’s best and brightest often are immersed in research or writing, teaching highly popular courses, speaking internationally, or otherwise unavailable. As a result, building those key relationships can be a challenge.
Based on my conversations and experiences with faculty — including my spouse who is a tenured professor and department chair — I offer five tips for nurturing faculty relationships:
1. Respect faculty expertise.
Faculty members are specialists within broad academic fields. They are most likely to engage in a conversation in which they can make a substantive contribution. Conversely, they’re likely to be discouraged by requests that reveal a lack of understanding about their scholarly focus. Demonstrate a real awareness of faculty members’ work — this will go a long way in building trust.
2. Understand the opportunity.
Sometimes, a media inquiry is a legitimate request to understand or uncover new insights about a topic. Often, however, journalists are asking for sound bites to back up a position upon which they’ve already arrived. Do a little extra diligence before sending a request for an interview to help ensure you’re connecting faculty members with substantive media leads.
3. Curate the content.
Do you have a system for gathering information about your faculty experts? A place to share their expertise on your website? A tool for tagging their expertise or aggregating scholarship thematically? A place to keep a running list of their publications and awards? A mechanism for measuring their activity and the results? Put the proper process and technology in place to support the relationships you’re building.
4. Consider the effects.
A media mention may yield a bump in book sales and a spike in website traffic — all great stuff. However, that faculty member also may get a series of harassing calls and angry emails from detractors, as well as insistent pleas from enthusiasts — all of which drain time and dampen enthusiasm. Certain topics are highly charged, with debates very likely to become personal quickly. Respect for expertise is more prevalent in some fields than others. Assess the potential negative effect of promoting a faculty member — it will make you more grateful for and careful of the way you steward their energy.
5. Count the cost.
Institutions increasingly encourage their faculty to be seen and heard. But there’s a downside to being a media star. Op-eds and interviews on CNN usually don’t improve chances of tenure for up-and-coming faculty members. For many faculty members, serving as an expert is not about advancing their careers as much as it is about marketing an institution and demonstrating that faculty expertise has practical application. So be aware of the opportunity cost to the faculty you’re trying to engage.
Want to learn more about systems and technology that can support strong relationships with faculty experts?
- Check out my colleague Fran’s posts on faculty expert centers or blueprints for faculty profiles.
- You also should read Michael Stoner’s post about our partnership with ExpertFile, a cloud-based solution for managing faculty experts content, engaging with key audiences, and measuring the effectiveness of your efforts.