This is the second installment about faculty credentialing—a term striking fear into the hearts of faculty of Higher Learning Commission (HLC)-accredited schools across the nation. Histrionics aside, this can be a very stressful process for faculty who do not understand the guidelines, the process your college or university will go through, and how it will affect their teaching assignments going forward. I have had the opportunity to lead initiatives like this in the past and I am currently leading one at my institution--I offer this possible model to ease the transition. In looking at management and change theory and for projects of this scope that have rather immovable goals (e.g., compliance by September 1, 2017), I suggest following the trusty Kurt Lewin model of change. According to Lewin, there are three central phases to a change (Green, 2007):
- Unfreezing the status quo.
- Making the change.
- Reinforcing the change.
Looking through the lens of this proven theory, I am sure most of you did the preliminary work on creating the policy that will be specific to your programs and your institution. On that note, have you thought through the actual credentialing process yet? Following Lewin’s example, here is a possible way to stay sane through this process and to ease your faculty through the change.
- Inform. Educate your Chairs on the need for credentialing, the process that the institution has proposed and review their role in it.
- Involve. As much as you can, involve individual faculty in their own credentialing. This likely involves hosting a training session where you review the HLC Core Component and the policy that has been approved at your particular institution. This would be a great time to review the process and all the relevant timelines with them as well. At our institution, we are asking faculty to propose the courses they should be credentialed for via a form where they specify the course and the corresponding coursework from their transcripts for it.
- Remind. After the training, email out the plan with all the relevant timelines. Check in on their progress; either 1-2 weeks after the training session and certainly a week before a deadline. Keep communicating the process and deadlines throughout the project.
- Help. Set up bi-weekly, open help sessions for individual faculty who are struggling with completing their credentialing proposals.
- Communicate. Once all the credentialing has been finalized, arrange for critical conversations with faculty who have had a significant shift in what they are qualified for. I would recommend that Chairs have these conversations, but every institution will handle this differently. The conversation should include a refresher on the process, the results of their individual approvals, and, if applicable, what they could do to qualify themselves for courses they were expecting to be approved for (but were not).
This last step is, by far, one of the most important steps in this process. Faculty who are “losing” courses can feel betrayed or undervalued. While this may not be completely objective, it is a reality in a process like this one. Taking the time to clearly communicate the “why”, “how” and “what” of this process shows that you value your faculty from the very beginning of the project. Even so, that last conversation can be a difficult one, especially if they have taught a class for years they are no longer credentialed for. It is important to objectively walk them through what they proposed as the coursework (or tested experience if your institutional policy recognizes this) and then discuss what might be done to qualify them in the future. I would also recommend, while you are working through credentialing, that a more in-depth review be done of those faculty with significant changes to their proposals to investigate if there are other courses they are qualified to teach that they did not propose—this may help soften the message and also keep a valued faculty member teaching for you.
My hope is that the key message you take from this article is communication-communication-communication. Change is hard and change that involves potentially reducing someone’s paycheck is even harder. Careful project management and transparent communication are critical aspects of this process that must not be ignored. You have the power to navigate your faculty positively through this process; treat them with the utmost care throughout the project and be mindful of the impact you might have on their lives – and you will do just fine!
Mike, G. (2007). Change management masterclass: a step-by-step guide to successful change management. London, GB: Kogan Page. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.nl.idm.oclc.org