In collaboration with the Office of Academic Affairs and ADVANCE at UNM, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) is sponsoring the WeR1 Faculty Success Program. This institutional initiative was created to support main campus faculty in light of new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing that the impacts of the pandemic will be long-lasting, the OVPR has committed over $1 million in funding for this program over the next two years.
“As we transition out of the pandemic, we must find new and creative ways to ensure we, as an institution, support, preserve, and protect one of our most important assets, our faculty,” says Dr. Ellen Fisher, vice president for Research. “Our faculty are the intellectual capital of UNM.”
Goals of the WeR1 Faculty Success Program were created with the understanding that faculty retention and advancement depends upon increased transparency, supportive structures, and resources that allow faculty to transition, rebuild, recover, and/or refocus their research, scholarship, and creative work. Any investment must encompass both small steps and expansive interdisciplinary initiatives—faculty need support now, but they also need that support to remain in place and be accessible in the coming years.
“Comments from faculty during Spring 2021 ADVANCE workshops and meetings drove home the need for supporting faculty in making small steps towards progress in their research, scholarship, and creative work. Our first WeR1 initiatives are designed to provide that support and to allow faculty to define the support that will be most helpful right now” says Dr. Julia Fulghum, Director of ADVANCE at UNM.
The WeR1 Faculty Success Program also aims to address the needs of faculty laid out in responses to surveys conducted by the ADVANCE Social Science Research Team last year. The pandemic created a complex web of complications for most working Americans over the last 18 months, and UNM faculty were no exception. The combined impact of the pandemic, social injustice, remote work, caregiving, and home-schooling resulted in time allocation shifts that negatively impacted the lives of many faculty.
For example, duties such as teaching, mentoring students, and learning new technology for remote learning took up more time than they did before the pandemic, and as a result, faculty have spent less time on other important career demands that promote career wellness and retention such as research, scholarship, and professional development. In addition to time-allocation issues, ADVANCE found that faculty at all levels were affected by the pandemic in several individually unique ways depending on their lives and experiences.
“Assistant professors worry they will be unable to establish research programs. Department chairs struggle to assist faculty and staff while feeling the weight of things left undone. Everyone worries about students. Parents stress over remote school and the overall well-being of their kids. Faculty living alone are isolated.”
Career stages, living situations, race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, pre-existing mental and physical health concerns, and disabilities all contribute added stressors to the already stressful pandemic situation. Facing these unique struggles while honoring the continued achievements of our diverse faculty under difficult and changing circumstances is challenging, but the WeR1 Faculty Success Program has already made a difference in the lives of 87 faculty with Summer Research Support over the last two months. Over 2/3 of the applicants were women, and 83% of the submissions were from assistant and associate professors.
Over $280,000 of allocated funds were distributed to faculty members for support of research graduate students, writing, travel, repair or replacement of equipment, and incentives for human subject research. An assistant professor who was part of the program in the summer said the following:
“Thank you so much for helping us to pass this difficult time. I will use this fund to speed up my research so that we can present sufficient preliminary results to convince the reviewers to get external grants.”
Moving into the 2021 fall semester and heading towards 2022, the WeR1 Faculty Success Program is committed to rebalancing service and teaching workloads for faculty who have significantly increased time spent teaching and helping students during the pandemic and are now concerned about progress towards tenure and promotion. The first round of funding for the Faculty Release Time program will begin in Spring 2022, and continue for fall and the following spring, providing support for either a one-semester, one-course reduction in their teaching load or support for a graduate project assistant. To apply, visit the UNM Research Application Portal.
Long-term, the WeR1 Faculty Success Program supports the goals of UNM 2040 and provides a platform for creating a vibrant and inclusive research enterprise that supports all faculty, enhances opportunities for interdisciplinary work, and fosters successful faculty recruitment, retention, and advancement. Faculty can suggest ideas for future initiatives anonymously through ADVANCE’s drop-us-a-line or through email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.