‘They can save a career:’ Policies help faculty succeed at WSU

Magnuson, left, and McSweeney

PULLMAN, Wash. – Many Washington State University policies provide assistance to faculty members dealing with personal, professional and life event situations; however, faculty may not even know the policies exist.

“One thing faculty members never think about is the intangible benefits WSU offers, such as these policies,” said Frances McSweeney, vice provost for faculty affairs.

Faculty-friendly policies assist with accommodations for domestic partners or spouses, professional leave, extension of the tenure clock and many other matters. These policies help faculty members stay on track and accomplish their goals, said Nancy Magnuson, vice president for research.

“You see people who can really benefit from having these,” she said. “They can save a career.”

Some policies have been in place for 20 years, while others are awaiting final approval. One that would allow tenured faculty members to go to part time and then back to full is being reviewed by the WSU Board of Regents.

Formulation of policies results from a discussion among faculty members to find solutions to barriers to success in the world of academia, McSweeney and Magnuson said.

The most recent – the modified duties policy – enables faculty members with significant caregiving responsibilities to alter their duties for a semester without a loss of salary. For example, one could change from inflexible duties, such as teaching a class, to more flexible ones, such as research.

McSweeney said that many people do not know this policy is available to them.

“You start at WSU and think you’ll never need it, but then when you need it you don’t realize it is there,” she said. “Unexpected things happen.”

Many of the policies accommodate unexpected changes like elder care, serious illnesses and other circumstances beyond the faculty member’s control.

“We hope no one has to use some of these policies, but the reality is sometimes they do,” McSweeney said.

The process to create policies is extensive and receives a lot of support from outside resources. One resource is ADVANCE at WSU (http://advance.wsu.edu/), a grant funded by the National Science Foundation in 2008.

ADVANCE’s purpose is to help women in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) to succeed. Its work/life support initiative (http://advance.wsu.edu/WorkLifeSupport.html) addresses personal and work-related barriers to advancement in the careers of WSU faculty.

The grant has provided a national resource of information on best practices and has supported the need for faculty friendly policies that encourage work/life balance, McSweeney said.

Faculty members interested in using a policy should talk to their department chair. Information about each policy and its application can be found on the Provost’s website (http://faculty.wsu.edu/resources.html and scroll down to Faculty-Friendly Policies).