Developing Unit Mentoring Programs for Non-Tenure Stream Faculty by Building on the Charting Pathways to Intellectual Leadership Initiative

Over the past five years, the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University has implemented its value-enacted Charting Pathways to Intellectual Leadership (CPIL) initiative via a multi-phase approach. (For more on the CPIL initiative and its goals, see Fritzsche et al., 2022.) This model provides for inclusive evaluative definitions of academic labor that enable faculty of all appointment types to be seen and to see themselves as equally integral to a university’s mission. The initiative assumes epistemic inclusion rather than exclusion in the knowledge that true excellence is attained when a diversity of viewpoints and multiple ways of knowing are considered. (For more on the concept of epistemic exclusion in the academy, see Settles et al., 2021.) CPIL recognizes the value of interdisciplinary or reciprocal community-engaged work and other innovative, non-traditional efforts by measuring impact through equally nontraditional metrics. In doing so, the initiative empowers faculty, staff, and students to do the work they are most inspired to do – the work that rests upon the values of reciprocity, transparency, creativity, and equity, which can be interchanged with other personal and professional values. Moreover, the initiative works to dismantle university hierarchies that favor research over not-research. At the center is the everyday goal of intellectual leadership as intentional practice enacted via the foundational academic priorities of sharing knowledge, expanding opportunities, and mentoring and stewardship. While still valuing traditional forms of scholarship, by shifting the lens slightly from output (article, course, committee) to high-impact activities, all those engaged in higher education are able to see themselves and to be seen as an integral part of the academic mission. Whether serving as an advisor, engaged in curriculum development or focused on teaching, concentrated on outreach, occupied with research or creative scholarship, dedicated to support services, or paying it forward through administration, all contribute in essential ways to higher education’s civic mission.

In 2017, the College embarked on two simultaneous and related initiatives – the creation of a college-wide mentoring program and the articulation of clear and transparent promotion pathways for non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff. Developed together with Melissa McDaniels from the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Emily Bouck, MSU’s Associate Dean for Research in the College of Education, the year-long College Faculty Mentoring Fellows Program has as a primary goal to make visible the “hidden curriculum” in academia, employing both Beronda Montgomery‘s “multiple mentor” approach and peer mentors. Mentors are paid in professional development funds to incentivize and value this often-unseen labor. They must be from a unit different than their mentee and goals are determined by the mentee rather than tied to a promotion process. Although designed the first year to help to supplement the tenure-system mentoring already required by departments, it quickly became apparent that the sizable number of non-tenure track and academic staff in the College also were eager to have similar mentoring opportunities. In the second year, the program was opened to all faculty and academic staff in the College who wished to volunteer. Each spring, a general call goes out to the College faculty listserv and all mentees who wish to participate may do so. To date, besides the example described below, this is the only formal mentoring opportunity in the College for non-tenure stream faculty. It has been extraordinarily successful and has now doubled in size, with forty-five faculty and academic staff participating in the most recent iteration. While initially non-tenure stream faculty were paired with tenure-stream mentors, the program quickly became a way to recognize the accomplishments of more senior non-tenure stream faculty as mentors for their early-career counterparts. The expansion has also transformed the program itself for all participants, leading to the formation of mentoring pairs (one mentor with two peer mentees) and mentoring groups or collectives (two sets of mentor-two mentee pairs grouped together to form six all together), providing increased mentoring opportunities. More recently, as new non-tenure stream promotion pathways have opened up, select mentoring groups have targeted these as their “horizon goal.” Overall, the program has provided valuable cross-unit connections for multiple faculty and academic staff, leading in some cases to new collaborations that have resulted in joint publications and grant work. An assessment in the most recent program found the mentoring groups rather than one-on-one and the mentor and mentee training sessions to be most helpful.

The second College initiative mentioned above entailed the creation of clear and transparent pathways to promotion for non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff through the creation of an equivalent teaching-focused track as well as options for those with multiple workload assignments (e.g., academic specialists). Penny Weber of the HuMetricsHSS initiative discusses the importance of transparency related to evaluation in a post we found helpful as we worked toward this goal. Beginning in Spring 2021 and following principles of shared governance, the MSU College of Arts & Letters’ Dean’s Office worked with a College Advisory Council Taskforce for Non-Tenure Stream Career Pathways to review existing procedures and draft new promotion criteria for the College. The taskforce was made up of seven non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff from across the College working in the Arts and Humanities, two department chairpersons, and the Associate Dean. So dedicated were these faculty to their vision and task that they worked through the hardest days of COVID together to create the report that was submitted to the Dean. In addition, the taskforce identified the importance of continuing to imagine leadership pathways in the College. The College has now openly posted positions long held only by tenure-stream faculty that also include opportunities for multiple appointment types in the job description. Although we have had to work closely with Human Resources in getting approval for such positions, this practice has led to pathways that have retained some of our most talented non-tenure stream faculty. The taskforce continues to “world build,” looking for other similar opportunities that might be opened up in similar ways.

Moving Forward as HuMetricsHSS Community Fellows

The taskforce also identified the need for more dedicated unit mentoring for non-tenure stream faculty so that, like tenure stream faculty, they could also receive disciplinary-specific guidance and feedback. Fortuitously, as it happened, the HuMetricsHSS initiative announced their new HuMetricsHSS Community Fellows program with a call for proposals in 2021. Looking to build even more equity, trust, inclusion, joy, and generosity, Sonja Fritzsche and Dustin De Felice took their work on that College-wide taskforce and attempted to deliver on the goal of developing unit-level mentoring opportunities, creating a project with the support of the Community Fellows program entitled “Developing Unit Mentoring Programs for Non-Tenure Stream Faculty Following the Charting a Pathway to Intellectual Leadership (CPIL) Model.” Within these opportunities, they also sought to provide a framework to help guide faculty-administrator interactions, especially those related to personnel matters.

After many fruitful discussions, the English Language Center (ELC) faculty identified several areas for which they sought mentoring. These areas included promotions, career trajectories, retirement transitions, and fulfillment opportunities. With the generous support of the 2022 HuMetricSSS Community Fellows program, the leadership at the College of Arts and Letters, and the years of work by the college-level taskforce devoted to non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff, we embarked on meeting these mentoring needs across the Center. Much of our earlier efforts in reconceptualizing our roles in the Center came from the annual evaluation work we were doing after our center adopted the CPIL model, work outlined by Dustin in a special interest group piece from a few years ago. (We also recommend viewing this short video to learn more about this model.) We continue working to integrate the CPIL model into our annual review process and have implemented open-door policies to facilitate shared decision-making. Our Center’s goal is to develop a mentoring system that will eventually include peer review for faculty in advising, service, outreach, and curriculum development.

Charting and Guiding Our Pathways

In our Center’s daily practice, we have faculty and academic staff who have percentages of effort attached to categories like teaching, advising, and research, among others. Within the Center, many faculty and academic staff often had difficulty bringing their work forward in public ways, so we took on our initial mentoring focus with an eye toward peer review in the following areas: advising, service, outreach, and curriculum development. Obviously teaching and research are important at our home institution, but those categories of work always seem to occupy everyone’s attention and also appear to have more infrastructure devoted to them. While this perception may not be true, Dustin has had many conversations with faculty and academic staff who have percentages in non-teaching/non-research categories and who often struggle with how to “show” their value, engage with their peers, and grow in their roles since they often don’t have mentors or even others working in the same categories within the same unit. As a unit, we also have a very teaching-heavy responsibility, so many of the faculty and academic staff who do engage in research often have smaller percentages for research assigned to their job description than do their peers in other units. In the future, we would like to explore research as a category because the research focus within the English Language Center often appears to have a very different approach to research in comparison with the tenure-stream faculty in areas related to, for example, language teaching and assessment. As we continue to grow mentoring opportunities within the unit, we believe a mentoring program for non-tenure stream faculty and academic staff could be another area to explore.

Getting Beyond Barriers and Moving with Faculty Need

Some barriers we initially faced included implementing a newly expanded promotion category (from academic specialist to senior academic specialist) when we did not yet have such an individual at the unit level who had already gone through the promotion process. There are only two individuals in the College who hold the rank of senior academic specialist, so we were able to work with one to help us understand the promotion path and the metrics that would be used for evaluation. One additional solution to this barrier was the College-level mentoring program adaptation that included a specific group who could avail themselves of this newfound promotion opportunity. At the unit level, our faculty members took the information and guidance they received through having College-wide mentoring opportunities and shared this knowledge with their supervisor. Their supervisor likewise did the same. They worked together to ensure that any additional support needed was provided by unit leadership, and that clear communication about this new process was available throughout the various promotion stages.

Promotion was not the only focus the faculty identified that would benefit from the CPIL approach. The English Language Center has been around for more than sixty years, and it has had a stable faculty for the past few decades. Within this group, many faculty were interested in discussing next steps for their career paths that even for some included retirement. With collegiality and community in mind, we investigated the various options that had been made readily available to those in faculty roles but that had not been traditionally extended to others. Through this mentoring and fact-finding mission, our College leadership found ways to provide a meaningful pathway to retirement for interested faculty. This administrative step allowed both for the stability the faculty needed in their present situation along with opportunities to negotiate ways for making their remaining years productive, focused, and individualized. These MOUs (memoranda of understanding) became an important pathway forward for some faculty members, and the process has provided a framework for the rest of the faculty who have longer career paths ahead of them.

In reference to the CPIL model described above, one of its strengths is the ability for faculty members to reimagine both their career and their day-to-day tasks through its “steppingstones, milestones, and horizon” workplan. However, the flexibility and openness of this approach made it difficult at times as faculty members sought to connect their daily work to this framework. As part of the mentoring experience, we started to compile a list of examples drawn from previous evaluation periods. We felt that if each faculty member could see how they had addressed and interpreted their work in the past that this would help them to make further connections to their own goals and aspirations for the future. Given the speed at which each semester seems to fly by, we are currently still in this compilation phase. We have three years of submissions to review, organize, and share, so we are confident that the next steps in our process will be instrumental in making these deeper connections. With mentoring support now in place, we aspire to have conversations around what values, activities, and outcomes are important to the faculty. This conversation will likely occur when the Center reviews, updates, and improves the bylaws in a future semester. We also hope to connect the annual evaluation example entries to these conversations in the hopes that faculty will find ways of using the CPIL model within their own practice.

Following the CPIL heuristic, we will also work on setting up steppingstones, milestones, and horizons for all our faculty, whatever their role. This terminology of “stones” and “horizons” is meant to set realistic goals and/or aspirations in three stages, from those that are reachable in a shorter amount of time or with less effort through to those that will take more time and effort. We are especially keen on starting this process because many faculty have had difficulty in writing up a narrative that focused on how they were engaged in CPIL-inspired values, activities, and outcomes. Faculty were not sure how they (or if they) demonstrated any of these values, activities, and outcomes.

As we have gone through the process of identifying mentor directions, many of our Center faculty have become involved in providing general education courses, which was a new teaching area. As these instructors have become more comfortable providing these 4-credit-hour, large-sized undergraduate courses, many faculty are interested in some shadowing between our own faculty who want to share their work and those who have not yet taught these kinds of courses but who are interested, or who want to see other ways of teaching these courses. In terms of fulfillment, many of the faculty discussed the idea of having the opportunity to learn about someone’s strengths and be able to go to them to learn about a particular online tool, video creation, great classroom idea, and other administrative or outreach activity, etc. We are in the process of finding ways of supporting this kind of mentorship where a faculty member can provide workshops, one-on-one tutoring, and/or consulting in a short-term capacity on one of their strengths.

Looking Ahead, Building on the Fellows Work

With the foundation set through the ongoing work and the generous support from the HuMetricSSS Community Fellows program, we will continue to identify faculty needs related to mentoring, improve on evaluation metrics, and work on bringing transparency, equity, and joy to our daily practice. One aspect of the HuMetricHSS approach that worked well for us during the year-and-a-half period of the fellowship were the joint collaboration meetings. During those times dedicated to discussions, updates, and questions, we often learned through our colleagues what steps we could take, or we were given a new perspective on a concern thanks to the collegiality of the group. As with most administrative tasks, finding the time to dedicate oneself to them is one challenge that was met by this group. Sonja and Dustin were able to set aside devoted time for brainstorming, reviewing our intentions, and sharing knowledge in ways that better helped us meet our ideals. As we wait for the first faculty members who went up for promotion at the start of this fellowship to complete their promotion cycle, we can rest assured that this aspect of mentorship is set in motion, and we can begin to move forward with more urgency on the other aspects of mentorship, like fulfillment and the narratives used in the Center’s annual evaluation process each year. In the future, we are committed to go forward in the spirit of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Generous Thinking (2019) in that equitable institutional transformation begins at the unit level by valuing all people engaged in support of the academic mission.


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Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. (2021). Generous thinking: A radical approach to saving the university. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Fritzsche, Sonja, William Hart-Davidson, and Christopher P. Long. (2017). Values, outcomes, and activities of intellectual leadership [chart]. Humanities Commons,

Fritzsche, Sonja, William Hart-Davidson, Christopher P. Long. (2022). Charting pathways of intellectual leadership: An initiative for transformative personal and institutional change. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 54(3), 19-27,

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Settles, Isis H., Martinque K. Jones, NiCole T. Buchanan, Kristie Dotson. (2021). Epistemic exclusion: Scholar(ly) devaluation that marginalizes faculty of color. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 14(4), 493-507,