Because colleges, universities, and professional schools
are increasingly using vigorous and comprehensive faculty recruitment strategies, they are hiring a greater number of women
and under-represented U.S. minorities. Some of those new hires will find themselves placed in puzzling and demanding “solo”
roles. They will find that they are the only one or one of only a few women in a predominantly
male department (in a science or engineering area, for instance). Or they find they are the only one or
one of only a few under-represented U.S. minorities in a majority department (in any academic field).
In this booklet, I will focus on the special stressors and “extra taxes”—exacted at both the individual
and the organizational levels—that many solo/pioneer faculty discover they have to deal with.
such stressors and taxes are addressed and solos come to enjoy a sense of welcome and belonging, they understandably will
not thrive and they may be relegated (often unintentionally) to the margins of the professional and community lives of their
departments and campuses. In some cases, solos will decide to transfer to more hospitable departments at other campuses. In
the worst-case scenario, they may become deeply demoralized, conclude they are a “bad fit” for academe, and leave
the professoriate altogether. The
booklet will illuminate the following topics:
What are the extra stresses and bewildering social dynamics often experienced by a
faculty member in a solo role (or in a numerically-few role)?
In a solo situation, why does a minority faculty member who is not
an immigrant usually have more demanding dynamics to deal with than an international or immigrant minority?
How can the stresses of the solo
be pro-actively reduced by:
· the department chair?
solo’s department and especially senior members of the department?
· the solo’s
· departmental or campus-wide faculty developers? teaching
and learning centers?
· the solo him/herself?
Why do some senior faculty who are solos shy away
from lobbying to bring about the increased hiring of women or underrepresented minorities? Why do senior solos sometimes seem
fearful and resist mentoring or befriending junior colleagues who share their group membership? What risks and losses could
be awaiting senior solos?
In my consulting work, administrators and faculty sometimes say to
me that their own personal way of interacting with solos is this: be distant but friendly and do no harm (a kind of passive-bystander
approach). Unfortunately, their approach is good-intentioned but short-sighted: it withholds collegial support to the solos
and it makes no attempt to ameliorate the departmental dysfunctions sure to bewilder and at times hurt them. This booklet
will clarify why and how to take pro-active steps to improve the departmental climate and professional life
for solo faculty members. Organization
of the Publication
Six “Discussion Scenarios” and my analysis of each of them form the backbone of this booklet. As a consultant,
I routinely use problem-based dialogues/scenarios that have embedded in them common issues and situations occurring in academe.
Why use such scenarios? They jumpstart the workshops and retreats I run for faculty, administrators, committees, faculty senates,
diversity councils, ADVANCE gender-equity programs, individual departments, and others. Workshop participants and I analyze
and discuss each scenario and then move on to brainstorm concretely about remedies—by whom, what, and how?—to
address the problems suggested in each scenario. Such a practical, highly interactive approach allows me to tap into the participants’
wisdom as well as promote collective problem-solving.
Collective analysis and problem-solving
are exactly what are missing in most sessions designed for deans, chairs, committees, and departments. Frequently,
power-point presentations dominate most of the “air” time and enforce passive listening. By contrast, authentic
leadership-development should prompt participants to generate new ways of dealing with situations they routinely confront.
Through sharing of successes and failures and joint practice in solving problems, leaders will acquire new perspectives and
skills. They will also acquire a new community of allies from whom they can seek ideas and support in the future. Invitation to you to be an Active Reader
You the reader will be given a similar opportunity
to ponder various aspects of the “solo phenomenon” and to generate ways to solve the problems set forth. As you
consider each of the six scenarios below, please ask yourself:
What good practices do I see, at both the individual and organizational
bad or negative practices do I see at the individual level? What
dysfunctions do I see at the organizational level?
What could be done to remove the bad practices and dysfunctions or at least
diminish the severity of them? By whom and how?After you’ve pondered a scenario, you can then move directly to
the section following each scenario entitled “Analysis, Discussion, and Some Remedies.” There
you can compare your insights, hunches, and answers (to the three questions above) with the analyses I
have generated. My hope is that this booklet will increase understanding
of the solo phenomenon and prompt a variety of leaders to immediately reduce the unfair stressors and complex
dynamics that solos so often confront.