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Washington State University
Washington State University Office of the Provost

Faculty Career and Advancement


Within academe, mentoring can, and usually does, take several forms:

  • faculty to faculty mentor (often senior to junior faculty)
  • faculty to graduate student, and/or,
  • administrative mentoring (department chair to faculty).

Although traditionally thought to involve a single person, current perspectives of mentoring more often value group approaches and multiple mentors as viable alternatives as well. Mentors may also serve a variety of roles which encompass professional, personal and social growth.

At WSU, mentoring is a process through which a new, untenured faculty member receives guidance and support for successful career enhancement and professional advancement. New faculty may also wish to seek mentors who can provide guidance of a more personal and social nature, but that lies beyond the scope of this university-endorsed effort.

WSU’s mentoring effort is open to all faculty who wish to participate, although it is our intention that all non-tenured, tenure-track faculty members participate in a mentoring effort. Every academic department or unit should establish a mentoring program with specific efforts to assist those historically under-represented in the field, the discipline and the academy. In some cases for interdisciplinary faculty, and those with appointments in more than one unit, mentoring may involve the participation of faculty in more than one academic unit.

In its desire to be attentive to the ways in which gender and race, as well as the complex intersections of those categories, impact the career advancement of faculty, WSU has developed this mentoring effort. WSU recognizes the need for mentoring efforts that address the unique and varied experiences of female faculty, including issues of particular concern to faculty women of color. Additionally, this mentoring effort recognizes the experiences and concerns of male faculty of color. Given its commitment to diversity and shared community, WSU’s mentoring effort can serve as a cornerstone to cultivate and retain a diverse and productive faculty.


The primary purpose of a mentoring system is to provide the new faculty member with optimum opportunity for career success, but there are additional benefits. A mentoring effort benefits the faculty member, the mentor, and the university.

Among the benefits to the individual faculty member are: (a) assistance in understanding the structure and culture of the department/unit and developing a professional network, (b) individual recognition and encouragement, (c) honest criticism and feedback, (d) advice on responsibilities and professional priorities, (e) knowledge of the “system” as well as informal rules, (f) long-range career planning, (g) support and advocacy from colleagues, and (h) opportunities for collaborative projects.

Mentors gain: (a) satisfaction of helping with the professional growth and development of faculty member, (b) collaboration, feedback and interaction with a junior faculty member, (c) a network of former mentees, and (d) expanded networks of colleagues and collaborators.
A university committed to mentoring will benefit by increased productivity and commitment among the faculty, decreased attrition among faculty, increased collaboration among colleagues, increased understanding and respect among faculty, and the encouragement of a university environment that promotes collegiality.


Successful mentors are generally influential and experienced faculty members familiar with the university system. Mentors are mature or recognized teachers/scholars in their field and usually higher up the organizational ladder than their mentee. Mentors should be interested in the mentee’s professional growth and development, be willing to commit time and attention to the relationship, be willing to give honest feedback, and be willing to act on behalf of the mentee. A mentor is not automatically a friend, “exclusively” assigned to a mentee, nor expected to be “on call” to listen to grievances and frustrations. Tenured faculty members are encouraged to volunteer to be mentors and to serve on mentor committees.

Mentoring Effort

Mentoring is not new to WSU. Some departments or programs already have mentoring efforts underway. In other academic units, chairs have assumed a mentoring role as they guide new faculty through the annual review, third year review, and tenure and promotion review. Thus, the WSU Mentoring Effort expands upon process(es) that are already in place and familiar, but it embraces a wider goal.

Although WSU makes the assumption that the faculty members hired are those whom we want to tenure, the mentoring program’s purpose is career advancement in the broadest sense, which may or may not result in tenure and promotion at WSU. A job well done results in career advancement at WSU or elsewhere. Guidance in seeking employment elsewhere (in academe or not) are among the possibilities associated with the WSU mentoring effort.

Although the mentoring effort at WSU will assume a variety of forms and serve a number of specific objectives, mentoring ought to address the following: (a) assistance with setting long-term goals and short-term objectives; (b) advice for setting priorities and developing a professional profile; (c) understanding the “system,” including explanation of departmental criteria for tenure and promotion; (d) understanding the departmental culture and socialization processes; (e) identifying strategies for avoiding pitfalls, addressing difficult situations and saying “no”; (f) assistance in identifying sources of extramural support; (g) development of professional networks; (h) feedback on progress toward and encouragement of professional independence; (i) increased communication and prevention of isolation of new faculty members; and (j) shared (among faculty) responsibility for understanding differences among teaching styles, extension responsibilities, and research or scholarly productivity.

Mentoring will vary by department, program and college, and is not intended to include rigid structures, but should allow some flexibility in meeting the objectives of the department as well as the needs of the new faculty member. A mentoring effort is not merely a parallel system for evaluating progress (e.g., annual review) but should complement existing system(s) for the ultimate goal of career advancement.

In developing their own mentoring efforts, departments and programs should adapt the general purposes outlined above to their specific needs. Typical considerations might include the following:

  1. Single mentors, multiple mentors, mentor committees;
  2. Mentors from within a department or program; mentors from outside the department or from outside WSU;
  3. Number of available tenured faculty members;
  4. Number of non-tenured faculty members;
  5. The relationship among annual review, tenure & promotion, and a mentoring program;
  6. Departmental or program purpose(s) of mentoring;
  7. Special attention or preparation for mentoring members of underrepresented groups (discussed more fully below);
  8. Strategies to fully involve all tenured members of the department in mentoring by providing specific communication opportunities between tenured and untenured faculty, such as holding a yearly meeting devoted to questions concerning promotion and tenure; and
  9. Effective use of electronic technology to support involvement of geographically dispersed faculty, i.e., counties, research and extension centers, branch campuses.

Enhancing Success of a Mentoring Program

Mentoring is not a simple process and requires understanding, communication and cooperation between faculty and administrators. It is important to reflect upon those factors which contribute to success and those which can adversely affect career advancement, especially for women and members of ethnic minority groups, who are likely to be different in background and experiences from the majority of the department. References and resources are attached as helpful suggestions to mentors and mentor committees (see Attachment 1).

WSU emphasizes positive actions which contribute to career advancement and professional enhancement through mentoring. Through understanding the artificial barriers which may adversely affect tenure and promotion decisions, WSU’s mentoring efforts attempt to develop an open and affirming climate for professional and personal advancement. Among those factors which may differentially influence women and members of racial minority groups and about which department members may disagree are the following:

  1. Research or scholarly production and extension education programs in areas unfamiliar to tenured faculty; emerging fields which have not yet received stamp of approval by tradition or authority;
  2. Hidden workload given one’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability (e.g., student advising, committee assignments);
  3. Family obligations;
  4. Community expectations for service activities;
  5. Cultural differences re: expectations for teaching, research and service;
  6. Increased financial pressures – less family help, more loans from graduate and undergraduate study;
  7. Decreased access to informal networks and gate keeping;
  8. The unconscious use by some faculty of different standards based on gender or ethnic assumptions (e.g., women who are outspoken are “pushy,” whereas outspoken men are merely forthright); and
  9. Unwillingness of new faculty to state their needs for fear of being labeled as troublesome or uncooperative.

Initially, departments will need to pay close attention to issues affecting members of under-represented groups, because departmental faculty members will be confronting new issues on which not all faculty will agree. Departments are encouraged to increase their awareness of these issues through reading and discussion of materials suggested in Attachment 2.

Responsibilities of the Department or Program Chair

Department or program chairs are key to successful mentoring efforts and the career advancement of their faculty members. Chairs play a major role in getting new faculty started right, and their success or failure will affect departmental mentoring efforts. Below are some suggestions which may assist chairs in this task:

  1. Clarify expectations and criteria at all levels–department, college, university. Explain the relationship of the written criteria to the expectations of the departmental culture. Give clear notice of deadlines and timelines. Conduct annual evaluations seriously and in writing; make sure that strategies for correcting shortcomings are fully understood. Speak frankly, thoroughly, and early about tenure expectations. Work to mitigate the double demands of joint appointments.
  2. a. Research – make sure the new faculty member has the appropriate introductions, contact persons, access to networks and distribution lists and appropriate information about conference presentations and grants/awards.b. Teaching and teaching policies – support faculty development activities and get help for teaching if necessary. Balance teaching load with research needs, evaluating member’s needs when making teaching assignments. Try not to give new course preparations every semester.
    c. Extension Education – ensure that new faculty have appropriate introductions and access to networks and resources in the community and organization. Support faculty development activities. Assist in creating a community of geographically dispersed tenure unit members.
    d. Service – do not overload with departmental committees, and assist in choosing appropriate university committees.
  3. Give frequent and accurate feedback, Conduct annual reviews and “dry run” (trial) tenure reviews. Assist in goal setting. Provide feedback through written summary/evaluation.
  4. Reduce impediments to progress by helping the faculty member learn to protect his/her time and refuse excessive demands. Be sure that the faculty member is aware of relevant university policies such as parental leave. Facilitate acquisition of resources to meet expectations.
  5. The chair can greatly facilitate the success of the mentoring program by encouraging the active participation of senior faculty in mentoring efforts and by educational efforts among the faculty to overcome possible biases.

Responsibilities of New Faculty (Mentees)

Although the ultimate responsibility for career advancement rests with the mentee, WSU’s mentoring program is designed to provide assistance and guidance. Among the responsibilities of the mentee are the following:

  1. Meet with and listen with an open mind to advice given by the mentor.
  2. Be willing to voice and explain concerns.
  3. Seek out established faculty members as mentors.
  4. Weigh and judge advice (conservative vs. risk-taking).
  5. Avail oneself of opportunities for professional growth and excellence in teaching, research, and service.
  6. Take responsibility, be an active agent and judge of appropriate course of action for career advancement.

References and Resources (Selected)

  • Aisenberg, N., & Harrington, M. (1988). Women of academe: Outsiders in the Sacred Grove. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Carey, H.V. (February, 1993). Women in physiology mentoring program. The Physiologist, 36, 1-2, 4.
  • Collins, N. W. (19xx). Professional women and their mentors. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Hall, R.M. (1982). The classroom climate: A chilly one for women. Project on the Status and Education of Women. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges.
  • Hall, R. M., & Sandler, B. R. (1983). Academic mentoring for women students and faculty: A new look at an old way to get ahead. Project on the Status and Education of Women. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges.
  • Johnsrud, L.K., & Atwater, C.D. (1993). Scaffolding the ivory tower: Building supports for faculty new to the academy. CUPA Journal, 1-14.
  • Knox, P.L. & McGovern, T.L. (1988). Mentoring women in academia. Teaching of Psychology, 15, 39.
  • Kovar, S. (1992). The chair’s role in mentoring new faculty members. The Chronicle of Physical Education in Higher Education, 4, 4, 12, 14.
  • Leon, D.J. (1993). Mentoring minorities in higher education: Passing the torch.Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.
  • Menges, R.J., & Exum, W.H. (1983). Barriers to the progress of women and minority faculty. Journal of Higher Education, 59, 123-144.
  • Merriam, S.B., Thomas, T.K., & Zeph, C.P. (1987). Mentoring in higher education: What we know now. The Review of Higher Education. 11, 199-210.
  • Olmstead, M.A. (July, 1994). Mentoring new faculty: Advice to department chairs. APS News.
  • Redmond, S.P. (1990). Mentoring and cultural diversity in academic settings. American Behavioral Scientist, 34, 188.
  • Sandler, B.R. (1986). The campus climate revisited: Chilly for women faculty, administrators, and graduate students. Project on the Status and Education of Women. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges.
  • Sandler, B.R. (March 10, 1993). Women as mentors: Myths and commandments. The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. B3.
  • Surviving & Thriving in Academia: A Guide for Women and Ethnic Minorities. (May, 1998). Washington DC: American Psychological Association
  • Women Faculty Network (June, 1992). Information Brochure for Incoming Women Faculty. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Women in Higher Education. (August, 1993).
  • Women in Science ’93 (April, 1993). Science, 260.