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Exploring Faculty Civic Agency and What Supports It. KerryAnn O’Meara, Associate Professor Andrew Lounder , Doctoral Student University of Maryland College Park. Agenda. Background of our Project Conceptual Framework: What is Agency? Methods

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exploring faculty civic agency and what supports it

Exploring Faculty Civic Agency and What Supports It

KerryAnn O’Meara, Associate Professor

Andrew Lounder, Doctoral Student

University of Maryland College Park

  • Background of our Project
  • Conceptual Framework: What is Agency?
  • Methods
  • Key Findings: Influencing Factors, Agency in Action, Outcomes
  • Areas for Future Research
introduction origins of agency
Introduction: Origins of Agency

“And I think, you know, after I got to that moment in my career and in my life where I was, I’d finished the book, I’d gotten tenure, I was appointed the Director of [my program] so I was doing kind of program building and curriculum development stuff and at the same time I started having kids and I had a family, and I was really thinking about, “hey, so what am I doing and where do I really want to spend my time? Is this really what I want to be doing?” And I think the kind of combination of being a parent at the same time being at that point in my career, those two things intersected really strongly for me. So, I started asking myself, “Is it really worth it to go back into the archives and spend for me, what’s going to be five or six years, probably more researching and writing another monograph that maybe a handful of people are going to read, or…and I was thinking more broadly. So, “how do I speak to the public? What can I do?” And, you know, I think that combined with the kind of political atmosphere of the moment in the 2000s, 2001, you know, the early part of this decade made me really feel like it’s my responsibility to add something back to the culture as a parent, as a community member, as a scholar, as a teacher.”

  • In recent years have studied faculty civic and community engagement from a motivational lens, using discourse analysis, from the perspective of organizational culture
  • Partnered with the Kettering Foundation to study faculty community engagement using the lens of agency
  • While here the focus will be on civic agency, have also studied it in other contexts—such as balance of work and family, overall faculty career and professional growth (O’Meara, Terosky & Neumann, 2008; O’Meara & Campbell, in press)
literature review
Literature Review

Our conceptual framework draws on prior work:

  • Agency (a developing conceptual framework drawn from several social science disciplines: O’Meara & Campbell, 2010)
  • On faculty careers, work-life & reward systems (Baldwin, 1990, Blackburn & Lawrence, 1995; Clark, 1987; Neumann, 2005),
  • Emerging trends in higher education faculty community engagement (Bloomgarden & O’Meara, 2007; Colbeck & Michael, 2006; Sandmann & Weerts, 2008)
what is agency
What is Agency?
  • Agency is : The ability to act on behalf of goals that matter to oneself
  • This definition comes from AmartyaSen’s (1985, p. 203), with nuance added by Sabina Alkire (2005)
  • Our developing framework for how agency works in faculty professional lives integrates theories from several fields in the social sciences: sociology, psychology, lifespan, and organizational theory.
  • The central parts of the framework are conceived of as influencing factors, actual agency, and outcomes.
civic agency
Civic Agency
  • Boyte (2008) defined civic agency as: “navigational capacities” to negotiate and transform the world toward greater democracy
  • We define faculty civic agency in the context of their professional lives as having the intention to, feeling confident one can, and acting in ways that link professional work with public purposes.
research questions
Research Questions

1) What were the most influential factors on faculty civic agency?

2) What did faculty civic agency look like in action?

3) What were some of the outcomes actors attributed to the exercise of civic agency?

methods research design
Methods: Research Design
  • Individual cases with cross case analysis
  • Snowball sampling method to identify exemplary faculty performers in community and civic engagement, as identified through past Lynton, Ehrlich, and IRASLCE award winners and nominees.
  • First researcher’s own participation on 2008 and 2009 Ehrlich, Lynton, and IARSLCE award committees, as well as through her participation in national civic engagement networks
  • Sampling for diversity in career stage, institutional type, demographics, discipline
methods sample
Methods: Sample

Of the 25 individual cases

  • 10 men and 15 women
  • 4 faculty of color; 21 white faculty
  • 16 disciplines represented
  • 9 early career, 3 mid-career, 13 late career
  • Institutional Types:
    • 44% RU/VH
    • 24% RU/H
    • 12% Masters
    • 8% DRU
    • 4% Bac/Diverse
    • 4% Bac/A&S
    • 4% Assoc/Pub-U-MC
methods data
Methods: Data
  • 25 interviews completed to date, one hour long, transcribed (additional interviews will be added to the study)
  • Career materials: vita, promotion and tenure documents
  • Essays describing work for nomination or award
  • Descriptions of major projects, syllabi, grants
  • Publications
methods analysis
Methods: Analysis
  • We employed a “constant comparative” method (Merriam, 1998) wherein we analyzed each interview & case materials for factors that seemed to influence the development of civic agency.
  • Given our review of the literature on the factors that influence this work, we held these ideas in our minds and were cued to notice them in our review of all interview transcripts and documents.
  • That is, we knew to look for the influence of discipline, institutional type, and previous professional experiences.
  • However, we also remained open to other “explanations” and factors that faculty mentioned that seemed substantive and have not appeared in much previous literature but seemed to come through as important to them.
  • This method has been followed by Neumann in her analysis of qualitative faculty career narratives (Neumann, 2009).

Merriam (1998) describes internal validity as a means of matching research findings to reality—how well do findings capture these faculty experiences

To strengthen internal validity we used/are using the following strategies:

  • Each of the authors analyzed the reports and transcripts separately and developed themes and then came together to compare these conclusions. This was done through the creation of “thematic memoing” (Rossman & Rallis, 2003, p. 291-292) and then joint conceptualization of final themes and findings.
  • Triangulation of documents and transcripts
  • Member checking
  • Awareness of checking of researcher bias
  • Rich data—verbatim transcription of interviews

Our intent or goal is not generalizability but thick description and “transferability”

  • Transferability is the theoretical parameter of qualitative research (Marshall & Rossman, 1995) which refers to the ability to apply the research findings in another setting. Transferability is achieved by providing “very thorough descriptions of the participants, the research study, the methodology, the results, and the emerging theory—enough data to allow future researchers to make judgments about the application of this research inquiry in other settings (Lincoln & Guba, 1985)
findings influencing factors
Findings: Influencing Factors

Individual “Starting Places”

  • “The best of what my family stood for”
  • “This is where my family is from”
  • Identity
  • Professional Experiences
  • Discipline and Field
  • Not so chance encounters
  • Desire for real world experience for students
  • Epistemology
the best of what my family stood for
“The best of what my family stood for”
  • Jonah said: “I mean, my family identity—I don’t think there’s glory to it. Sometimes I’m not sure there’s any more to it than, you know, the fact that most firemen, their fathers were firemen. Most policemen in New York, their fathers were policemen. If my father were a doctor—I was so in love with my father. He was such an incredible hero to me, I would have followed him into medicine. This was just sort of the language of my childhood—the best of what my family stood for, to me, and it just becomes very addicting.”
this is where my family is from
“This is where my family is from”

“This is where I grew up,” faculty observed that they had grown up in a city or connected to a place and had wanted to recreate that connection to place in the place of their faculty appointment.

“The first justification was not me, as a professor thinking how to enrich my students. The first line of thinking was how to make the biggest difference to the state. And part of that is just growing a group, a generation of young people who are better leaders and more thoughtful and more connected to problems, and this just seemed like in terms of one effort it had the most effects.”

identity working class
Identity: Working Class

“I was definitely a product of a working class family. Social class is not something we discuss much in the United States, but for me, I’m very sensitive to issues of power and how people use power to manipulate and to marginalize.”

identity gender class race
Identity: Gender, Class, Race
  • “I think first and foremost my gender, as a female, I think there are some gender differences, and as a woman, my interest in collaboration and working together with people comes out of that, first and foremost. I think being raised in a working class family, I understood enough. I mean, I was a privileged—I definitely come from a privileged background, but I understood struggle enough to relate to it, and I understood privilege, too, that going on in my education in the way I’ve been able to is a very privileged thing. I understand that very clearly, because of my background. Neither of my parents went to college, so I think I’m pretty grounded with people who are not associated with academia. My life partner is not a college educated man, either, and he’s African-American, and his daughter, my step daughter is bi-racial. So, now, that—for the last eight years there’s been a racial component to my understanding or my interest in community work, as well. I’ve lived in predominantly African-American neighborhoods for many years, now, so I see race as something that’s really significant in community work, as well.”
identity generation
Identity: Generation

“And I think also generational. I think my generation, I probably, I’m not a millennial, but I think in some ways the end of generation X’ers are kind of the first wave of folks who begin to think more about, you know, how you solve problems more collaboratively, more relationally, kind of wanting an end to divisive debates. And I think that this kind of approach and pedagogy and seeing higher education as an avenue to do this kind of work is very generational and is very consistent with the way I think about things.”

desire for real world experience for students
Desire for real world experience for students
  • The desire to be a good teacher and to create real world engagement for students has been found by many other studies as a starting place for public work (Abes, Jones & Jackson, 2002; O’Meara, 2008; O’Meara & Niehaus, 2009).
  • Participants all discussed very clear learning objectives: knowledge, skills, and orientations they wanted students to acquire and could only acquire through this experience
professional experiences
Professional experiences

“Well I was a community organizer for eight years before going to graduate school, in between undergraduate and graduate school, so that was my main source of income for those eight years. And you know, I’ve been very active politically in community development efforts for a long time. It’s very, very easy, and comfortable for me, in fact, more so to go out and work in the community than it is to work on campus.”

  • This notion of being involved in public work because it is part of who they are as a “biologist, engineer, political scientist, etc.” is also very consistent with previous studies conducted on exemplars in community engagement (O’Meara, 2008; O’Meara & Niehaus, 2009). In other words, it made sense to them in terms of how they understood the role of someone trained as they were in this discipline/field. It was what they believed they were supposed to do, and what they had been shown they could do, to make an impact on the world.
  • “Political science is more conducive to this. Being a citizen, and a citizenship is at the heart of what political science is all about, other than political theory. Citizenship is all about making the world a better place, so you know, that to me means going out, and doing practical work in the community.”
not so chance encounters
“Not so chance encounters”

Not unlike many married couples describe their first meeting;

“Chance encounters” that started a really important relationship, project or network for them.

Yet participants had placed themselves, “in the right place at the right time” for such encounters and whether consciously or unconsciously seemed to be looking for them.


“I may have to go back farther. I was concerned about getting lost in the ivory tower. I was really concerned about getting deep into the books and the theory and losing sight of what was happening on the ground. After all, my interest is in how to improve neighborhoods and work with people, and I was fearful that if I didn’t keep one foot on the ground that I wouldn’t know what I was talking about, that I would somehow lose my credibility as a teacher. I didn’t think of it so much as a researcher or a scholar, but I thought about it a lot in terms of teaching. I had a hard time envisioning how I could walk into a classroom and teach if I couldn’t also draw from some practical experience. So when I landed at [institution] that was a concern, and the voice I was hearing in the back of my mind was, “Don’t get lost in the research and the writing. Figure out where you’re gonna put your foot.”

influencing factors organizational
Influencing Factors: Organizational

“Setting the Table…”

  • “They leave us alone” or autonomy
  • “Saying yes” Support from key administrators
  • Resources, reward systems and flexibility
  • Bridge personnel
  • Support from networks
  • The profile of engagement on campus and mission
influencing factors organizational1
Influencing Factors: Organizational
  • Active autonomy: Faculty used the words having the “liberty to”, freedom to…, being given latitude to… make pedagogical choices, reshape courses, create projects, redirect research agendas, put time and effort, change appointment workloads, toward this work.
  • Passive: we are allowed to fly under the radar
  • They leave us alone and that’s not so bad
administrators saying yes when asked
Administrators saying yes…when asked
  • Providing resources and office space, creating flexibility with the creation of new classes, and cover in political situations
  • Diverting professional development funds, supporting student transportation, course release, etc.
  • Interplay of agency and enabling conditions; Requires faculty asking and being entrepreneurial.
civic agency in action
Civic Agency in Action
  • Incredibly strategic, while also being focused on process and relationships.
  • The public work projects described by participants were (a) partnership and needs driven, (b) engaged students as co-producers, (c) had a systematic, thoughtful approach and (d) were positioned for high impact.
outcomes individual
Outcomes: Individual

Well-being & Professional Growth through Relationships

“The first is about the relationships with the students in particular. I think in doing this kind of work I develop a different kind of relationship with students than I might if I taught more lecture oriented classes, where they were writing papers. By having these open discussions, by having community partners come into the classroom.”

outcomes individual1
Outcomes: Individual

Well-being: Connection

  • Faculty members sense of community and purpose was much stronger with partners off campus. In other words, they seemed to be finding something in the way of collegial support and relationships they were not getting primarily through their disciplines, departments or campus.
  • “Doing research work is very isolating, and for me it was unsatisfying, and now, with the partnership and this new kind of work I don’t feel isolated in the work that I’m doing because I’ve got students that are so engaged with the work with their community partners.”
  • None of these faculty members felt isolated in silos, like lone rangers, disconnected or unsure of where their loyalties lie. Rather they were embedded in a public, and were growing from that experience.
outcomes individual2
Outcomes: Individual
  • “The reason I got involved to begin with is that I saw something happening in [name of place] that I had never seen before, and it just seemed to me that I’d be missing out on something if I didn’t get involved. And it’s been—one of the reasons I’ve stayed involved so long, and the relationships have a lot to do with it, but I’ve just learned so much from the practitioners there, about how to cope with the kinds of problems that most industrial cities are facing. They’re really onto something.”
outcomes individual3
Outcomes: Individual

Seeing outcomes of work:

  • So whatever it is that sustains me, in that regard, is not the money. We have a lot of evidence showing real outcomes, both in terms of the usefulness in the community, the value of the research we do for the organizations. We have some concrete evidence that it is actually making a difference. Also, on the educational side we do a very comprehensive evaluation at the end of the semester of student participants, and we have a lot of evidence too. For them, it’s a transformational experience, it’s a growth process, just on a lot of indicators…and then, just learning research methods, a whole maturation process of them moving from thinking like students to thinking as citizens and professionals. Those kinds of concrete outcomes really motivate me. I’m very pleased to see them. Seeing these things happen to the students, and there is a real value to the community.”
outcomes individual4
Outcomes: Individual
  • Individuals require feedback on their work to improve and to grow (Hagedorn, 2000). Many aspects of traditional faculty work offer scant or insufficient feedback.
  • Here faculty were gaining a constant, continuous, useful feedback loop on issues and commitments that these faculty cared most about; they were benchmarking toward goals they were passionate about, commitments that they were getting to live and watch in real time.
areas for future research
Areas for future research
  • Influencing factors: Duality of belonging and loneliness embedded in faculty stories: role of academic culture in isolating and separating (the rooms). Boyte (2010) observes norms in American life leave out the workplace as a potential location for citizenship
  • Civic Agency as a Process: highly strategic
areas for future research1
Areas for Future Research
  • Outcomes of civic agency: The effect of agency in action and faculty navigational strategies on organizational learning and social change.
  • Accommodate, transform, negotiate—which strategies reinforce or strengthen dysfunctional norms and which take them on?
thank you
Thank you!

KerryAnn O’Meara

Associate Professor, Higher Education

University of Maryland


Andrew Lounder

Doctoral Student