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Ryan Cook

Ryan Cook is a second year PhD student in the Counselor Education and Supervision and a graduate assistant in the Office of Assessment and Evaluation. Ryan holds two degrees from Virginia Tech: a B.S. in psychology and a M.A. in Counselor Education. Ryan is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Virginia who worked at multiple community mental health agencies in Virginia prior to returning to Virginia Tech to continue his educational pursuits. More about Ryan...

By eliminating boarders and sharing ideas as faculty members, institutions, and educational systems we will be better able to fulfill the mission of higher education while ensuring its sustainability. Thus, it remains critical to examine educational practices in different countries to benefit the teaching and research practices of faculty members and professors, and to gaining an understanding of our roles as global citizens and globally situated faculty members. Mr. WordPress

Introduction

Regardless of the country, faculty members and professors are the driving force of the work being done at universities. They respond to many stakeholders including students, administration, the general public, and governmental agencies. However, the obligations and the evaluations of faculty members are defined differently depending on their title, university, and department. These differences are particularly true when comparing the roles of faculty members in the higher education systems in the United States of America and Switzerland. Therefore, this paper will compare and contrast the different roles of faculty members and professors in the United States and Switzerland. More specifically, the three purposes of this comparative paper are: (1) to examine the promotion and annual review policies, (2) to evaluate the faculty members and students relationship, and (3) to identify additional questions for further investigation.

It should be noted the terminology used to describe a faculty member and professor differs between the United States and Switzerland. In the United States, the term faculty member refers to an individual who is a tenure track position and his or her responsibilities are often defined by three pillars; research, teaching, and service. In Switzerland, positions are defined as professor, lecturer, or researcher. The expectations and evaluation of those individuals differ depending on the position. For the purpose of this paper, the term faculty member will be used to describe someone working in the United States whereas the term professor will be used to describe someone working in Switzerland, unless otherwise explicitly noted by the terms lecturer or researcher.

Tenure, promotion, and annual review in the United States and Switzerland Procedures in the United States

Tenure track positions are highly sought after in the United States regardless of field. If a person is accepted to a tenure track position, their first assignment is often at the assistant professor position. This assignment may also be referred to as pre-tenured, meaning the individual is working towards tenure. Post-tenured faculty positions are referred to as associate or full professors. Regardless of the level of faculty assignment, faculty members in the United States are evaluated by their ability to meet the universities standards in the areas of research, teaching, and service. The expectations for each content area may differ based on the department, field, and university mission. For example, at a large research institution such as Virginia Tech, research is likely to be evaluated more heavily than teaching or service. However, at a smaller university with a different mission, teaching is more heavily focused on in the promotion process. Regardless of institution, almost uniformly, faculty members will be evaluated based on these three pillars.

Procedures in Switzerland

As noted previously, the differences in Switzerland’s educational system and definitions of positions impacts the review of professors, lecturers, and researchers. At the research universities such as ETH, Zurich, and Basel, professors are reviewed similarly to faculty members in the United States. Presenters shared that there is an emphasis placed on teaching and research. Comparatively, lecturers are often evaluated by student feedback. At SUPSI, one presenter noted that student evaluations are a critical part of the evaluation of lecturers and courses. Those in research positions noted they were evaluated by the number of grants and publications they produced. Therefore, unlike the United States, the position largely defines how an individual is evaluated.

Comparison of the Two Systems

One observation noted is that professors, lecturers, and researchers seemed to be less concerned with their respective review processes than faculty members in the United States. There are several possible explanations. First, regardless of the institution a faculty member works at in the United States, he or she will be evaluated based on his or her ability in the areas of research, teaching, and service. However, in Switzerland there appears to be more specialized positions (e.g., lecturer, researcher). In the United States, the emphasis placed on demonstrating excellence in all three content areas may lead to a greater emphasis placed on the tenure review process. Thus, for those in Switzerland, this may mean that other methods of evaluations are needed for annual review and promotion beyond the tenure review process. Also, funding opportunities for professors in Switzerland appear more obtainable than for faculty members in the United States. The increased opportunity for funding, coupled with higher salaries, may lead to more security in positions outside tenure-track positions.

The Faculty/Student Relationship

The Faculty Member/Student Relationship in the United States

In the United States, students move away from their homes and live on campus or in the cities where their universities are located. Therefore, there is an increased expectation of all university employees, including faculty members, to play a role in their students’ lives. A recent poll of college graduates found that one of the biggest influences of student success in college and after college was mentorship by a faculty member (Gallop-Purdue, 2014). There is not a consensus definition of mentorship; however, faculty members in the United States are expected to take an active role in their students’ lives. Faculty members are encouraged to be aware of how personal matters impact a student learning. Moreover, faculty members should be able to connect a student to resources (e.g., counseling, career services) when necessary. In the United States, faculty members are to teach students and to be aware of the personal needs of the students by getting to know them.

The Professor/Student Relationship in Switzerland

In Switzerland, there appears to be an ideological difference in the expectation of professors and lecturer in terms of the role they play students’ life. Based on feedback from professors and lecturers, they believe there is a separation between students’ university or public lives and their private lives. When referring to this view students’ public and private lives, one presenter noted, “These are citizens who live in the city that happen to go to our university.” While not as direct, this view was echoed by other university professions at other schools. In Switzerland, there is no less emphasis on the importance of the university in preparing students for their futures, but there does appear to be a difference in the role of professors and lecturers in student’s lives outside of the academic realm. Several presenters noted students’ “private matters” such as mental health issues should be handled in the community, not by the university.

Comparison of the Two Systems

There appears to be an ongoing discussion in both the United States and Switzerland about the roles and responsibilities of universities and university personal in student’s lives. Whereas the United States continues to emphasis more services and more resources for students, educational officials in Switzerland more clearly defined students’ university lives and private lives. One possible explanation of this that students in the United States often move away to go to school. In some ways, the university assumes responsibility for the wellbeing of the students including providing nonacademic support services such as counseling, medical care, or athletic facilities. Another distinction between the educational systems in the United States and Switzerland is that in the United States, universities are competing with one another for students. Therefore, there is a greater emphasis on developing and showcasing these resources in order to attract quality students. Regardless of the reasons, there appears to be a difference in how faculty members and professors view their relationships with students.

Limitations, Questions for Future Exploration, and Conclusion

Before discussing questions for future exploration it is important to note some limitations of these findings. First, I am an American doctoral student who has successfully navigated the educational system thus far. Thus, it is possible that my own paradigm impacts how I approached answering these questions. For example, initially I was interested in exploring the tenure and review processes, given the emphasis of tenure in the United States, only to learn that these promotion processes are not common in Switzerland. Therefore, it is possible that I have missed important aspects of answering these questions. Second, when gathering information about the educational system in Switzerland, I largely spoke to individuals who were doctoral students, post docs, or in some position at the university. Much like my own experiences, these individuals are largely successfully navigating the respective educational systems. Therefore, it may be interesting to interview people who did not have similar experiences in college or in university positions to better understand their perspectives. This is true for both the United States and Switzerland educational systems.
Given the findings and limitations, there are numerous questions for future exploration that have emerged. In regards to promotion and the annual review process, how might the separation of positions, as they are done in Switzerland, lead to more clearly defined expectations or better professional outcomes? Does this approach lead to more or less productive faculty members? How are individuals selected for those positions and are they in the position that best fits their skillset? Moreover, if one would want to change career paths, how easily is this accomplished? Finally, in both countries, does the cultural background of an individual impact the obtainability of a tenure track position or the sustainability of keeping a tenure-track position via promotion?
Regarding the faculty and student relationship, how does the fact that students live on campus impact the faculty member and student relationship? Additionally, does the competitive environment between universities in the United States impact expectations of faculty regarding their relationships with students? As noted previously, financial resources are often spent on nonacademic resources for students in the United States, how does this effect the relationship between faculty and students? Finally, do these services provided have a positive effect on student wellness which improves student learning? Should these services be considered a part of the services offered to students by universities in Switzerland?
In conclusion, there are similarities and differences in the roles of faculty members and professors in the United States and Switzerland. The differences in roles seem to reflect the broader cultural and political systems in each country. Thus, it is important to consider the larger picture when making judgements about these findings or any other findings about the educational systems in both countries. Rather, what seems to be more useful is to examine how strengths of each educational system may be applied to address issues in another system. By eliminating boarders and sharing ideas as faculty members, institutions, and educational systems we will be better able to fulfill the mission of higher education while ensuring its sustainability. . Thus, it remains critical to examine educational practices in different countries to benefit the teaching and research practices of faculty members and professors, and to gaining an understanding of our roles as global citizens and globally situated faculty members.