Keeping Faculty Current in Emerging Business Topics

Keeping Faculty Current in Emerging Business Topics

In a society that is constantly innovating, ensuring that faculty are consistently up-to-date with trends and concepts can be difficult. How can we provide faculty the opportunities to learn, in order to teach?

Being dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University finds me sitting in the heart of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is known as the epicenter of the digital economy and it lives up to its reputation. It is exhilarating to meet alumni and friends of the school who start businesses, take businesses public, take businesses private, sit on several public boards, and now run venture funds. One of the most challenging aspects for the school in this environment is keeping the curriculum “Silicon Valley current,” which, of course, means ensuring faculty are “Silicon Valley current.”

My first exposure to this concept occurred during my initial meetings with individual faculty members. While we discussed the usual topics of teaching and research, more than one faculty member expressed frustration over not having enough time to learn new coding languages and learn new business processes in real time. For example, over the past couple of years we have needed faculty to learn R programming and prepare coursework using it. We have also needed faculty to teach in the rapidly evolving areas of fintech, martech, crypto currency, and neural networks. These are just a few subjects that have emerged as critical areas of knowledge for our students and in which employers assume students are proficient.

What we have found is that faculty may not be equipped to immediately teach some emerging topics. Because we at the Leavey School live in a vibrant business community, with large numbers of technical experts willing to teach as adjuncts, we can manage to offer and staff these types of courses for a limited time. For those in areas without large pools of technical experts, the issue may be more acute and there may not be the ability to offer current coursework.

So why the disconnect? It appears that most business schools do not have the structure to ensure that the tenured and tenure-track faculty can teach emerging topics as they arise. Most universities do offer teaching workshops, seminars on retooling teaching skills, and courses on learning new technologies to enhance teaching. But these activities seek to improve the act of teaching, not to learn new subject matter. For me, the real issue has become how to provide opportunities for faculty to retool in a whole new subject, and in a timely manner.

Most schools have traditional methods of sabbaticals, faculty leave, and, to a lesser extent, corporate sabbaticals for faculty to retool. These traditional methods, however, are available for a limited number of faculty and usually are offered only after long intervals. What is needed is a more systematic method of assuring that the faculty have the resources and time to learn new subject matter, and they need to be encouraged to do it. The resources need to be built into the regular faculty worklife and workday. The learning needs to be encouraged and rewarded; it cannot be an added responsibility without recognition that another responsibility needs to be removed. Business schools can offer subject-matter workshops, short courses, and practicums for existing faculty. We can send our faculty to conferences and seminars where new material is taught. We can offer frequent industry leaves, bring experts in to co-teach, or let faculty “go back to school.” We need to understand that improving subject-matter expertise will impact each academic discipline differently. Some will need to take advantage of these opportunities more frequently than others.

While it is vital for our faculty to retool in emerging areas, as business school leaders it is our responsibility to provide solutions and support to ensure it occurs. As chair of AACSB’s board of directors, I believe it is important that our accreditation standards encourage such retooling, rather than impede it. While the challenge is significant, it is not overwhelming—especially if many of us engage in the endeavor. I am interested in hearing how other schools globally are addressing similar challenges and look forward to further conversations.

Caryn Beck-DudleyCaryn Beck-Dudley is dean of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University in California and chair of the 2018–19 AACSB Board of Directors. Follow her on Twitter @BeckDudley.