At Wake Tech, instructors become college's first professors in ceremony

akenney@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2014 

— Wake Technical Community College has been staffed by “instructors” since 1963, when it opened as an industrial education center. On Thursday, the school’s faculty graduated.

Wake Tech for the first time has created a ranking system for teachers, promoting about a third of its faculty to “professor” status at an evening ceremony. In part, the shift reflects community colleges’ drive for respect and recognition as post-recession engines.

“Yes, it’s recognition. This is like a dream come true for me,” said Geeta Shah as she settled back into a blue folding chair in the school’s gymnasium, just after she walked the stage, shook hands with college President Stephen Scott and received the honor cord that makes her a professor.

The forefront of a trend?

Wake Tech is joining a relative few community colleges across the country that call their faculty professors, according to Bryan Ryan, senior vice president of curriculum education services.

“This a first. We’ll have to feel our way through here tonight,” Scott announced as the ceremony began.

Thursday’s ceremony minted 196 professors before a crowd of a few hundred family members, friends and students. The new ranks span from assistant professor – given to most of those who were promoted – up to senior professors, with two faculty members earning that top rank. A total of 258 faculty members applied for the new status.

Each new level comes with a 3 percent raise, although the maximum pay increase for the first cohort was 6 percent. John Clevenger, a newly minted professor who teaches electronics, said that the title meant more than the pay.

“We all teach because we love the job,” said the 25-year faculty member. “I honestly see it as an honor to be recognized by my peers.”

The college has considered a professorship system in the past but was slowed by concerns about how it would apply uniform ranks to programs that range from welding to nursing, according to Ryan. In fact, some community colleges have historically had an aversion to the pomp of scholarship.

“At community colleges, there’s sort of an egalitarian view, compared to ... our brothers and sisters in the universities. We don’t like to have this ranking system; in a way, we think that everybody’s sort of together,” Ryan said as he explained the relative rarity of “professor” titles.

Faculty led decision

Wake Tech may have avoided friction because the new ranking system was proposed and crafted by a faculty-dominated group. The college’s new benchmarking committee examines other schools for helpful new practices. Their ranking idea then filtered up through senior leadership over several years, Ryan said.

“To this committee’s credit, what they were able to do was achieve something we had not been able to do in the past,” he said.

School officials also hope to keep faculty members teaching longer. A flat ranking structure in some ways had limited the path forward for instructors.

“For some of our faculty, they saw that the only path for promotion was through (joining the) administration,” Ryan said. “It gives them a path to promotion, recognition.”

In this round of promotions, the school considered only faculty with more than seven years at the school. The administration received applications from about 85 percent of the eligible faculty, and it awarded the new ranks to much of that group.

Applicants wrote a narrative laying out how they had taught, what extracurricular service they had done at the school, and what they had done otherwise to advance their careers. Supervisors judged the first round; a group of professors will choose the next wave.

The school will next consider would-be professors in the fall, when it will consider staffers with more than five years of experience.

“We already called him ‘professor’ before,” Emily Kamuabo said merrily as her husband, Jean-Pierre, strode into view in his regalia. But to get the official designation of associate professor?

“He loved it. It’s an accomplishment. It’s special.”

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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