As the ADVANCE institutional transformation project evolved, the leadership team became more convinced that departmental climate was the most important place to focus our collective attention in order to improve recruitment, retention, and satisfaction of all faculty. Analyses of the 2005 Faculty Work/Life Survey by department illustrated a broad range of departmental profiles. Response patterns from faculty in some departments showed wide and deep satisfaction with their collegial relationships, departmental management, opportunity for input, and work conditions. Other departmental profiles were mixed or more negative than departments in the same college. These patterns suggest opportunities to learn from the practices of departments with apparently more positive climates and more supportive practices, a guiding principle behind the compilation of material for this compendium.

The initial DCI inquiry focused on departmental life in two of Virginia Tech’s eight colleges: the College of Science and the College of Engineering. In 2006, department heads in these two colleges were asked about current practices and strategies designed to cultivate positive academic climates within their departments. From the beginning we recognized the legitimacy of disciplinary differences that shape departmental climates in different colleges; however, a cross-disciplinary approach allowed us to isolate and identify similar structures underlying successful strategies for achieving positive environments at Virginia Tech.

As the initiative unfolded, we shifted its core emphasis from identifying experiences to sharing these experiences and cultivating new ideas conducive to the achievement of positive departmental climates. Much of the shared learning in this regard took place during the Successful Strategies to Promote Department Climate workshop in January 2007, an opportunity to present the results of the survey of departmental practices and to discuss honestly and candidly various departments’ efforts—both successful and unsuccessful—to achieve positive results. We are confident that promoting a positive department climate throughout the university will enhance Virginia Tech’s excellence in teaching, research, and outreach.

AdvanceVT Department Climate Committee

Jack Finney (Chair)
Ishwar Puri
Carla Finkielstein
Don Taylor
Joe Merola
Eileen Van Aken