Academic Reward Systems

For the last 15 years, I have been involved in the study and reform of academic reward systems. Academic reward systems are fascinating to study because they reflect assumptions, values, goals and aspirations held by institutions and fields. Academic reward systems are important to reform because scholarship, like other forms of work, changes over time. Methodologies, topics, boundaries between disciplines, and audiences evolve as new scholars and fields enter the academy. If reward systems do not similarly evolve, greater autonomy, resources, prestige, and power go to those who conduct scholarship exactly as their academic parents did, thereby devaluing and shutting out faculty engaged in newer forms of scholarship. 

I have studied academic reward system change in such areas as redefining scholarship, post-tenure review, stop the tenure clock, and efforts to appraise new and diverse approaches to scholarly dissemination.

I believe academic reward systems should ensure that faculty making excellent contributions to scholarship, teaching, and service should be retained and advanced. Yet what excellence looks like in 2013 will differ from what it looked like in 1960 and 50 years from now. Diverse voices and perspectives are needed to evaluate and achieve excellence. Reform of promotion and tenure policies should improve the ability of the academic reward system to acknowledge and support the diversity of individuals and contributions. Such reform does not lower a bar, or compromise the quality of scholarship deemed excellent. Instead, it opens up more ways, for more scholars, to make a case for the excellence of their work, work that should be held to the highest standards appropriate to their form and content. My research, and my own engaged scholarship helping campuses reform their promotion and tenure policies are aimed at understanding such change, and making it work in practice.

Academic Reward Systems Examples

O’Meara, K. (2011). Inside the panopticon: Studying academic reward systems. In J. C. Smart, M. B. Paulsen (Eds.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, 26 (pp. 161-220). New York, NY: Springer.

O’Meara, K., & Rice, R. E. (Eds.) (2005). Faculty priorities reconsidered: Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

O’Meara, K. (2010). Rewarding multiple forms of scholarship: Promotion and tenure. In H. Fitzgerald, C. Burack, & S. Seifer (Eds.), Handbook of engaged scholarship, volume 1: Institutional change (pp. 271-294). East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press.

Saltmarsh, J., Giles Jr., D. E., O’Meara, K., Sandmann, L., Ward, E., & Buglione, S. M. (2009). Community engagement and institutional culture in higher education: An investigation of faculty reward policies at engaged campuses. In B. E. Moely, S. H. Billig, & B. A Holland (Eds.), Creating our identities in service-learning and community engagement. (pp. 3-29). Advances in Service-Learning Research, xiv. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

O’Meara, K. (2006). Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship in faculty reward systems: Have academic cultures really changed? In J. Braxton (Ed.), Analyzing faculty work and rewards: Using Boyer’s four domains of scholarship (pp.77-96). New Directions for Institutional Research, 129. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

O’Meara, K., & Rice, R. E. (Eds.) (2005). Faculty priorities reconsidered: Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

O’Meara, K. (2005). Principles of good practice: Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship in policy and practice. In K. O’Meara & R. Rice (Eds.), Faculty priorities reconsidered: Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship (pp.290-302). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

O’Meara, K. (2005). Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship in faculty reward systems: Does it make a difference? Research in Higher Education, 46(5), 479-510.

O’Meara, K. (2005). Encouraging multiple forms of scholarship in faculty reward systems: Influence on faculty work life. Planning for Higher Education, 34(2), 43-53.

O’Meara, K. (2004). Beliefs about post-tenure review: The influence of autonomy, collegiality, career stage, and institutional context. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(2), 178-202.

O’Meara, K. (2002). Uncovering the values in faculty evaluation of service as scholarship. Review of Higher Education, 26(1), 57-80.


Faculty Careers and Professional Growth

Academic environments that act as generative, genuine incubators for professional growth (i.e., those that foster faculty learning, agency, professional relationships and commitments) are places with higher faculty retention rates and more satisfied and committed faculty. I have studied, designed, and evaluated organizational practices and structures that promote faculty agency in career advancement, work-life balance, learning, and research.

Faculty Careers and Professional Growth Examples

O’Meara, K., Terosky, A.L. & Neumann, A. (2008). Faculty careers and work lives: A professional growth perspective. ASHE Higher Education Report, 34 (3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

O’Meara, K., & LaPointe Terosky, A. (2010, November/December) Engendering faculty professional growth. Change. 42(6), 44-51.

Lundquist, J. H., Misra, J., & O’Meara, K. (2013). Parental leave usage by fathers and mothers at an American university. Fathering: A Journal of Research, Theory, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 10(3), 337-363.

Women Faculty and Agency

I study ways in which women faculty assume agentic perspectives, and take agentic actions to achieve career goals, balance work and family, and pursue meaningful careers and work despite and amidst gendered organizational practices and environments. While there is clearly an extant body of work that has documented the disparities that grow between men and women faculty within gendered organizations, there is only a limited body of work that has systematically addressed the ways in which women take agency.

Toward this end, my research has revealed women leveraging agentic perspectives as navigational tools amid inequitable, gendered dynamics. Examining the role such perspectives play in women’s careers shows the possibilities of agentic perspective-taking as women “lean in” to overcome gendered practices in career advancement, as well as the limitations of that agency when universities do not “lean back” with accountability for eliminating gendered practices (Sandberg, 2013). This research has also considered specific aspects of department environments, policies, faculty development programs and networks, ways of organizing work, and other organizational factors that scaffold faculty agency.

Women Faculty and Agency Examples

Terosky, A., O’Meara, K. & Campbell, C. (in press). Enabling Possibility: Women Associate Professors' Sense of Agency in Career Advancement, Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

O’Meara, K. (2013). A Career with a View: Agentic Perspectives of Women Faculty. University of Maryland College Park.

Campbell, C. & O’Meara, K. (2013, June 19). Faculty agency: Departmental contexts that matter in faculty careers. Research in Higher Education. 54(4).

O’Meara, K. & Campbell, C. M. (2011). Faculty sense of agency in decisions about work and family. Review of Higher Education, 34(3), 447-476.

Faculty Networks and Professional Relationships

Higher education institutions can feel very hierarchical, isolating, and impersonal to their members. Expectations are high for faculty performance and there is a cultural expectation that faculty will “hit the ground running” and stay at peak productivity without much direct help. This is challenging for many academics who were attracted to the academic life not only for the autonomy it provides, but for the promise of its community. 

I have studied faculty professional relationships and designed initiatives aimed at improving them, both with on-campus colleagues and with colleagues in the field. My research, and leadership creating five peer networks through the University of Maryland ADVANCE program, have revealed key role such networks play in career advancement, the improvement of teaching and research, and organizational change for the full inclusion and participation of women and under-represented minorities. 

Faculty Networks and Professional Relationships Examples

O’Meara, K. & Niehaus, E. (2013). Connections that Matter: The Role of On- and Off-Campus Relationships in Faculty Careers. Paper presented at the AERA Conference.

Terosky, A., & O’Meara, K. (2011) Assuming agency: The power of strategy and networks in faculty professional lives. Liberal Education, 97(3/4), 54-59.

O’Meara, K. (2007). Stepping up: How one faculty learning community influenced faculty members’ understanding and use of active learning methods and course design. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 18(2), 97-118.

O’Meara, K. (2005). The courage to be experimental: How one faculty learning community influenced faculty teaching careers, understanding of how students learn, and assessment. Journal of Faculty Development, 20(3), 153-160.

Outstanding Woman of the Year
University of Maryland, (2013).

Graduate Mentor of the Year Award
University of Maryland, (2012).

Early Career Research Award
International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement, (2008).

Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award
School of Education, University of Massachusetts Amherst, (2003).

Emerging Leader Award
National Society for Experiential Education, (1998).

Faculty Retention and Work Environments

Faculty leave colleges and universities for many reasons. For example, faculty leave institutions for a higher salary and more prestigious department, lack of collegiality, geographic location and to be closer to family, and believing one will not advance. Yet research suggests that factors such as a higher salary and more prestigious department are not really “pull” factors if faculty members are satisfied and thriving within their institutions. Instead, faculty tend to be predisposed to leave by virtue of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of their work environment. These factors act as a “push” to either entertain or go looking for “greener pastures.” 

I have studied faculty departure and retention, and lead institution-wide efforts to better retain women faculty. Such efforts include development and implementation of a faculty work environment survey, work environment action projects, and analysis of how issues such as department climate, service workload, policies governing outside offers, and academic reward system criteria influence faculty retention and satisfaction. In all these issues, I have maintained a particular interest in how organizational practices and cultures can be transformed to better retain women faculty.

Faculty Retention and Work Environments Examples

O’Meara, K. (2013). Half-Way Out: How Requiring Outside Offers to Raise Salaries Influences Faculty Retention, Organizational Commitment, and Morale. University of Maryland College Park. 

O’Meara, K., Lounder, A., & Campbell, C. (2013, in press). To Heaven or Hell: Sensemaking about why faculty leave. Journal of Higher Education.

O’Meara, K., Garvey, J., Niehaus, E. & Corrigan, K. (2013). UM work environment results (2013): NSF ADVANCE research and evaluation report. College Park, MD: University of Maryland.:

Striving for Prestige and Ranking Systems

Each year college administrators and faculty hold their breath as institution, college, and department rankings are released. Did they move up or down? What will this mean for their programs and the resources they can attract? At the same time, many students begin their higher education experience with little to no knowledge of how college programs are ranked by such magazines as USNWR. Rather students care about their college’s location within 100 miles of their home, the cost, and career placement upon graduation. Increasingly, students log-in to websites that rank party schools, professors, and fraternities and sororities. Yet what is being ranked, rated, or categorized varies greatly, and has differing levels of consequence for various stakeholders of higher education: the student, the parent, the faculty member, the college president or provost, the alum, the donor, the higher education researcher, the community member nearby and the state legislator.

I became concerned about the behaviors that ranking systems were encouraging several years ago. So much of what was most meaningful to me about my own undergraduate education, as well as a faculty member, was not reflected in rankings criteria. Yet so many faculty and administrators were changing their priorities and behavior in order to move up in USNWR rankings. From this interest, I developed a winter rankings course, and coined the term “striving” to discuss the behavior institutions exhibit as they are trying to move up within domestic and world ranking systems, with a particular interest in the role rankings play in faculty work-life. My research and graduate course consider how the dominant and alternative ranking systems work and how they shape higher education structures and cultures. I examine the criteria used in ranking systems for their connection to research on students, faculty, and higher education organizations, and how rankings can be used to reflect and legitimize the status quo, or to shed light on new and distinct contributions of higher education institutions. 

Striving for Prestige and Ranking Systems Examples

O’Meara, K. (2007). Striving for what? Exploring the pursuit of prestige. In J. Smart (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research, 22 (pp. 121-179). New York, NY: Springer. 

O'Meara, K., & Bloomgarden, A. (2011). The pursuit of prestige: The experience of institutional striving from a faculty perspective. Journal of the Professoriate, 4(1), 39-73.

Meekins, M., & O’Meara, K. (2011). Ranking contributions to place: Developing an alternative model for competition in higher education. p. 6-9. Public Purpose. Washington, D.C.: AASCU.

O’Meara, K., & Meekins, M. (2012). Inside rankings: Limitations and possibilities (Working Paper, 2012 Series, No. 1). Boston, MA: New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

Faculty Community Engagement

For over 15 years I have been studying and working to support faculty community engagement in higher education. Community engagement is when a faculty member connects his or her teaching, research, and service to public problems and solutions. I have studied faculty exemplars that have received national and international awards for their community engagement, and studied the myriad ways institutions can create environments that support faculty in this work. I have also studied strategies adopted by engaged scholars to navigate inhospitable academic reward systems, and the cultural values and assumptions embedded in the assessment of scholarship that act as a barrier to success.

Faculty Community Engagement Examples

O’Meara, K., Lounder, A. & Hodges, A. (2013). University Leaders’ use of episodic power to support faculty community engagement. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, 19(2). 5-20.

O’Meara, K. (2011). Because I Can: Exploring Faculty Civic Agency (Working Paper 2011-1). Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation. Retrieved from

Bloomgarden, A,. & O’Meara, K. (2007). Faculty role integration and community engagement: Harmony or cacophony? Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 13(2), 5-18.

O’Meara, K. (2012). Research on faculty motivation for service learning. In P. Clayton, R. Bringle, & J. Hatcher (Eds.), Research on service-learning: Conceptual frameworks and assessment (pp. 215-243). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

O’Meara, K. (2011). Faculty civic engagement: New training, assumptions, and markets needed for the engaged American scholar. In J. Saltmarsh & M. Hartley (Eds.), To serve a larger purpose: Engagement for democracy and the transformation of higher education (pp. 177-198). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

O’Meara, K., Sandmann, L. R., Saltmarsh, J., & Giles, Jr. D. E. (2011). Studying the professional lives and work of faculty involved in community engagement. Innovative Higher Education, 36(2), 83-96.

O’Meara, K. & Niehaus, E. (2009). Service-learning is…How faculty explain their practice. Michigan Journal of Community Service-Learning, 16(1). 1-16.

Graduate Education/Community Engagement

Many graduate programs have found ways to do compelling scholarship through community engagement, and have made engaged scholarship a distinctive aspect of their graduate program. Those who have done so have been very intentional and strategic—embedding their projects in compelling research, designed with community partners for high impact. Such projects are most often interdisciplinary, collaborative and involve multiple funding sources. Community engagement can enhance graduate retention, pathways to new careers, and attract diverse students and faculty to graduate programs. Such work is embedded in strong, ongoing partnerships.

In addition to graduate student community engagement, I am interested in graduate advising and mentoring relationships. I am studying ways in which graduate students assume agency and department environments scaffold agency as students pursue their studies and careers.

Graduate Education/Community Engagement Examples

Colbeck, C. L., O’Meara, K., & Austin, A. (Eds). (2008). Educating integrated professionals: Theory and practice on preparation for the professoriate. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 113. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

O’Meara, K. (2008). Graduate education and community engagement. In C. Colbeck, K. O’Meara, & A. Austin (Eds.), Educating integrated professionals: Theory and practice on preparation for the professoriate (pp. 27-43). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 113. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

O’Meara, K., Knudsen, K. & Jones, J. (2013). The Role of emotional competencies in faculty-doctoral student relationships. Review of Higher Education. 36(3), 315-348.

O’Meara, K. (2013) Advancing Graduate Student Agency. Higher Education in Review, 10, 1-10.

O’Meara, K., & Jaeger, A. (2007). Preparing future faculty for community engagement: History, barriers, facilitators, models and recommendations. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 11(4), 3-26.

O’Meara, K. (2007). Graduate education and civic engagement. NERCHE Brief, 20, 1-8. Boston, MA: New England Resource Center for Higher Education.