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Publication date: 15 April 2019

KerryAnn O’Meara, Gudrun Nyunt, Lindsey Templeton and Alexandra Kuvaeva

The purpose of this paper is to examine the role faculty learning communities (FLCs), a common ADVANCE intervention, play in retention and advancement; and the ways in…



The purpose of this paper is to examine the role faculty learning communities (FLCs), a common ADVANCE intervention, play in retention and advancement; and the ways in which FLC spaces foster professional interactions that are transformative and support the careers of women, underrepresented minority (URM) and non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty in research universities.


The authors employed a mixed methods case study approach set at a large, research-intensive institution, which had received an NSF ADVANCE grant to focus on issues of gender equity in the retention and advancement of STEM faculty. Land Grant University implemented retention and advancement efforts campus-wide rather than only in STEM areas, including five FLCs for women, URM faculty and NTT faculty. The primary sources of data were retention and promotion data of all faculty at the institution (including the FLC participants) and participant observations of the five FLCs for five years.


The analysis of retention and advancement data showed that participation in FLCs positively impacted retention and promotion of participants. The analysis of participant observations allowed the authors to gain insights into what was happening in FLCs that differed from faculty’s experiences in home departments. The authors found that FLCs created third spaces that allowed individuals to face and transgress the most damaging aspects of organizational culture and dwell, at least for some time, in a space of different possibilities.

Research limitations/implications

The authors suggest additional studies be conducted on FLCs and their success in improving retention and advancement among women, URM and NTT faculty. While the authors believe there is a clear professional growth and satisfaction benefit to FLCs regardless of their effect on retention and advancement, NSF and NIH programs focused on increasing the diversity of faculty need to know they are getting the return they seek on their investment and this line of research can provide such evidence as well as enhance the rigor of such programs by improving program elements.

Practical implications

FLCs offer higher education institutions a unique opportunity to critically reflect and understand organizational conditions that are not inclusive for groups of faculty. Professional interactions among colleagues are a critical place where academic and cultural capital is built and exchanged. The authors know from the authors’ own research here, and from much previous social science research that women, URM and NTT faculty often experience exclusionary and isolating professional interactions. FLCs should be created and maintained alongside other more structural and cultural interventions to improve equity for all faculty.


The study’s contribution to the literature is unique, as only a few studies have tracked the subsequent success of participants in mentoring or networking programs. Furthermore, the study reveals benefits of FLCs across different career stages, identity groups and position types (women, URM and NTT) and suggests the investment that many NSF-funded ADVANCE programs have made in funding FLCs has the potential to produce a positive return (e.g. more women and URM faculty retained).


Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, vol. 38 no. 3
Type: Research Article
ISSN: 2040-7149


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