Solving for X: An Alternative Approach to Standard 15

What’s one way for a business school to align its faculty to AACSB’s 2013 standards? Encourage non-tenure-track professors to produce impactful scholarship.


Solving for X: An Alternative Approach To Standard 15When AACSB introduced its 2013 accreditation standards, business schools had to adapt to a number of changes compared to the 2003 standards. One of the most significant changes pertains to faculty qualifications and engagement, as described in Standard 15. Here, AACSB expanded what were once two categories of faculty qualifications (academically qualified and professionally qualified) to four: scholarly academics (SA), practice academics (PA), scholarly practitioners (SP), and instructional practitioners (IP).

Under the 2013 standards, AACSB asks that at least 40 percent of a school’s faculty qualify as SA and that at least 60 percent qualify as either SA, SP, or PA. The aim of this change was to provide business schools with additional flexibility in shaping their faculty portfolios. But one result was that some business schools whose faculty qualifications met the 2003 standards fell short of meeting Standard 15 in the 2013 standards.

That was our situation. In 2015–2016, the Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff had 63 full-time faculty in six disciplinary areas, of whom 57 percent were tenured or tenure-track (TT). These numbers exceeded the requirement under the 2003 standards that 50 percent of our faculty be academically qualified, as well as Standard 15’s 40 percent mark for SAs. However, three of our six disciplinary areas did not meet Standard 15’s 60 percent threshold, and a fourth area barely reached that mark (see Table 1 below). Despite facing significant budget constraints, we knew we needed to change the composition of our faculty to meet the revised standards.

Solving for X: An Alternative Approach To Standard 15

TABLE 1. Our faculty composition for the academic year 2015–2016 is shown at left, using full-time equivalent faculty counts, with respect to Standard 15. Two faculty in economics and one in management are classified as PA.

The easiest way to address this problem would have been to hire six additional TT faculty, one each in accounting and marketing, and two each in information systems and management. At an annual cost of approximately US$700,000, making these hires would have been cost-prohibitive.

Instead, we took an approach that better suited our budget, adopting initiatives to increase the research production of our existing non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty. We have changed the composition of our faculty and are well on the way to reaching the 60 percent mark.


At the Franke College, we have a system of tiers for intellectual contributions, ranging from Tier 1 publications (the top 20 to 30 journals in a discipline) to Tier 4 publications (such as working papers and study guides). Given our school’s teaching-based mission, we value discipline-based, pedagogical, and practitioner-oriented research equally. For IP faculty to move to the SP category, they must produce a minimum of three intellectual contributions in a four-year period, with at least two published in peer-reviewed journals.

When we decided to encourage our NTT faculty to make the leap to scholarship, we knew we would face significant obstacles. Our IP faculty, for example, are not expected to perform research, nor do they receive release time for intellectual work. In addition, they typically have little training in performing research and little or no experience with academic publishing.


We overcame these obstacles by launching two new initiatives:

A summer research grant program.
Our modest summer grant program is open to all NTT faculty, regardless of discipline, who want to try their hands at academic publishing. In 2016, we paid out these US$3,000 competitive grants in two installments—the first on acceptance of the proposal and the second on submission of the completed research to a journal.

We took a “revise and resubmit” approach to the grants, allowing faculty to refine their grant proposals if necessary. This approach enabled us to help our NTT professors refine their ideas, which in turn would increase their chances of publication. Last summer, we awarded four grants.

But while the grants helped IP faculty overcome their reluctance to conduct research, we faced another obstacle: Most lacked experience in academic research and publishing. This lack of experience had two consequences, one that we anticipated and one that we did not. We anticipated that faculty would need help formulating their ideas, carrying out research, and navigating the submission and publishing process. However, we did not expect that many of our NTT faculty held a limited view of what academic research could be. That is, many thought that all academic research was highly theoretical and largely discipline-based. They did not know that we also valued pedagogical and practice-oriented scholarship.

Solving for X: An Alternative Approach To Standard 15

We took steps to broaden our NTT faculty’s views of academic research to include these types of projects, helping them gain confidence in their ability to produce interesting, impactful works. We met with NTT faculty to dispel the notion that scholarship was defined by only traditional, theory-based academic research, and we held informal one-on-one meetings to talk through research ideas and approaches. At the same time, we emphasized that we were not going to require NTT faculty to conduct research, which lowered any anxiety they might have about this new direction.

A mentorship program.
Because our experienced researchers were busy, we knew we couldn’t ask them to take on the additional task of training NTT faculty to produce intellectual contributions. So, we created an entirely new position at our college—that of research mentor—to help faculty navigate the research and publishing processes. (See “Why Hire a Research Mentor?” which appeared in BizEd’s May/June 2017 issue.)

Our research mentor would be available to help faculty fine-tune their intellectual contributions. Our ideal candidate for the position needed to have three important qualifications. First, he or she would be an experienced senior scholar with a proven research record and considerable experience mentoring emerging researchers. Second, because of our limited budget, this individual would be largely motivated by the interesting nature of the job and the ability to have an impact, rather than a high salary. Finally, this person would bring energy and enthusiasm to the role.

We helped our non-tenure-track faculty gain confidence in their ability to produce interesting, impactful works.

Luckily, we reached out to someone who met all of these criteria. Carol Saunders, professor emeritus of management at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, has remained active in the research pipeline in both management and information systems. She has served as the editor-in-chief of a ranked journal and performed editorial service across a range of journals. Her publications have included interdisciplinary scholarship, theory articles, theory-based research articles, teaching cases, pedagogical articles, and practitioner articles. Most important, she has a passion for research and mentoring emerging researchers.

Because of the mentorship program’s novel nature, we knew it was important to formally introduce Saunders to faculty and clearly explain her role. Therefore, she was brought in during the first faculty and staff assembly of the year. Within the first three weeks of the semester, she also sent out an email in which she highlighted specific examples of how she could assist TT and NTT faculty in their research efforts.

Saunders’ first step was to institute the summer research grants mentioned above. She has helped several NTT faculty navigate the university’s Institutional Research Board process and explained to faculty what data were available in the college’s research centers. In addition, Saunders organized a day-and-a-half-long case writing workshop for all faculty, which was conducted by a prominent teaching case writer and editor that we brought to the school. Fourteen of 86 faculty attended, including five non-tenure-track faculty.


Solving for X: An Alternative Approach To Standard 15With the help of Saunders’ mentorship, one information systems (IS) professor, one marketing professor, and one accounting professor already have met the requirements for SP qualification. Three additional faculty—one each in marketing and IS, as well as one in management—will most likely achieve SP status prior to our next continuous improvement review with AACSB. (See Table 2 below.) As a result of our mentorship program, three NTT faculty who hold PhDs also have either reached or are close to reaching SA status.

Solving for X: An Alternative Approach To Standard 15

TABLE 2. So far, we have shifted three IP faculty to the SP category through a combination of incentive grants and mentorship. We are working toward shifting three additional IP professors in IS and management to SA status. The annual cost of this approach is approximately US$150,000, the bulk of which is related to hiring a research mentor. By contrast, hiring new faculty to fill these positions would have cost the college approximately $700,000.


We now have two more goals: We want to move at least one faculty member each in accounting and management from IP to SP, and we want to encourage more research collaboration between our NTT and TT faculty.

We believe the positive experiences of our early participants should help us meet these goals. This summer, we expanded the research grant program to offer either $3,000 grants to individuals or $5,000 grants to teams that include both TT and NTT faculty.

The team grants have had two important side benefits. First, because TT faculty have experience with academic publishing, they can help craft the projects and navigate the review process. Second, through this work, TT faculty will see how NTT faculty members’ experience and knowledge strengthen the research results. This work demonstrates the value that a diversity of backgrounds brings to scholarship.

We had expected one or two NTT/TT applications to our new program, but we were surprised by the number of applications we received. In all, we awarded nine grants, seven of which were given to NTT/TT teams. With one exception, their projects were either pedagogical or practice-oriented. This summer, we’ll have ten NTT faculty, who represent almost one-third of our NTT business faculty, working on scholarship. Their goal will be to publish in quality journals. These results are a clear indication of how Saunders’ work has changed the perceptions among our faculty of the nature of academic scholarship.


We believe any school can create programs that encourage more of its practitioner faculty to tackle research projects. If a school wants to follow a similar path, we offer these words of advice:

Find the right research mentor.
It is critical that a research mentor have the right mix of experience, motivation, and persistence.

Create opportunities for interaction.
Physical proximity between the mentor and other faculty is also important. We made sure that the mentor’s office was located in the same area as other faculty offices to promote natural, informal conversations that may lead to successful collaborations.

Build the confidence of NTT faculty.
Many NTT faculty have not received adequate training in terms of learning research methodologies or navigating the publishing process. However, they can be educated as to the types of scholarly contributions that they realistically can make and the steps that they should take in order to make these contributions. They can gain confidence and believe that they are capable of performing impactful research. In our experience, once NTT faculty have overcome their initial trepidation at the thought of performing academic research, many find the process stimulating, satisfying, and enjoyable.

Provide incentives.
Early in this process, we polled NTT faculty to ask which option they would prefer as an incentive to publish research: a course release or summer funding. The overwhelming majority preferred summer funding, which led to the creation of our summer research grant program.

Mind your school’s mission.
A school’s mission drives the appropriate mix of discipline-based, practitioner-oriented, and pedagogical research that its faculty should conduct. Our mission led us to pursue a balanced approach that values each type of scholarship equally, which in turn led us to encourage NTT faculty to pursue pedagogical and practice-oriented research. We currently are examining our requirements for SP status to ensure that it properly aligns with our mission. In fact, we already have made one significant adjustment to the way we reward research. Our journal classification system had weighted traditional academic journals more heavily than other types of journals, so at the end of the spring semester, we adjusted our SP requirements to encourage those faculty to pursue publication in pedagogical and practice-oriented journals. And because so few pedagogical and practitioner-oriented journals are considered “top” journals, we also adjusted our SP criteria to give credit for nontop-tier journal publications. Other schools may need to make other kinds of modifications to fit their particular missions.

By keeping the above ideas in mind, we are close to meeting the requirements of Standard 15. Not only that, we also have increased the number and variety of our faculty who are involved in scholarly activities. While Standard 15 drove our efforts, the real payoff has been the increased intellectual vibrancy of our faculty—and, in turn, of our college.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's January/February 2018 print issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to

Craig van Slyke is professor of information systems and former dean at the W. A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Carol Saunders is research professor and Kevin Trainor is associate dean at the college.