Faculty Row's CEO talks 'Super Professors' and academia's fragmented job market

Faculty Row, an exclusive global network of academics, is arguably the most elite of the education social networks listed in Education Dive's directory. Founded in 2009 by Jeffrey Finder, a former institutional broker at global investment bank Oppenheimer, Faculty Row accepts new members by invitation only. Even then, prospective members are individually vetted by a dedicated "Admissions Staff" and must pay membership fees ranging from $199 to $299. 

That exclusivity hasn't stopped the social network from growing to become a leading network of over 100,000 academics worldwide in the last year and a half. Counted among its ranks are Fulbright Scholars, TED speakers and international scholars from Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League. Faculty Row's platform serves a number of vital functions, including communication, the sharing of content, professional networking and job listings. Finder has even served as concierge in introducing faculty to relevant peers as they look to advance to better positions.

Education Dive caught up with Finder to learn more about Faculty Row's network, its new global job listings and what exactly a "Super Professor" is.

EDUCATION DIVE: How did Faculty Row get started?

JEFFREY FINDER: It was kind of an experiment of sorts at the time. Not knowing what it was gonna be, we built a social network for faculty and put a lot of time and money into it in 2009 for maybe 6 or 8 months. For most of 2010 and 2011, it pretty much just lay dormant.  It wasn’t really a lively or thriving community. Then, it was about 16 or 17 months ago in the beginning of 2012 that I decided to focus all of my efforts in Faculty Row. I started researching and becoming as proficient as possible on what was happening in higher education and how technology was impacting education overall. As a non-academic, I was asked to consult for eCornell, and I’ve personally vetted, over the last year, upwards of 5,000 leading academics from around the world. We never anticipated that was going to be the case. 

Why the by-invitation-only format?

FINDER: We started getting a lot of people who were signing up. We wanted to monitor who was joining our network, because originally, when we started it, it was just about anyone under the sun who thought that they could join. We wanted to really make it an elite community of accomplished academics. Now, we have some of the most accomplished academics in the world underneath our roof, which I’m very thankful for and very humbled by. We never thought it was going to be a global platform, but it is.

What does the vetting process typically entail?

FINDER: We vet academics for a number of different things that range from where they received their highest degree to how many scholarly publications they’ve authored or co-authored. We vet for how frequently they give public talks; whether they’re keynotes, guest lectures, general conference presentations; and whether or not they do professional consulting or pro bono consulting. We also vet for any notable awards or achievements that a given individual will receive throughout the course of their academic career. Sometimes, it’s on an academic level, sometimes it’s not.

What can being a member of Faculty Row do for an educator? 

FINDER: That’s a very good question. Like many technology companies, as technology’s moving so quickly, we have to constantly evaluate what the most valuable thing is for members of Faculty Row. It’s just in the last few months that I’ve kind of decided that, for academics in a landscape that’s really changing so quickly because of technology—there are some other elements or variables, if you will—the most important thing is gonna be access to jobs. We’re just in the process now of rolling out access to jobs. For some academics, it’s a global market. The Ph.D. job market is global, and that’s applicable for academia. It’s also applicable for some academics who are migrating to industry, because there is a demand for academics who are hard science, whether it’s engineering, health, medicine, biotech, nanotechnology—all of these quantitative sciences, if you will. We’re actually in the process of helping several explore the universe of a highly fragmented job market. And again, that’s applicable to both academia and industry.

You rolled out the global job listings in July. How has the reaction been so far?

FINDER: I think academics, generally speaking, they’re very thankful. A lot of people—whether they’ve been let go by an institution or they’re looking to make a move or they’re not even thinking about making a move—are generally thankful if you provide them a service, especially one that has real value. This is applicable not just to academia, but people in general are not very good at marketing themselves or their expert knowledge. In 2013 and going forward, understanding what opportunities are out there and how to monetize your expert knowledge is so important on so many levels. For academics, especially, because the landscape is changing so quickly.

What is a "Super Professor?"

FINDER: “Super Professors” are an elite group of academics that basically stand out above and beyond the rest of the group. What really makes a “Super Professor” is somebody who is really dedicated to their students and can make the learning process or teaching process an interesting and engaging one. Typically, “Super Professors” are often very, very good at entertaining their students and educating them at the same time, and by being unique in the way that they teach. There are two types of professors—there are research professors and there are lecturing professors. Those usually are two distinct things; however, there are some research professors that lecture. Whether they’re lecturing or they’re doing research with students, we try and recognize the best of the best. It’s not so cut and dry, but we try to make it as efficient as possible.

What have you found particularly surprising since launching Faculty Row?

FINDER: That’s a very good question. The answer is that a lot of the members of the Faculty Row community that I have spoken with have explicitly stated that whatever they can do to help our mission and what we’re doing going forward, just to let them know. That’s a very humbling thing for a growing company—to know that the members of your network believe in what you’re doing and the direction that you’re heading.  At the end of the day, there are a lot of things that can happen for us. There’s a lot of opportunity there, but it all goes back to “How do we help academics continue to monetize their knowledge?” Part of what keeps professors moving is that they’re very good at sharing their expert knowledge, for the most part. We support the members of our community as we vet them on a daily basis, and just about everyone in our community is very thankful for what we’re doing, and I’m very humbled by that. 


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Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology
Top image credit: FacultyRow CEO Jeffrey Finder