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Faculty Consulting

Issues, Policies, Characteristics of Faculty Who Consult

The central issue concerning faculty who consult with outside clients is the relationship of the faculty to the college or university that employs them. This relationship is evolving rapidly. The institutions first opposed faculty consulting, then tolerated it, next encouraged it, and then some even began to sponsor faculty consulting through organized programs of technical assistance to industry.

Three aspects of faculty consulting will be discussed in this entry: major issues associated with the practice; typical policies drawn up by institutions to guide relationships with faculty who consult; and characteristics of faculty who consult compared to those who do not, taking into consideration differences due to academic discipline. Also reported are findings about the amount of outside income faculty earn from consulting.


A continuing concern of employing institutions is the extent to which faculty who consult may be shortchanging their teaching responsibilities and restricting their opportunities to interact with students. Institutions may also be concerned that faculty who do outside consulting may have less time for curriculum development or departmental committee work.

In addition, the product of paid consulting work is generally the property of the clients who may keep the results proprietary and not make them available in the public domain. This is considered by many as contrary to the spirit of free inquiry which they believe should characterize the academic world.

From an institutional perspective, management issues may also arise about the extent to which college or university resources, such as office space or equipment, are used by faculty inappropriately for outside consulting projects. Further, involvement of students in outside consulting projects may need to be monitored to determine whether it constitutes a legitimate learning experience, a valuable internship with a potential future employer, or exploitation.

Faculty consulting contracts are considered by institutions to be personal agreements, but these contracts may create conflicts of interest with employing institutions or subject the institutions to risks. Consequently, some institutions provide reviews of the consulting contracts to ensure that the provisions recognize the preexisting obligations of the faculty to their primary employing institution, including the obligations to disclose new inventions and assign patent rights.

On the other hand, companies hiring faculty consultants may require that their company's proprietary information be kept confidential, and restrict disclosure and use of the information. This practice may not contribute to the free and open inquiry promoted in the academic world.

Thus, the ultimate issue with respect to faculty consulting is who benefits? Faculty benefit from consulting if they derive opportunities to strengthen their research, especially in fields where the leading edge of scientific inquiry is migrating to industry from academic institutions–because industry has more money. Faculty also benefit from consulting if they collaborate in meeting real-world challenges that may make their teaching more relevant and lively, which in turn benefits students. Consulting also gives faculty opportunities to supplement their income, which may be especially important in fields where there is a great, and growing, disparity between salaries earned in business and in the academic world. Consulting projects may also provide learning opportunities for students, and possibly employment opportunities working on practical projects. Institutions may benefit by building stronger business, community, and governmental relationships, which may lead in the long run to greater financial support. Indeed there is likely a complementary relationship between the reputation of faculty and that of their employing institutions: the better the reputation of the institution, the greater the recognition of the faculty they can attract; the greater the recognition of the faculty, the wider the range of consulting opportunities and the greater the amount of outside support faculty can garner for their institutions.

Financial and academic costs and other negative outcomes are also issues in assessing the value of faculty consulting to an academic institution. An institution has an interest in protecting itself from charges of abuse of the employment relationship by a faculty member consulting and inappropriately invoking the reputation of the institution. Apparent, and real, conflicts of interest sometimes arise that might affect faculty judgments about educational matters. Faculty otherwise engaged may become inaccessible to students or to other faculty. Outside agendas may distort academic priorities, leading to active student opposition, as in the 1960s when students objected to what they considered to be too great involvement of the faculty with defense contractors.


Faculty handbooks generally set forth the policies and procedures defining and governing consulting by their faculty with outside clients. These conditions are then incorporated into faculty employment contracts. Typically, these provisions apply only to full-time faculty, not part-time faculty, and apply during the nine-month academic year, including the summer months only if the faculty member is teaching during the summer session. The institution may not limit the amount of consulting done during periods when the faculty is not on the payroll (during the summer or on leave), but the institution's policies with respect to conflict of interest and restrictions on the use of institutional resources still apply. Faculty employment contracts typically allow faculty up to one day, or ten hours, a week–or four days a month–for outside consulting. More than that is considered to jeopardize the commitment to teaching, research, and service at the employing institutions.

Faculty consulting is subject to varying reporting requirements and oversight by the colleges and universities. Some boards of trustees require periodic reporting by the institution of the policies and procedures that cover faculty consulting and how they are enforced. They may consider the following:

  • how faculty consulting is defined
  • the types of clients served
  • the nature of the services performed
  • the amount of time that is spent consulting on a particular project
  • the total amount of time spent consulting cumulated over the academic year
  • the amount and sources of outside remuneration
  • reimbursement of the institution for the use of institutional resources, facilities, or services

The board of trustees may also require an evaluation of the value of faculty consulting to their institution.

Some institutions require that faculty make annual reports of their outside consulting, but only of consulting that relates to their academic specialty, which consequently may raise a question about how broadly the specialty is defined. Some institutions have made a distinction between consulting for a single occasion that is reported annually after the fact, and consulting that is of a longer duration and


requires specific prior approval. Public institutions may take into consideration whether the consulting is for another state agency or for an outside client.

Institutions actively reaching out to their local business community have more recently begun to actually sponsor faculty consulting through formal technical assistance programs. The programs are characterized as community service programs which help local businesses and contribute more broadly to regional economic development.

Characteristics of Faculty Who Consult

At the start of the twenty-first century about one out of every five faculty members at American colleges and universities earns income from consulting or freelance work. Based on estimates derived from the 1999 National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF99) using the data analysis system of the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage ranges by type of primary employing institution from 30 percent of faculty at private research institutions to only about half that, or 14 percent, at public two-year colleges. In general, a higher percentage of the faculty at all types of private institutions consult than do the faculty at counterpart public institutions.

The percentage of faculty who earn income from consulting also varies significantly by academic discipline. As shown in Table 1, the percentage ranges from 33 percent for engineering faculty to only 15 percent of faculty in the humanities.

The percentage of faculty who consult varies significantly by gender, age, and race. Considering gender, a much higher percentage of faculty men (23 percent) earn consulting income than do faculty women (17 percent). Considering age, a much higher percentage of faculty aged 35 and over (19 to 23 percent) earn consulting income than did those under the age of 35 (only 14 percent). Faculty aged 55 to 59 report the highest percentage earning consulting income (23 percent). Even 21 percent of the faculty aged 70 and over report consulting income. Consulting also varies by race/ethnicity, with only 13 percent of the faculty who are Asian reporting consulting income compared with 18 percent of the African Americans, 19 percent of the Hispanics, and 21 percent of the whites.

It might be expected that lower-income faculty would be using consulting to supplement their income. They do, but an even higher percentage of the higher-income faculty report earning consulting income. About 15 percent of those faculty with base salaries of $25,000 to $40,000 report earning consulting income compared with 34 percent of those with base salaries of $85,000 to $100,000. The opportunities to consult are much greater for those who are older, tenured, and have well-established reputations in their field.

The higher-income faculty also report earning much higher amounts of consulting income. Of those faculty who do earn consulting income, the amounts range from an average of about $4,000 for those who earn $25,000 to $40,000, rising progressively to about $19,000 for those faculty who earn $130,000 or more. Although the dollar amounts of consulting income rise steeply, the percentage of the base salary from the institution increases only from about 12 percent at the $25,000 to $40,000 range to about 14 percent at the higher income ranges. Faculty with the lowest base salaries from the institution, under $25,000, appear to be an exception, reporting about $8,500 in consulting income, which represents a considerably higher percentage of the base salary.

A slightly higher percentage of faculty (24 percent) who have had previous employment outside of higher education earn consulting income than those who do not (20 percent), a smaller difference than might be expected to result from prior connections with industry or government. Though consulting is likely to be covered by collective bargaining agreements, the consulting practices of union and nonunion members do not significantly differ. Seventeen percent of union members report earning consulting income, compared to 21 percent of those who are not members.

Impact of Consulting on the Faculty Commitment to Teaching and Research

The most heated debate over the extent of faculty consulting concerns the impact of consulting on teaching and research. The NSOPF 99 survey data suggest that there is a positive relationship. Generally speaking, the higher the number of student contact hours per week, the higher the percentage of faculty who earn income from consulting. There is, however, a great difference depending on the level of students instructed. Eighteen percent of those instructing only undergraduate students reported consulting income, compared with 27 to 30 percent for those instructing graduate students.

Opportunities to consult are directly connected with faculty research. In general, the higher the amounts of research grants and contracts awarded to faculty, the higher the percentage of faculty who earn income from consulting. The percentage of faculty who earn income from consulting ranges from under 20 percent for those faculty with less than $10,000 in outside research grants and contracts to almost 40 percent for those with $100,000 or more.

Faculty with consulting income also reported comparatively higher rates of participation in unpaid activities at the institutions, including administrative duties, curriculum development, meeting with students, mentoring, and community service. On the other hand, these faculty reported comparatively lower rates of attending faculty meetings, holding office hours, grading papers, or attending athletic events. Thus, it appears that, in general, faculty who consult value their time and are less willing to spend hours on the bureaucratic aspects of academic work. They also appear to have less leisure time, indicating that faculty who consult are not shortchanging their students, but are simply busier.

The opportunities to consult appear to affect somewhat positively overall faculty satisfaction with their work. Of those faculty who are very satisfied with their salary and with their job security, a higher percentage earn consulting income than do those faculty who are very dissatisfied. The opposite is true considering satisfaction with the work load: a higher percentage of those who are dissatisfied report earning consulting income than do those who are satisfied.

Faculty who earn consulting income respond differently from those who do not when asked to contemplate the factors most important to them if they were to leave their institution. Among those faculty who reported the factors of more opportunities for advancement, greater opportunities to do research, and good research facilities and equipment, a higher percentage earned income from consulting than did those reporting the factors of salary level, benefits, or job security. Interestingly, faculty consulting apparently has little or no effect on interest in taking early retirement.

With faculty salaries slipping further below salaries of comparable professionals, it might be expected that the percentage of faculty who consult to supplement their income would be increasing. This is not the case, however. As cited earlier, about 20 percent of all faculty reported earning income from consulting in 1998, which is almost exactly the same percent as reported in 1992, and slightly lower than the 24 percent reported in 1987. While the extent of consulting is not increasing, the percent of faculty reporting income from self-owned businesses is increasing. Thus, faculty are not only consulting but also becoming more entrepreneurial. Indeed, one of the most important new phenomena in the academic world may be the transformation of the faculty consultant into the faculty entrepreneur.


BOYER, CAROL M., and LEWIS, DARRELL R. 1986. "Faculty Consulting and Supplemental Income." <www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed 284521.html>.

UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS. 1997. "Policy on Conflicts of Interest Relating to Intellecual Property and Commercial Ventures." <www.umass.edu/research/ora/confl.html>.

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING, OFFICE OF THE ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS. 2002. "Consulting Days Policies." <www.engin.umich.edu/academic affairs/consulting.html>.


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