November 2016
Patrick T. Randolph, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

ESL programs are essential entities on American college and university campuses that help nonnative users of English develop and improve their English language skills. Without these ESL programs, many nonnative users of English would be unable to enroll in academic programs in higher education. In fact, there are approximately 600 ESL programs in higher education across the United States (Osborne, 2015) that function as the needed gateway through which ELLs must pass to achieve their academic goals. In addition to helping nonnative speakers enter academic programs of their choice, ESL programs are notorious for producing a steady flow of income for their host institutions (Osborne, 2015). To be sure, it is not uncommon to think of ESL programs as one of the major cash cows of higher education.

However, in spite of the educational contributions and economic benefits that ESL programs offer, they still remain the “unwanted stepchild” of American institutions of higher learning (Randolph, Jones, Porter-Sucs, Arokiasamy, & Dunsmore, 2016). The purpose, then, of this three-part series is to help elevate the image and exposure of ESL programs and their professionals. The first installment will look at some core problems facing ESL and then propose the first solution, which centers on improving the ESL faculty bios on department websites. I offer seven suggestions on how this can be done.

Three Common Problems Precluding ESL Program Respect

If ESL, as a legitimate discipline, dates back to the establishment of this country, why is it still not given the respect it deserves on campuses of higher learning? Before offering solutions to this conundrum, let’s briefly take a look at three core problems that ESL programs and their professionals face.

1. Identity

There is a common misunderstanding of what ESL is and a lack of information about what ESL professionals do and teach. This identity crisis is exacerbated by the fact that many ESL programs are not accepted as equals among departments like English, linguistics, or applied linguistics. Moreover, ESL departments are often housed in the buildings of unrelated departments, which makes it even more difficult to form ties with disciplines that share common or similar academic subjects of study. For example, my own ESL program shares a floor with the criminal justice and gerontology departments.

2. Academic Rank and Title

The vast majority of ESL professionals are not offered tenure-track positions with an increase in salary and title promotion (Osborne, 2015). In addition, ESL lecturers in many intensive English programs are given titles such as “academic staff,” “faculty specialists,” or “language specialists.” Despite the fact that ESL lecturers have terminal degrees in applied linguistics or PhDs in TESOL methods, their professional rank and title are lower than many lecturers in other departments.

3. Professional Contributions

ESL professionals present at local, regional, and international conferences; do research; and publish articles and books on cutting-edge topics in the field. However, their professional contributions are often not acknowledged by the higher education community, and their achievements are often not recognized at annual campus awards ceremonies.

Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse will not, unfortunately, happen overnight. It may even take decades before the profession is looked at as a legitimate equal in higher education. To help move us in the right direction, I will propose three solutions in this series that I hope will help start us on the path of acceptance.

Addressing Identity: Issues of Current Faculty Bios

My first solution, which addresses the ESL professional and program identity crisis, centers around improving ESL faculty bios, highlighting their professional background and contributions on ESL program websites. Before moving to these suggestions on how to improve the faculty bios, I’d like to review the kinds of ESL program websites that seem to represent the current state of ESL faculty bios. I surveyed approximately 60 U.S.-based ESL program websites and found that the sites generally fall into the following five categories.

Type 1: No Access to ESL Faculty Information

These program websites offer a program overview, the payment process, and university resources, but they do not provide links on the menu to view the program director or faculty bios.

Type 2: Director/Administrator Centered

These particular program websites feature a photo and bio of the director or an administrator; however, they do not offer any detailed information about the faculty. At best, they offer a general, single-sentence statement claiming all the instructors in the program hold MAs or PhDs in the field.

Type 3: Minimal ESL Faculty Contact Information

These websites provide minimal information about the faculty members: their names, positions, email addresses, campus addresses, and phone numbers. There may or may not be photos of them, and no personal background or professional information is given. In many cases, these kinds of program websites also fail to list the degrees of their lecturers.

Type 4: Relatively Acceptable ESL Faculty Information

These websites are an improvement on the aforementioned sites. They include the basic information such as name, position, and contact information; in addition, they offer the faculty members’ professional backgrounds, degrees received, and personal hobbies.

Type 5: High-Quality, Professional-Looking ESL Faculty Shown

Of the websites I surveyed, I found only a small handful that would warrant elevating the image of ESL. Among these are the faculty bios at Central Michigan University. This particular program’s website is of high quality, and it offers what I hope more programs will adopt in the near future (see example). Central Michigan University’s ESL faculty bios offer full contact information, a short bio, courses taught, areas of expertise, degrees, honors, professional organizations/memberships, and, in some cases, publications and presentations.

Enhancing ESL Faculty Bios: The Seven-Suggestion Solution

Suggestion 1: Acquiring the Director’s Initiative and Support

The first step in elevating the image of ESL faculty websites is to get the director or chair of the ESL program to agree that a faculty bio upgrade is necessary. Then, have him or her meet with the Information Technology Department to discuss and select a template like the one discussed in number five above. In short, it is essential that the director/chair become involved and find it significant to showcase the faculty’s academic history and professional contributions.

Suggestion 2: Use Standardized Faculty Photos

Having unprofessional-looking photos or photos of poor quality (e.g., highly pixilated images) in no way helps the image of ESL. The second suggestion is to simply use standardized or uniform headshots taken at a campus photo studio. In order to do this, the ESL department would need to set up a designated day to take headshots. If the cost is too high, simply have someone in the department take the headshots with a fixed background for all the faculty and staff members on a given day.

Suggestion 3: Highlight Professional Contributions

Another clear way to help address the identity issue would be to highlight the professional activities, contributions, and research interests of the ESL faculty. The faculty bios could include awards, article or book publications, classes taught, conference presentations, grants, guest lectures, and research projects. Showcasing these will make fellow faculty members and the profession proud. Moreover, it will legitimize the world of ESL, and it may also inspire colleagues to contribute to the profession.

Suggestion 4: List Professional Memberships

Listing the faculty’s professional memberships will draw attention to their current participation in the field and help others network with them on a professional level. It may be best to list both past and current memberships to show the faculty’s activity throughout their careers.

Suggestion 5: Showcase Innovative Teaching Activities

Every instructor in the field of ESL is unique, and most have developed creative or effective activities that inspire both teachers and students. Consider including a 50-word summary of a creative or effective activity that each faculty member uses in his or her classes. Showcasing these ideas might also help recruit new students and attract high-level instructors to ESL programs.

Suggestion 6: Promote Teaching Philosophies

Another powerful addition to the faculty bios is the inclusion of a short, 50-word teaching philosophy. A teaching philosophy can act as an insightful window into the unique psyche of each instructor. These would highlight the essential elements of what is important in an instructor’s classroom. In addition, the teaching philosophy of each instructor is something from which students and colleagues could benefit, as it would promote unique perspectives and ideas on pedagogy and learning.

Suggestion 7: Highlight a Love for the English Language

My last suggestion offers a fun and playful way to complete the faculty bio pages. I suggest that faculty post their favorite English word, phrase, or idiom and briefly explain why they treasure that particular lexical item. This will, like the above idea on promoting teaching philosophies, give others a personal view into the mind of the instructors. There is even a chance that others reading these might learn something new.

Concluding Remarks

As mentioned above, the unwanted stepchild curse will not be broken overnight, but these seven suggestions for improving faculty bios for ESL program websites will help address one of the common problems reinforcing the stigma: they will help elevate the image of the English teaching field and begin to move the profession in a positive and inspiring direction. These suggestions are simple, but I believe that they will have far-reaching consequences and help us legitimize the world of ESL in a powerful and professional way.

NOTE: This article is dedicated to the memory of my father, Gerald Richard Randolph (1931-2016). He was my mentor, close friend, and unique soulmate.


Osborne, D. (2015). The ugly stepchild: On the position of ESL programs in the academy. College ESL Quarterly, Summer 2015, 1–20. Retrieved from

Randolph, P. T., Jones, T., Porter-Sucs, I., Arokiasamy, L., Dunsmore, C. (2016, April 6). Breaking the unwanted stepchild curse: Elevating the image of ESL. Paper presented at the meeting of TESOL International Association, Baltimore, MD.

Patrick T. Randolph specializes in creative and academic writing, speech, and debate. He continues to research current topics in neuroscience, especially studies related to exercise and learning, memory, and mirror neurons. He lives with his wife, Gamze; daughter, Aylene; and cat, Gable, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Recently, Randolph was awarded the “Best of the TESOL Affiliates–2015” for his work in vocabulary pedagogy.