Being a Faculty Member-musings

A vedic shloka, from ancient India describes a teacher as an entity far superior than the Almighty himself. An individual who personifies an amalgamation of the three supreme forces accounted for creation of the world, sustenance of the world and possible annihilation of the world. This Sanskrit shlok, which is offered as a prayer to the teacher, captures in essence, the ideal qualities which an educator must embody.

|| Gurur brahma, gurur Vishnu,
gurur devo maheshwarah
Gurur saakshaat para-brahma
Tasmai shri guruve namah||

 The teacher clearly is a creator, for s/he shapes interest and intellect of young adults to help them better contribute to the society and eventually, the world. S/he is responsible for helping the students sustain a steady growth in terms of learning and responsibility bearing, while the teacher is also responsible for annihilation of all behavior or sentiments that foster negativity and potentiate distress.

An online dictionary defines a ‘faculty member’ to be an educator who works at a college or university. Faculty members, however, in addition to teaching have additional roles and responsibilities towards the collegiate environment they belong to.

Teaching, Research and Service. The VirginiaTech directives for faculty are clear, concise and apt. It is also manifold in the interpretations that one may derive from it. Depending on the type of institution, faculty may be required to indulge in teaching or research or both. Speaking, on a broader context, in my opinion, a faculty member needs to foremost be a good human being. This means that s/he needs to be able to be honest, hard-working, sincere, committed and humane. S/he should be devoid of any conscious or sub-conscious bias and must be able to equally facilitate all of his/her students and work towards the better of each one.

Faculty members also need to be able to be brave enough to take a stand against injustice and prejudice and help with administration to build an environment conducive to learning and community building. This necessitates the need for faculty members to have a strong sense of belonging towards the university in which they serve. It is necessary for faculty members to be an active part of the administration, rather than be detached or submissive to it. They need to have a voice in the framing of rules and regulations and ensure that their students are also able to voice out their respective concerns. For instance, with the Graduate Honor Society at VirginiaTech, wherein faculty members participate in meting out justice and fair treatment to students by being part of the judiciary panel and the like.

Faculty members should be accountable to the students. They should be able to engage the students with their teaching, research or through recreation. A faculty member should also be patient enough to help students effectively participate in the teaching-learning process. S/he should also be mature enough to not blindly influence the student to follow his/her footsteps but rather be able to think for their own selves and to be able to question existing norms and figure out the right path using their own rationale. Thus, a faculty member can serve to be a guide and a mentor but should not dictate directions autocratically.

Responsibility towards students apart, faculty members also must be able to represent the university to which they belong. Thus they must partake in serving to better the university’s repute in a professional arena as well as in the community. Faculty members need to be good citizens and globi-zens. As faculty members, individuals should be able to be willing to learn and embrace change. They should be able to adapt to newer technologies and implement them into their interactions to facilitate better communication with peers or students or administration. Faculty members must also try to be part of the hiring committees and ensure that quality of teachers and non teaching faculty are at par with the university standards and student expectations. They must also help newer and lesser experienced faculty to understand the working of the university procedures and processes. They should also be able to encourage graduate students to take up academe as a profession.

Presence and availability are key factors that faculty members must address A good faculty member being one who is accessible to his colleagues and students rather than virtually present. The faculty member thus needs to be able to effectively and efficiently manage time and resources to be able to fit optimal amount of tasks into a 24 hour work day.

In the present day and age, where-in the education system is tending towards being more and more commoditized and commercialized, the faculty members have an additional role in not yielding to solely monetary influences. The primary objective of college as a teaching-learning-community building institution should be understood and practiced. Grades and degrees should not be ‘distributed’ rather there must be an inculcation of a sense of ownership and pride for a degree ‘earned’ amongst students. This is also true for papers published. Faculty members should not let external influences such as tenure concerns back the motive for paper publishing. External influences can result in decreasing the quality of the end product and making research a compulsion rather than an interest. Sharing of knowledge should not be a task to check off of a list, but rather a long term commitment towards others in the discipline one is engaged in.

Faculty must also be good role models and have a stable work-life balance. Excessive commitment bordering on obsession towards ones work-life can cater to negatively influencing the younger (often) more impressionable students and peers that s/he is dealing with. The faculty member should thus be able to motivate a person towards additional interests apart from ones own discipline. S/he should be able to facilitate an interdisciplinary engagement and provide a holistic view of concepts and studies.

My experience in living at the Honors Residential College introduced me to a different facet to being a faculty member. What happens if you have to live with 320 undergraduate students in a dorm, as a faculty member? In such a case, with residential colleges re-introduced into the college system, the roles and responsibilities of the faculty members are enhanced. The interactions with students and peers are not only in a formal set up but also in semi and non formal set ups. As exemplified by the faculty principals at the Honors Residential College, there is need to familiarize with everyone that they deal with at a more personal level. There is also an additional responsibility of being able to resolve conflict and change perspectives towards student engagement. There becomes a need to take more initiative and go an extra mile for something that one believes in.

Thus, in my opinion, lending the personal touch, by simple gestures such as remembering names and not just faces, remembering majors and interests and active interaction would help to know more about the collegiate community a faculty is part of and thus contribute better to the same.

 

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