Monthly Archives: May 2014

Being a Faculty Member

The traditional way of looking at being a faculty member includes the three primary things that are looked at when a faculty member is going up for tenure and promotion—teaching, research/scholarship, and service. Those categories can be viewed as quite narrow or as umbrella ideas. None of it is as short as they might seem.

Teaching could be the traditional in-class teaching to undergraduate and graduate students but it could also include being a guest speaker for groups outside your own discipline or institution. Teaching can take up a large amount of your time, especially when prepping a new course. Grading, meeting with students, being in class, responding to e-mails, writing recommendation letters, and so much more goes into teaching. Those of us who are constantly worried about what we are doing and how it impacts the students it can feel as though the teaching cap is never off. We each have a different approach to teaching. This is part of why we have teaching philosophies. My own teaching philosophy discusses a lot about building the foundation for lifelong learning with students. Part of that is by providing a foundation of vocabulary and ideas from many different disciplines about a topic to help build towards critical thinking skills. Some ways to do that is to be available to the students, help them understand that they have a say in their education, and continue to learn yourself. One benefit of lifelong learning is being able to take the skills and ideas learned while in school and take them outside the classroom and outside the walls of academia.

Research is often the largest influence in tenure and promotion. This can include not only what someone does in the lab or what they collect data on but also includes publishing and presenting what they have been working on. We have this idea in academia of “publish or perish.” This is a way to quantify how much research someone is doing and how strong that research is by going through a peer-review system. Even many conferences are peer-reviewed submissions now. Research can look very different depending on the discipline you are in. For some it looks nothing like what we typically think of. For those in the arts, research can include more of performances and collaborations with people outside the institution. For others of us it is writing about our philosophical opinions on the state of the world.

Service frequently is ranked the lowest in terms of what faculty members need to devote their time to. Service includes many different things and they frequently overlap with teaching and research. Some ways people provide service is by serving on a committee for one’s department, college, institution, or discipline organization. It is often just regular meetings as well including attending faculty meetings. This can include providing some of the peer-reviews for journals or conferences. It could be extension work, such as talking to the media about what is going on at the institution or about your own research. Service could include doing a lot of the paperwork for your department. In an overlap with teaching, service can include advising students, meeting with prospective students, and recruiting.

There are so many different aspects to being a faculty member and I know I didn’t get them all. They are not always going to be exactly the same for each person who is on faculty at an institution and they will continue to change over the years. However, that is part of the beauty and part of the drawback—no two days or weeks or years will be exactly the same but it can be a huge challenge to juggle all of the different responsibilities one person has as a faculty member.

Are We Losing Sight of the Students?

There are many challenges that face Higher Education right now and many directions that it could go. Many of what is discussed revolves around the financial situation of institutions and the students who are attending. However, through all of these discussions there is one thing that seems to frequently get lost—the students. Sometimes it feels like the lack of focus on students, mentoring and teaching them, means that we are losing sight of the real reason for higher education.

Part of that is how so many people who are working at these institutions of higher education lose sight of teaching. My classmate, stser, linked to an interesting piece on what people who work at many different institutions would change in higher education. The bit written by Daniel Bakos from Western Georgia University rang true to me. He wrote, “Firstly, I believe too many of the faculty at institutions of ‘higher learning’ are not interested in doing their job, which I specifically believe to be in the vast majority of institutions, classroom instruction. It seems they all want to teach one or two classes and earn six figure salaries. Dedication doesn’t exist anymore.”

What Bakos argues can be seen time and time again at many different institutions, including ones that are meant to be teaching and student focused. This could be due to too many time commitments and people start feeling overwhelmed so it is the interactions with students that falls through the cracks. But is that the best system? Are we doing a disservice to the students who come to these institutions to learn and grow? What more could we be doing? We already have teaching vouchers that are considered a great commodity for professors but I have to wonder if they do more harm than good. Maybe it would be more beneficial to adjust expectations for everyone to teach, do research, and service in a more manageable way where nothing has to fall through the cracks. That is probably wishful thinking, though.