On Being Faculty

According to Merriam-Webster, the term “faculty” is best understood as: ability, power, as innate or acquired ability to act or do, an inherent capability, power, or function (the faculty of hearing), natural aptitude (has a faculty for saying the right things). (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/faculty)

In short it’s the function of parts that contribute to a whole and is often, outside of academia used as a plural term. In describing what I feel to be the responsibility and sentiments of a future faculty member, I inherently cling to this pluralism, or being part of something much larger, and through that opportunity understand myself privileged with types of abilities I may not have on my own. I  take seriously the “ability to act or do” as well as the power of the position.

While living in western North Carolina I had a wonderful banjo teacher and friend, Annie Fain Liden.  She not only taught me a few banjo tunes, but her life choices as an artist and our conversations about one’s “calling” were and continue to be deeply influential in my life. One day she offered me the wonderful insight that she did what made her happy and the rest followed. The life she choose as an artist certainly had obstacles, but it was a choice to continue what fulfilled her that made the sacrifices worth it. I find working towards the greater good through the classroom, seeking knowledge, and the learning process to be what brings me that fulfillment (of course, banjos in the classroom help!).  Working for the betterment of the Appalachian region, working for more just and equitable environments and ecologies; this is fulfilling to me. By perusing these things I have been led into higher education and the position of a future professoriate, or faculty member. This is not a weight I carry lightly.
Annie Fain’s advice is starkly different from what I hear in professional development courses where I am asked, does it go on your curriculum vita? Are you producing work? The encouragement to produce, the institutional need to constantly rate higher and higher, collide with the questions that got me here; a true desire to learn and an enjoyment in the process. Being a faculty member is balancing the urging to do nothing but produce “good work” and remember the movement and functions of the larger space of being one has been called into. I am learning that the dichotomical relationship of these worlds, knowing and being surveyed, learning and being rated, growing and producing according to a set standard or expectation—are forever intertwined. This is where I feel the role of “faculty” is so complex and important.

In thinking about how to balance one’s power, ability to act or do, and institutional needs, I feel thare are eight constant, fluid, fluctuating responsibilities endowed to all faculty members. Upholding and performing these acts take courage and curiosity:

1. To serve. I believe faculty members must serve on many levels; the institution, the discipline, students, international, local, and imagined communities, the subject, readers, and the acts, organizations and movements that are reflected and impacted by their institution, institutional position and area(s) of research.
2. To learn. Faculty members must learn and be led by a vigorous curiosity. If faculty members are devoted to learning, their teaching will be radically impacted as will their students and others who learn from them.
3. To seek. Faculty members must seek out moment to be faculty members—moments of learning and teaching, serving and connecting must be sought out.
4. To guide. Faculty members, as part of a larger group, must guide others when able to do so—experiences and situated knowledge/s should be used. I have been most impacted by honest guidance done in good conscious by faculty members.
5. To produce. The production of knowledge, research, and confident, questioning students is the responsibility of the type of faculty member I hope to be. Understanding that not all faculty members teach, producing spaces for learning and new knowledge as well as working for the institute at large is a responsibility of a productive faculty.
6. To network, connect and serve as a liaison between people, ideas, opportunities and knowledge when needed.
7. To reflect. Reflect on one’s integrity, moral compass and intentions, reflect on the larger group one is serving and have the courage to take action if needed. This is perhaps the most difficult and dangerous responsibility of faculty members and I applaud the legacy that has given me the courage to see the possibilities when truth is spoken to power. Helen Lewis, Jeff Mann, Kai Erikson, Marc Edwards, Jen Hofer, and many others are taking this responsibility seriously. We (the future faculty) are deeply grateful and made more courageous because of their work.

To me, being a faculty means doing these actions while remaining true to the intentions that got you this far. Being is a conscious act—to be faculty is to choose to pursue this calling and be a part of something much larger than oneself. Of course, this isn’t required, but I believe the calling is much less fulfilled for those who do not recognize their role and embrace the act of being a faculty member.

Jordan Laney, May 1, 2015


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