Monday, November 8, 2010

Technology Trumps Collegiality

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the drama department production of Cabaret.  I thought our students did a terrific job and the production was without doubt at a professional theater level.  During the intermission, I went over to a senior faculty member in drama and we had a chance to catch up for the first time since last spring.  The faculty member commented on how much harder it has become for faculty from throughout the University to just get a chance to talk.  And he talked with fondness about on-site registration.  Up to about 15 years ago, every semester just before the semester began, on-site registration took place.  During this registration, students who had not yet registered and those who wanted a change in program had the opportunity to do so by coming to a large room that had at individual tables, faculty representatives from every department.  For much of the time, the faculty in the room were busy advising students.  But there were periods of time before, after and during when the faculty had moments of time to mingle with other faculty.  It was a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues and inevitably you would also get a chance to meet new colleagues.   You would also interact with administrative colleagues, and in every administrative position I have had, I always made sure I attended at least part of the on-site registration. Every semester you could count on on-site registration to provide the opportunity for faculty from all areas to spend time together.  That opportunity ended when on-line registration began.  Much more convenient and a real improvement for students but the mingle factor was lost.

Also long lost is the social interaction that took place at the University Club when I first started teaching.  At the end of the day and especially at the end of the week, many faculty met for a drink. I don’t miss seeing my colleagues drink, but the socialization was welcome.  I know that faculty still have many opportunities to interact. There are department meetings, school or college meetings and full faculty meetings. The department meetings tend to bring together most if not all the full time faculty in that department.  The school or college meetings often bring together a substantial minority of the faculty in that unit (with smaller units tending to attract a larger percentage to these meetings) and the full faculty meetings at their fullest often attract just a fraction of those eligible to attend.  There are other meetings that attract faculty, most often along political or philosophical lines.   But the regular opportunity to have a large number of “random” faculty just meet—not united by a discipline, not united by a school or college, not united by politics or a philosophy, and not united by a drink, in fact often just united  by being assigned to registration duty, is sorely missed.
Add to this that as scholarly and family obligations have increased, faculty are much less likely to spend extra time on campus and you have a clear sense of the collegiality divide that now exists on most colleges and universities.

I have a very high regard for my colleagues.  Faculty tend to have a high regard for other faculty. We should all look for more opportunities to spend time together.

1 comment:

  1. I heartily agree. And I would extend the point a step further: Many of the same factors reduce the frequency of unstructured interactions between faculty and students, too. Though some causes are unavoidable, one way to work against this trend is to create more spaces for interaction. This is an area where we have seen improvements in the last 5 years. The coffee and snacks area just inside the Axinn Library entrance, added during renovation, has created a valuable new space for informal interaction. But we might consider other ways that richer, but unstructured interactions can be promoted. As an example, one top liberal arts college I recently visited sponsors "Professor Beers" every Thursday late afternoon, where groups of at least 3 students and a professor receive one free pitcher of beer. Students there raved to me about it, it cost the college very little, and I sensed that it created an opportunity to model responsible consumption. Unfortunately under current laws, most undergraduates are excluded by age, and our context involves more students driving, so there would be complications for us in that specific model. But I believe that efforts aiming at the same general goals are worth considering—promoting both both spaces and programs.