Thursday, November 15, 2007

Looking beyond administrivia

I work in an office whose raison d'ĂȘtre is improving the teaching of undergraduates on campus. As part of that, we offer or oversee a couple of instructional programs, a graduate-level seminar on college teaching (which I'm teaching right now) and a first-year seminar program, taught by faculty from across the disciplines, that offers about 100 special-topic seminars each year. Because of this instructional mandate, we have a faculty director with a half-time appointment. This is the case with other offices on campus whose mandate includes undergraduate instruction.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have come into my job under our current faculty director. Much as I learned about what it means to be a savvy academic and a productive intellectual from Fantastic Mentor, I'm learning so very much about administration from Professor Thoughtful.

We're a very small unit (the equivalent of 6 FTE, plus several graduate student researchers and graduate TA consultants), so when one of our administrative people gave notice yesterday that she'd be leaving us for another unit, I of course immediately thought, "Who the hell are we going to get to replace her? She's terrific!" But today Professor Thoughtful pulled me and my coworker with my same job title (let's call her The Ecologist) into his office and proposed about 30 different ways to reorganize our little unit so that it both functions more efficiently and allows us to collaborate more meaningfully with several other academic departments and administrative units. Obviously, he's been thinking about this reorganization for some time, but literally overnight he came up with all these different reorganization plans, each of which is thoughtful in its own way.

I can't blog about the specifics because what we saw was apparently For Our Eyes Only, but I so much appreciate being included in these discussions, both because I want to have a hand in the reconstruction of the unit and because I really enjoy watching Professor Thoughtful at work. Plus, he very much listens to The Ecologist and me, and I feel he takes our concerns and recommendations to heart.

He also told us that he sees the two of us as the "franchise players" of the unit--and then he had to explain what he meant by that sports metaphor. It's good to know he recognizes our commitment and special skills, and that he wants to provide us with more opportunities to develop professionally. That may mean promotions and a higher salary, or it may not, but regardless of what happens, I'm delighted to be part of this organization.

I read a lot of griping about academia (and have done plenty of it myself), and I wish more academics who are getting the institutional shaft would consider transitioning into positions like mine. There's a huge need, especially at an institution the size of mine, for creative thinkers who not only "think outside the box" but refuse to think about boxes at all.


Anonymous said...

i'm so glad you enjoy your position so much! and yes, i had to look up franchise players...

Crimson Rambler said...

Glad to hear that this kind of technical and practical support is offered to academic staff on your campus. We had something similar at Local U while I was a sessional instructor in English -- it was revelatory in several dimensions to learn from a professor of Methods in Shop from the Faculty of Ed, just how to get a class to answer questions and initiate discussion!!!

Anonymous said...

Saw your post on Blogher about digital literacy. It's something I think about quite a bit (and info./media literacy generally), especially with my students, since they have computer lab twice a week. Of course, they're four years' old and their computer use consists mainly of phonics games. But still. Any recommendations for good sources for teaching kids about tech and media literacy?