What does it mean to be part of a profession that prides itself on independence and individuality? How can someone succeed in a career that depends on being a leader, a follower, a team player, and a solitary thinker when these roles are rarely clearly defined (and when it is often not clear which role belongs to whom at any given time)?
New and returning faculty members face these questions as they try to engage in an often bewildering array of student and administrative expectations. The intricacies of planning and presenting courses, serving on academic committees, finding and managing research funds: these can seem overwhelming to first-time faculty members and ongoing stressors for those trying to satisfy requirements for tenure and promotion.
Given that two faculty members in any given situation will produce at least three opinions on the subject under discussion, with two of these opinions seen as irreconcilable and the third as evidence of someone’s eccentricities, trying to bring faculty together to discuss what it means to be academics might seem a bit risky. Yet one of the most critical purposes of academia is the lively and far-ranging exploration of knowledge between professionals (full-time and adjunct faculty), apprentices (graduate students and interns), and amateurs (undergraduate students).
This year’s new faculty seminars emerge from this understanding: academia is a profession that challenges definitions and yet seeks to be the definer and re-definer of research, teaching, and service in connection to shared knowledge. Through alternating discussions of a common text, New Faculty: A Practical Guide for Academic Beginners, with discussions of a common place, Lehman College/CUNY, the Teaching & Learning Commons hopes to provide time and space for faculty to share experiences and concerns while also offering opportunities to learn which questions to ask and of whom during the first years of teaching and research at Lehman.
We begin the year with introductions, a campus tour, and dinner, followed by weekly meetings focused on teaching, research, service, and student resources. Guest participants are invited from campus programs to attend the seminars most relevant to their services: at these seminars, faculty will initiate conversations based on the questions from their readings and discussions from the previous week’s reading discussion.
The new faculty will take time to describe their own teaching and research projects with each other and to offer their experiences and knowledge as resources. Service activities will be connected with research and teaching projects through faculty examination of personal and professional objectives and timelines.
During the term, new faculty will also work with a group resource ePortfolio, community discussion threads, and individual ePortfolios and blogs as the seminar raises questions and new directions for academic projects, both individual and collaborative. The integration of technology into the seminars extends the possibilities for new faculty to develop connections with campus and cross-CUNY programs relevant to their individual concerns yet shared across the university.
We wind up the fall term with a review of discussions and once again, a chance to share good food and conversation. The spring term will introduce a text on thinking and learning from a cognitive scientist’s perspective, Dan Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? and an opportunity to work with different guests in expanding the College’s discourse on teaching, research, and service.