Monday, July 28, 2008

Welcome to my world

I found this article by Paula Krebs to be quite revealing about faculty vis a vis collaboration. Everything I do is like the Institute Ms. Krebs ran. In fact, I direct or co-direct an Institute every summer. Many staff do these kinds of things here because most faculty won't.

Any project I do has to go through committees and involves at a minimum of 4 people, all of whom have wildly diverging views at times. I almost never have the benefit of getting to work on a personal project or a project where I "get my way" so to speak. I rely all the time on the good will and expertise of the staff around me. Unlike Krebs, I don't have a personal assistant to manage all of my details, but I do parcel out work where I need to--to our department secretary, to our purchasing agent, to our system administrators. I couldn't do anything without them.

Ms. Krebs ends with this paragraph:
I still value my autonomy in the classroom and elsewhere. But I think I have a much better grip on how truly collaborative the educational enterprise is. And that's bound to be good for me, as a faculty member, to remember.
I wish other faculty would learn the same lessons. I'm not sure those that have similar experiences come out of those experiences with the same realizations that Krebs had. Many faculty I know still operate in a kind of "independent contractor" mode. If we had a "we're all in this together" mentality, we might get somewhere.

This dovetails into Dean Dad's commentary today on service. Part of why, it seems, that faculty don't want to or don't know how to collaborate is because it's so obviously not valued. What's valued are individual contributions, either to teaching or research. And the us vs. them mentality that occurs between faculty and staff (esp. administrators) means there are a precious few opportunities for staff and faculty to work together. What that means is that while faculty contribute to decisions about curriculum or tenure and promotion guidelines, they don't often contribute to decisions that effect them daily--how to make certain kinds of purchases, what software or cms to use. They are often asked, but they don't want to do the hard work of attending meetings and making evaluations. I'm not saying this is their fault, by any means. If I were in their shoes, looking at what gets me tenured or promoted, I wouldn't attend a meeting to discuss possible email systems either. But then, I'm not sure it's fair to complain about those decisions either. When faculty ask me about such things, I tell them how to contribute or when they had (past tense) many opportunities to have a say. They shrug. They would be heard if they had their say, which is more than I can say for some staff members.