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Quote of the Day
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Last week I had a long meeting with Trudie, the only other female (and the only other non-tenured member) in my new department. I really enjoy her so far: we are the subfield faculty so we are interested in a lot of the same things academically, we're both married to professionals, and we both have preschool-aged boys (although she has two). Last Wednesday she invited me into her office and we had a meeting about the department.
"Look," she said, "this is a fantastic place to work. The environment is great, the students are great, and the city is a lot of fun. But this department is so disorganized it's not even funny." She then proceeded to tell me a lot about the department that I already knew, and a lot about how the department has been resistant to change. For example, there are courses on the books that are clearly in the wrong place (e.g., imagine a course called "The Works of Leo Tolstoy" that was listed in the "20th Century American Poetry" category) or clearly outdated (e.g., imagine a course entitled "The Soviet Union Today"). One of the courses I'm teaching is completely mis-categorized so that when students look at the course catalogue, they think my "Tolstoy" course counts for their major emphasis in "20th Century American Poetry." Additionally, there are courses that students are technically "required" to take that haven't been offered in years, and if they have been offered recently they were all taught so differently that there's no way the students all received the "required" information. Finally, although it is generally recognized that there are five big subfields in my discipline, the department here only requires that students take a course in one of them, Subfield A. This is inadequate: if students want a major in My Discipline, they need introductory courses to at least two additional subfields. Right now, it's like majoring in Biology and only being required to take courses on Fish.
Trudie has already completed her first year here, and she said pushing any change through the department was frustrating and led nowhere. She said that while some faculty gave lip-service to her recommended changes, when push came to shove no one took any action. In some ways, it seems like each professor in the department has their own little fiefdom, and they jealously guard "their" students and "their" courses and are resistant to reorganization of any kind.
It seems clear to me after speaking with Trudie and learning more about the department that some changes must happen in order for our major to attract students and in order for us to truly give them a major representative of the entire discipline. The subfields of my discipline are not at all equally represented in the department: well over 60% of the courses now fall into Subfield A, while Subfield B (mine) is small and Subfield C is nearly non-existent. Subfield D consists of one course, and Subfield E is completely unrepresented.
This is all due to the fact, I think that my department is one that is at the tail end of a major transition. Just a few years ago, the entire department consisted of old white men who'd been there at least 30 years. I know that this disorganization started then, as I've heard that the faculty until very recently were not on good terms with one another. But now, with a collegial faculty and one with most subfields represented, there's really no reason the department's courses should be so decentralized, and no reason why we can't have a little more standardization in terms of what is required and what is elective.
I have a feeling that these sorts of things are going to be the end of me. I am a person who craves change, and someone who (as you know already) strives for organization. I learned in my last "real job" in HR that I'm also a person who hates meetings and committees, and that I'd rather just get things done instead of talking about getting things done. I can be annoying when I have to be. The question is, as a new faculty member, what can and should I do? Obviously I'll side with Trudie on a lot (most) issues in departmental meetings, but I'm not sure how much good that will do, either, given that we're both untenured and new to the department. I just wish there was an uncomplicated solution to these organizational problems, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the solution is going to be almost as complicated as the problem, universities being as they are.