I have a lot of academic thoughts flying around this week, and I still have some work to do to prepare for the department's first meeting of the year. So I'm going to be lazy-ish and simply list a few things
- I'm wondering what other folks think about mentoring. I was browing posts at Rate Your Students and noticed a fair bit of kvetching/critique by junior faculty regarding unwanted mentoring by senior faculty (the complaint generally being "if we want your advice, we'll ask for it"). I've construed my role as department chair to be largely about advocating for my colleagues and department, so mentoring has been a huge concern of mine. We have officially assigned mentors, but I've made sure to have a series of meetings with new assistant professors (4-5 over the first year, covering general orientation, our review procedures, documenting and assessing teaching, preparing for promotion); I've coordinated workshops on promotion for nontenure track faculty (who are eligible for a promotion in rank, but not tenure); I've been working my way around the associate professors to talk a bit about planning for promotion to professor, sooner or later in various cases. Maybe mentoring isn't quite the right word for all that, but it seems to me that it's a good thing for administrators to actively promote their colleagues. Does that need to be patronizing or intrusive? I've thought about this a lot this year as we have hired several associate professors, who need different kinds of transition assistance than new assistant professors. But still, that's a kind of useful mentoring. I think.
- There have been some wonderful posts about the academic job market this year at Tenured Radical's, Dr. Crazy's, and Citizen of Somewhere Else's. I forwarded TR's post to a friedn on the job market, and she said, a few days later, "oh, that was really helpful. So I shouldn't use letterhead?" Turns out the comments on TR's post took up the issue of letterhead and whether or not to use it quite seriously. I thought this was all rather bizarre, since every search I've served on in English has always seen most applications come in on departmental letterhead, even from graduate students. (Not that this is required: I've also seen graduate students not use departmental letterhead, and I've never seen a search committee discuss this.) I'm on a search committee now for a campus-level administrative position, and none of the applicants--almost all of whom currently have some kind of academic affiliation--used institutional letterhead. So my new advice to job seekers: check out the customs in the field to which you're applying. (other things I have noticed, reading job applications in a field-not-my-own: inspirational quotations don't really add a lot to letterhead; mis-spelling the search committee chair's name is a good way to get a letter some negative attention; the best in-house applicants for a position will write as though they are from off-campus, so their materials have the same general style as an applicant from afar.)
- Dr. Crazy got dumped on quite a bit over at RYS, quite unfairly. I find it amazing that so many academics talk about loyalty to departments or campuses, framing issues of academic jobs and searches in the same terms we talk about personal relationships. Academia is about relationships, of course, and I'm a big believer in looking for jobs where there's a good fit between the campus/institution's goals and an individual's own goals. But life is long, and we shouldn't assume that our first job will be our only job. Can't we value a committment to institutional goals while realizing that it's OK for some people to move on to another job after 4 or 5 years? I've advised my newer colleagues to simultaneoulsy imagine that our department might well be their only job--so we can all make it a department to grow in--and that our department might nurture their career for some period of time--so we can all see the work we do in the department as contributing to the discipline, in which people circulate to some extent.
Research, teaching, and service balance out very differently in our own interests and on different campuses. My department has lost some very talented junior faculty in the past few years, and there is likely to be another significant personnel change in senior faculty next year, besides some movement in retirements. I miss my colleagues who have left, but I think it's a healthy thing, actually, that the work done in our department helps move people along. I'm not quite sure how to balance encouraging ambition in my colleagues with encouraging a collective department vision, but somehow (and perhaps self-servingly), I think that good academic administration should help individual faculty to achieve while helping the department as a unit achieve. It's a tricky thing, as the department as a unit is not always tolerant of individuals who seem to be achieving way more than others do. Sometimes, departments are proud of their research stars or mega-award-winning teachers; other times, such colleagues can be criticized for putting their own needs ahead of the department's. I'm not quite sure what I think department chairs have to do with all this, but I am spending a lot of time pondering this individual/collective relationship. (apologies if this bullet doesn't make whole lot of sense--I'm working this set of ideas out here as I type!)