Thursday, May 22, 2008

End of the First Year on the Tenure Track: Part One - the Faculty Meeting

I thought I might post some reflections on what has been a BIG HONKIN' YEAR OF MILESTONES:

Part the First - The Faculty Meeting:

Learning how to speak up in meetings was a semi-fraught situation this year. What's interesting is that it's not because I felt uncomfortable about speaking up as a junior faculty member in a room full of senior colleagues. I know that some of the other jr-faculty in my department had that reaction; they have said in various contexts that they felt like they didn't want to antagonize the very people who would eventually be deciding their tenure cases. I haven't felt that way this year (not that feeling that way is in any way wrong or, in some cases, on the money). Rather, I was trying to establish what my voice in these meetings was going to be - passionate regarding issues about which I felt strongly, but also measured and as even-keel as possible. What I've loved about our regular department meetings this year (and I know I won't feel like this about dept. meetings in 10 years, but for now the novelty hasn't quite worn off) is the different voices that come out. For some reason, I imagine this must be like a huge heard of sheep; each one has its own distinct voice and the little lost lamb can hear its own mother among all the others that basically seem to bleat in the same way. Now, I'm not a lost lamb (although at times I've felt that way this year), but I quickly became accustomed to reading these meetings on a different level - abstracted from the actual situation at hand, I could tell why my colleagues were really saying what they were saying. If John Doe says this completely cazy, off the wall thing, it's to provoke a reaction, not because he actually thinks this. If Jane Doe starts going off into conspiracy theories about X, then Jane Doe 2 will intervene in a non-threatening way to neutralize the acid spewing forth. It's like reading a Spenserian allegory - there's so much more going on underneath the surface if you just look close enough.

Speaking up in meetings became important this year in particular because I was thrown into the semi-deep end of the pool early on. I was on a search committee and, thus, had to make my voice heard in many ways. The committee and I agreed to a spectacular degree on the status of all the candidates, so there wasn't strife per se, but there was the need to make our case persuasively to the rest of the dept. There was also another hiring issue that I was extremely personally invested in as well as some discussed curricular revisions that would impact me and my cohort tremendously. These issues became the basis on which I began to create my voice in the department. I should say that 99.9% of the senior faculty here really value the junior faculty and encourage us to speak up and become invested in the department goings-on. Fortunately, there's not the pat on the head and the "this is how we do things around here, kiddo" condescension I've heard about so often with some of my friends. They were pleased that I spoke up in meetings and staked my claim. But it felt that there were also times when certain well-meaning colleagues were attempting to appropriate my voice and my situation. It was well-intentioned and it was ultimately in the service of what we all wanted to happen, but it impressed upon me even more that I needed to be responsible for voicing my opinions; I needed to decide what aspects of my individual situation (both personal and professional) should be brought to bear on this issue. Ultimately, it worked wonders - we got what we wanted voted on and passed by the department and I received many emails from my senior colleagues saying how happy they'd been that I was so proactive and invested in our department's inner workings. It was a kind of validation I'd never experienced because my voice had never been valued in departments where I was an adjunct or visiting professor. This aspect, more than the knowledge that I will have steady teaching and a relatively stable identity as professor for the foreseeable future, has made me feel "all growed up" this year...


Hilaire said...

How wonderful to have become so aware of your own voice and the stakes in such things!! I am inspired by you - I remain a little alienated by my department workings and meetings. I'm seriously going to reflect on them in a new light after reading this post! :)

squadratomagico said...

I, too, am impressed by your assertiveness. I don't think I said more than three words in my faculty meetings for the first year. It's not that my colleagues weren't friendly to junior faculty (far from it) it's just that I usually had little investment in the issues being discussed, since I am something of an outlier at OPU, in terms of research and teaching interests.

Actually, that remains the case and I STILL am somewhat quiet in meetings.

Earnest English said...

MW, this is so interesting. I'm glad you're having a good experience, first off. Second, at my grad institution, where I did sit in on department meetings, I was basically told that a good deal of the discussions are planned out beforehand, especially search committee suggestions. I wonder whether you've found that to be the case. In that particular department, perhaps people knew each other so well that they could anticipate each other's objections and be ready for them. The planning and plotting is something I had never thought about before. I'd love your thoughts.