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Faculty members discuss shaping University’s future
November 19, 2014Tweet
Binghamton University is changing rapidly as it follows its Road Map to Premier, increases enrollment, renews its emphasis on research and transdisciplinary areas of excellence, and hires new faculty. How can faculty be involved in shaping the direction of the University at such a time of great fluidity and great change? That was the question Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman put to the faculty audience at a recent breakfast: “Shaping the future of Binghamton University.”
Binghamton has a long tradition of faculty involvement, Nieman said, but it’s “important to consider how we can ensure we have the widest range of faculty voices engaged in shaping direction, particularly at a time when our faculty is changing. About one of every three faculty members have been here five years or less.
“That’s a huge sea change in the core of the University,” he said, “and it’s important we talk about this issue of faculty engagement and involvement in guiding the University at a point where the nature of our faculty is changing.”
A panel of experienced faculty brought their perspectives to the discussion: Kanad Ghose, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science; Susan Strehle, distinguished service professor of English and dean of the Graduate School; Pamela Smart, associate professor of art history and anthropology and chair of the Material and Visual Worlds Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE); and Thomas Sinclair, associate professor of public administration and chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee.
For Ghose, the growth on campus has been tied to premier. “That means excellence and that is translated to one thing,” he said. “Scholarship. You need to show what you have done and have to convey that everyone is part of this growth.
“These are challenging times and there are many things one can think about from the perspective of why are you here,” he said. “There are natural questions so there is some need to come to the table with open minds and come together to deal with the challenges that come with faculty growth.”
Ghose noted that it can be difficult to make progress without good communication and sharing of information, but also highlighted the need to recognize talented people even when resources are tight. “The sad truth is that money drives everything, so we need funding models that are very clear and precise,” he said. “And we have to recognize talented people not just with money, but in other ways.”
Strehle spoke about the philosophy of academic leadership and strategies. “I can imagine two or three junior colleagues in this group thinking, ‘Why would I want to step up and do something by way of an academic leadership position?’” she said. Junior faculty are typically shielded from service because scholarship and teaching are the most important criteria for tenure and the University’s reputation rests on them, she said, adding that most departments have the luxury of not involving junior faculty in service.
“People assume that when they become an administrator everything else suffers and there is no time for teaching let alone doing serious, original work,” she said. “So why sacrifice that investment in favor of administration?
Because it can put a person in the position of making things better, she said. Recalling her first administrative position as graduate director a few years after achieving tenure, she was able to put in place structural things that made the world she cared about work better and gave people she cared about better access to jobs.
“There is some power to do good and the amount of time invested came back and charged my batteries and made me happy, like teaching does,” she said. “And you get to know the best people outside the little world inhabited in your research and are in with like-minded people who care about what you do. You get to help float that ship forward and the rewards are significant in terms of satisfaction and the ability to make a difference. We reshape and change things by the work we do intellectually and in the classroom and this, too, makes things better.”
Rather than thinking about where faculty might compromise, Smart spoke about the extent to which junior faculty feel they would like to participate. “It took me about a decade to find my voice on campus,” she said.
The TAE structure offers a lot of opportunities for faculty to really actively shape something, she added, whereas departments are much more structurally bound than organizations like TAEs.
“To shape something that’s very supple and develop relationships not just with other junior faculty, but with senior faculty from other departments is incredibly important because it offers an opportunity to identify faculty who have an interest beyond scholarship and shaping the University, she said. “For the TAEs, the real challenge is to actively draw people.”
Sinclair brought the focus to higher education in general and what’s happening within the SUNY system. “Higher education is going through a sea change and there are some fundamental differences in the way we teach, the way the work we do is measured and the structure of universities themselves,” he said. “There are a lot of pressures and we’re starting to feel those at the level of University faculty and the way we deliver our courses.”
When he returns from SUNY meetings where he learns of challenges facing other campuses in the system, he said he is reminded of what a privilege it is to serve at Binghamton where there is a long history of faculty involvement, with presidents and provosts who understand faculty needs and want to listen to find ways to work together.
“In the larger system, I see Binghamton as a place that can be a leader to change the shape of the dialogue and discussion and to be opinion leaders to something that really contributes to our place as a meaningful and important part of public education and the central role we play in our future,” he said. “We have to put service in its place, but when you have serve opportunities, think about the larger contexts and take them seriously so that Binghamton can truly be what other universities in our system and nation look up to.”
Nieman reinforced that there are many levels of service and leadership open to faculty, both junior and senior. “There are opportunities for faculty at the department level, but also at a broader University level in all shapes and forms,” he said.
Serving on search committees is one such opportunity that is vitally important, Strehle said. “I don’t think there’s anything we do that’s more important than that, where we make choices about what the future should be in our field,” she said. “It’s a leadership role that really makes a difference.”