Shaping a Citizen Faculty
Cultivating collegiality in the research university
By Luke Timothy Johnson, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins

 

 

Academic Exchange December 1999/January 2000 Contents Page

Wouldn't it be interesting if, when interviewing prospective faculty, we asked a series of questions that did not touch on the research interests of the candidate or her pedagogical practices but on her willingness and ability to take part in faculty governance within the university? The viability of the American university in the next century may well depend on the cultivation of a sense of citizenship larger than "service" as it is often narrowly defined.

We all know what we mean by such citizenship even if we cannot always describe it precisely. We know which colleagues we value and want to remain with us ("get tenure, please!"), because they are willing to share the common burdens as well as the common joys of the academic life. They are the associates whose commitment to quality in every aspect of scholarly life is so deep that they help raise our own standard and therefore also our morale. They are the members of the department we can turn to for a short consultation about a student paper or grade, the ones who always come to meetings on time and prepared, the ones who are on the spur of the moment willing to read a troubled paragraph over which we have been slaving. They are the colleagues who seem to be around enough to enable such exchanges and conversations. They are the people who make our lives more livable because they take the trouble to be competent at the many little administrative details required in the academic life, whose confidence relieves us of the obsessive need to do everything ourselves, just "to make sure it gets done."

They are, in short, the kind of colleagues we also would like to be--large in generosity and vision as well as in intellect and technical skill. They have a sense of life that is more covenantal than contractual; they understand that life together ought not to be a tedious matter of keeping score but a subtle process of gift-giving by which all participants grow from the generosity of each. They are, finally, willing to contribute to the process of faculty governance so that the university's future might continue to be shaped by genuine humane values and not simply by what is expedient for survival.

Such virtues of academic citizenship are all the more needed today because contemporary research universities like Emory little resemble collegia whose scholars share a commitment to the life of the mind and the transmission of tradition. Scholars in those communities share a common life among themselves and their students, as well as responsibility for administering the school's common interests. To be sure, such faculty-governed colleges of the past-and in some places still, of the present-were often remarkable for their inefficiency and the amount of solemn silliness they could generate. But for the most part, they were sufficiently small, self-contained, and centered in a shared intellectual universe to enable their faculties to exercise genuine governance in large matters of common concern.

Today, virtually everything militates against that ideal. Research universities are large, complex, and driven by financial pressures on every front. So are academic units and individual faculty members, who easily can become competitors rather than collaborators. They find themselves in a world that encourages a look-out-for-oneself, entrepreneurial attitude and discourages (by reward structures, among other things) generous cooperation. Senior faculty have survived by adapting. Junior faculty are whipsawed between the realities of a competitive academic market and an (apparently empty) rhetoric of cooperation and collegiality. Administrations are naturally tempted to make decisions based on the bottom line and with an eye to efficiency, which is easier if the slow processes of faculty consultation are avoided. Faculty are understandably tempted to civic passivity if not cynicism, since neither the pragmatic effect nor the value of faculty participation in governance is obvious.

But precisely because of these circumstances it is important to cultivate a new sense of citizenship. If faculty fail to create a sense of collegiality among themselves in small things, they will be incapable of consulting together effectively in large matters. If faculty fail to help shape the direction of the university according to humane and scholarly values through their participation in governance, then they should not be surprised to find the university becoming simply another corporation. We should ask prospective faculty about their sense of collegial participation in the day-to-day cooperation that makes academic units work. We should see if they are aware of a larger university beyond their individual research or even their school, and if they have any sense of responsibility to that larger world. By asking these questions of those we seek to recruit, we may get used also to asking them of each other; by including citizenship in the socialization process, we may also change our own culture.