RECONCILING FACULTY ROLES


What is striking about today's academic professionals is the frequently agonizing way they perceive their workloads.
John Banja, clinical ethicist at the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and the Professions


Reconciliation
The problem of defining Emory's most elusive year

Reconciling Campus Conflict
A conversation with Bob Agnew, professor of sociology and past director of the program in violence studies

Intellectual Content on the Conference Table

The Socialization of the Professions and the Humane University
(seminar report)

Return to Contents

In the spring of 2000, Dr. Banja moderated a faculty seminar titled "The Morality of Professional Development and Socialization: Implications for Teaching, Mentoring, and Institutional Oversight." The seminar report, "The Socialization of the Professions and the Humane University: Reconsidering the Social Contract for a Scholarly Community," including lists of readings and participants is available online.

The Academic Exchange What was the purpose of this seminar?

Professor John Banja About half of the seminar's participants train future health care providers and are concerned with developing good character and compassion among their students, especially when that training--such as in medicine--is emotionally wearisome. Also, health professionals must function in a decidedly cost-conscious environment that presents all kinds of ethical problems.

The discussion of our students' professional futures, however, led to a conversation about our own professional development--that is, as faculty not just from the medical side of campus but also from the humanities and social sciences.

AE Why does the report recommend a task force on faculty labor and an office for alternative career placement for new Ph.D.s and faculty denied tenure?

JB The difficulties of the academic job market for Ph.D.s, especially in the humanities, have been recognized for two decades, but what is striking about today's academic professionals is the frequently agonizing way they perceive their workloads. It is astonishingly simple for junior faculty in particular to allow their lives to be totally overwhelmed by the desire to be good teachers, be highly productive scholars, and give outstanding service to the university. By its nature, academia tends to attract people who have been highly rewarded, often from a very young age, for academic achievement. Not infrequently, these very persons have a deeply ingrained sense that their self-worth is conditional. An academic environment can exacerbate atendency among these people to understand their worth as proportional to their productivity. This responds to your question about faculty labor because if I am what I produce, then the more I produce, the better a person I am. So, there's always one more committee you can sit on, one more article you can write, etc. For some people, academe can be a very unhealthy place.

AE What are the forms of "disease" within the university the report
mentions?

JB We looked at "ideological dysfunction" within disciplines, or what seminar participants call "diseases within the professions." Examples would include the analytic philosophers who refuse to talk to metaphysicians or behavioral psychologists who loathe the work of "talk" therapists, and vice versa. We also discussed the contemporary value of academic writing--especially how academic publishing seems to be more and more removed from the public sphere by way of its esotericism and apparent emptiness. Some believe the primary function of the university press today is to get faculty tenured, not to contribute to the contemporary discourse of our civilization.

AE What about pressures on the professions from outside the academy?

JB One recurring question was how to train students to face the external economic pressures that threaten the ability of health providers to give appropriate care. For example, medical students are trained in academic environments that are relatively generous in allocating care to patients. The whole idea is they've got to learn. But once these students graduate from their programs and sign contracts with hmos, the reality they enter becomes very different.

Another external pressure on the academy, which doesn't only affect scientists, is the pressure to secure extramural funding. The private sector is playing an increasing role as an economic resource. The worry is that academicians will feel pressured to gear their research towards the whims of grantors, some of whom will have decidedly commercial designs on that research.

AE How can the university help to reconcile conflicts within academic professional development?

JB The challenge to the university is to create an environment where faculty feel respected, are encouraged to care authentically for themselves and one another, and are helped to form reasonable expectations of how their productivity will be evaluated. Another important step is the need for adequate and uniform faculty mentoring across departments. While some departments regard it as their own failure when individuals fail in the tenuring process, others take an almost arrogant pride in boasting "only twenty percent of the people coming up in this department receive tenure." It's an institutional responsibility to ensure even mentoring across the university or to explain in a morally convincing way why it is not. Women in particular may have trouble finding appropriate mentors because of the low numbers of female faculty among the senior ranks. A final recommendation was that junior faculty be relieved of a lot of their committee work in their early years here.