VADE MECUM

Challenges for New Faculty
A review by Theodore Brelsford, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Education, Candler


Resources, Risks, and Reward
Getting what you need as a faculty member
(from the September 1999 issue)

 

Reconciliation
The problem of defining Emory's most elusive year
By Amy Benson Brown

 

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Beginning with the assumption that "higher education is embarked on
a white water ride that promises many thrills--exciting possibilities and palpable risks--that will alter in profound ways the roles of faculty and how they do their work," this book intends to empower faculty to participate responsibly and successfully in the "far-reaching metamorphosis" underway in higher education. This optimistic spirit infuses most of these fourteen essays, making the book inspiring reading even in the face of unflinching assessments of intensifying pressures on faculty (reportedly due to ongoing research demands and the rediscovery of the importance of teaching), and sobering statistics of high levels of stress among new faculty.

As a relatively new faculty member, I found myself eagerly making notes about surveys I might design to get a better profile of students in my courses, ways I might re-design syllabi, and strategies for managing competing time demands. The volume is by no means simply a how-to guide for junior faculty, however. Its true strength is in the way it stimulates reflection on issues salient across a faculty career. Each chapter ends with sets of questions for new faculty, administrators, and established colleagues. These questions aim to provoke discussion and action around the chapter's themes. This makes the volume useful both for individual study as well as workshop or colloquy settings.

New faculty and administrators are most likely to benefit from the book, since the intention is clearly "to help [new] faculty members meet their responsibilities in an ever-more-demanding environment." But concerned and mentoring established faculty will also find themselves and their challenges addressed in many of the essays.

The book is organized into three sections, named in the subtitle: "Settling In, Getting Established, and Building Institutional Supports." Robert J. Menges served as editor until his death just prior to completion of the project. Menges was professor of education and social policy and head of the Center for the Teaching Professions at Northwest University. His own chapters on "Dilemmas of Newly Hired Faculty" and "Seeking and Using Feedback" are among the strongest in the book. The other sixteen contributors include graduate students, faculty at all career stages, researchers, and administrators. All the essays are well edited and reasonably well integrated with one another.

The first chapter introduces a concept that serves as a heuristic for examining faculty in the context of their institutions throughout the volume. The focus is upon ways that institutional norms and pressures shape (socialize) faculty and ways that faculty impact upon the culture of their institution. I find this approach helpful for discerning the existing expectations of an institution for its faculty, while also bringing into focus the responsibility of faculty (and all professionals) for monitoring and contributing to the health of their institutional and professional cultures. Again, the overall intent to inspire responsible and effective participation in the re-shaping of a profession informs this project.

The research out of which the volume grows was conducted at the National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment. The study followed faculty hired in 1991 and 1992 at five colleges and universities for their first three years. Nearly 350 faculty were initially surveyed, and 50 percent of those remained in the study for the entire three years. Faculty in fields that did not have counterparts at all five of the institutions were excluded (including my own peers in theological fields). The strength of the volume is not in the particular findings of its originating study, however. Although some of the statistics surprised me (e.g., no gender differences were found in the reported levels of stress among new faculty; 20 percent fewer male than female faculty reported having mentors, minority faculty were just as likely as non-minority faculty to have a mentor), most of the findings merely offer modest statistical support for observations that major faculty challenges have to do with managing stress, allocating time, clarifying and meeting job expectations, and surviving performance evaluations. The real strength of the volume is in the effective ways it informs and stimulates a reader's own reflection on strategies for understanding and meeting these challenges.

A longer version of this review appeared in the October 2000 issue of Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion (Blackwell Publishers).