What Do We Want from Our Faculty?
A state legislator asked a university president how much his professors taught. "Nine hours" was the solemn reply. "Well, sounds like a good day's work to me!" The joke lies in academic lingo. "Nine hours of teaching" on a college campus means teaching three courses that meet for a total of nine times each week. That teaching assignment makes for a busy workday, but not in the way the legislator supposed. At Berry, a nine-hour teaching assignment is regarded as a plum. Most professors teach more.
What do our professors do when they are not in the classroom? Preparing up to a dozen class presentations; holding office hours; grading quizzes, papers, and examinations; supervising honors projects, independent study projects, student research, internships, and practice teaching; supervising student workers; advising student organizations; offering optional help sessions; being available for informal counseling; plus attending departmental, school, and college-wide committee meetings add up to a full workweek. But we ask for even more.
Faculty members simultaneously must be teachers, scholars, and active citizens of the community. Excelling in the three areas fills up not only a healthy workweek, but weekends and the summer months besides. For instance, being a good teacher at one stage of a person's career does not ensure good teaching always. Lecture notes fade quickly; this year's approach is likely to falter two years from now.
The best professors also stay aware of an ever-changing student culture and thus continuously adapt their classroom approaches. Knowledge about one's subject is constantly changing, and what one teaches must be kept up to date. Therefore, we ask our professors to participate in the intellectual discourse that occurs within academic disciplines nationally and internationally.
Teaching at Berry should be as informed as undergraduate teaching at the best colleges and universities in the country. One of the best tests of one's thinking is to try ideas out on others who know the academic field. That is what the publication of scholarly and scientific papers is all about: taking one's ideas to an audience of peers. Hence, we expect our faculty members to present papers at conferences, to participate in workshops and seminars, to publish articles in scholarly journals, to contribute chapters to books, and if appropriate, to write books of their own.
Remaining active as a teacher-scholar is a significant challenge. Professors at comprehensive liberal arts colleges like Berry do not have the same amount of time to devote to scholarship and research as their friends at research universities. Although the requirements for quantity of scholarship and research are much less at colleges than universities, our faculty must reach the same standards of quality.
Few people outside academia understand how much work goes into creating even one piece of scholarly writing. Even after completing a scholarly article, professors must wait for editorial boards to act and for editors to respond. The process can go on for more than a year.
Submitting scholarly work to journals can also be nerve-wracking. Sometimes one's best work comes bouncing back with a harsh letter of rejection. To persist as a scholar requires self-confidence and, occasionally, thick skin. Nevertheless, excellent teaching is nourished by continuing study, research, and reflection. Informed, creative teaching can also influence the direction of a professor's research.
Research and teaching come together under the heading "learning by doing." For instance, our new $25 million science building was designed with student-faculty collaborative research in mind. We provide as much office space to students in the science building as we do faculty members. Last year, Berry students carried out 60 major independent scientific projects, 28 of which were presented at scientific meetings. Thirteen students were co-authors with faculty members of published scientific papers. The weekend I wrote this essay, two Berry students were presenting their work in San Diego at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society. Professor Andrew Bressette was also making a platform presentation at the same meeting about the new Berry College Journal of Chemistry, which collects the best student work in that field.
Students learn by doing in all academic fields. During the past five years, five students have published papers in academic journals in collaboration with government professor John Hickman; students in Professor Jennie Smith's "applying anthropology" course produced a series of policy analysis papers detailing the struggles Spanish speakers have in obtaining social services in Rome. These papers were then presented to the appropriate heads of municipal and county agencies. In both of my examples, collaborative research underscores and heightens lessons gained from textbooks. I could write another 1,000 words just about the good work being done throughout the college by students who are carrying out a variety of collaborative research projects with faculty members.
Having shared some of the diverse expectations we have for our faculty, I will address what we should do for our faculty. As a start, we should respect the faculty commitment to working closely with students. Faculty members would like a standard nine-hour teaching assignment across the college and a student-faculty ratio that promotes close contact with those they teach. Some professors teach 90 students a term, more than can easily receive the individual attention that is the hallmark of a Berry education.
Our faculty would also like straightforward, accessible technology in every classroom, not merely in some classrooms. They want and need additional funds to support travel to academic conferences during the school year and funds to support professional travel and research during the summer months. We have just begun a sabbatical program, one that should be expanded.
Our faculty seeks compensation that compares favorably to that of our peers, good facilities that support teaching and learning, good students, and from the administration, both encouragement and guidance. In truth, our report card for supporting the faculty has many grades of B+ and A- and only a few grades of B- and C. We are supporting the work of the faculty better now than ever before. But we should not be satisfied until we get an A in every category of faculty support. Our educational mission compels this ambition, and our students deserve no less!
Dr. Scott Colley
Berry College President