New Faculty Dilemma

So it appears our new faculty hiring has gone through, as today we've been talking about the schedule for next year. But now we've hit - or I'm hitting - on a new sort of difficulty. We, like many schools our size, leave course scheduling choices largely up to faculty. I have, by and large, been able to put courses into the time slots that I think will work best for me.

But this morning, the question that came up is that our new faculty member wants to put the freshmen intro course they'll be teaching on a one night a week schedule. If I'm reading everyone correctly, this makes everyone here uncomfortable. It certainly does with me, though this may be because I taught a one night a week course here my first term in, and it was a disaster. It might also be because an intro course tends to bring in the widest variety of students, and that tends to average out to a short attention span. Three hours straight is a long time for a dog-and-pony show.

If it were just me navigating these waters, I'd simply lay out my concerns to the new faculty member. But, particularly because of earlier moments in the search process, I feel like the waters need to be navigated are even more treacherous. I don't want to, in raising my concerns, trip any alarm bells for the others who have (finally) seemed to calm down from all the search nonsense. Honestly, I'd like a quiet run to the end of the term.

And there's that question of academic freedom, as well, which we don't usually talk about in relationship to things like class scheduling. But as I was trying to convey my worries, I also realized that it's entirely possible that just because a three hour intro course doesn't work in my imagination, doesn't mean someone else can't make it work.

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6 Responses to “New Faculty Dilemma”
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Dr. Crazy said...

Somebody else *might* be able to make it work, but I'd be inclined to say that it may not be a great idea to take that risk in the first semester at a new job. That's not infringing upon academic freedom to suggest that - rather, it's about using your experience to try to help the new person. What else is the person teaching? Would it be (more) sensible to do another of the courses in the evening block and to put the intro course in another? Yes, it makes sense to accommodate scheduling requests as much as is possible, but people already at the institution will have a better idea of how that would work out for a first semester instructor, I'd suspect.

If I ruled the world (and you know I think I should), I'd say that whoever handles scheduling (the chair, presumably?) should handle this as an administrative matter and have a conversation with the hire about possible pitfalls in the plan and to find out why the person chose the schedule that he/she did. (It may be that the person has done that course in a 1-night-per-week block before and it went fabulous, after all.) After that conversation, I'd imagine that they could work something out that's agreeable, right? Why the rest of the department would be in a position to discuss a colleague's schedule is entirely beyond me. Do you all discuss each other's scheduling preferences as well and feel uncomfortable about them?

March 31, 2008 at 5:24 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

We're a pretty small department so there isn't much that can't be made fodder for a conversation. But because our workload is high and there are only a few of us covering things, we do have to talk about schedules quite a bit because we all usually want the same schedule blocks (afternoon course times, two days a week). The discomfort about the conversation is new - at least to me, as I'm realizing that somehow this year (possibly ironically) marks a different level of involvement in the department for me. That stems from the oddness that happened after making the offer, and I'm hoping it will blow over.

What this year is revealing to me is just how strangely things run here. I'd say it's a safe bet that anyone who has read the blog for awhile could guess that I like a bit of organization and process (the same way anyone who reads Crazy knows she thinks she should rule the world), and so the ad-hoc nature of things that have characterized this university, this term, this search and life following it make me cringe just a bit. I don't feel like I should have to say to someone in charge "talk to them about this and see," and I certainly shouldn't have to tiptoe around saying it. And it's strange that there's not any discussion of what the last faculty member who taught the course thought about it (though I'm aware and have been trying to nudge it into the conversation).

March 31, 2008 at 6:25 PM
Belle said...

Can you make it simply a suggestion? Maybe remind them that you've had this experience and want to spare newbie the angst?

March 31, 2008 at 9:03 PM
life_of_a_fool said...

As is often the case, I agree with Dr. Crazy, except I would reverse the order -- ask the person first why they chose that block, and then offer up concerns.

Then again, you raise another important issue -- there has already been tension around this hire, and so the stakes also seem higher that the person not "fail" the first time out, which can then be used to justify the original concerns. If that might happen, I'd be more inclined to try to control things on the front end (to the extent possible).

March 31, 2008 at 11:10 PM
Sisyphus said...

At my school we have policies about what level of course can go on what type of schedule ---- lower-division ones (like the big lectures) pretty much have to run three days a week while senior seminars are the only long weekly meeting we have. Is there anything written out as policy for contact hours/structure/etc.? If it's in the big red binder, then pointing it out is less about the new hire and more about the institution. Maybe.

Good luck dodging the minefield!

April 1, 2008 at 2:08 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Thanks for all the thoughts on it. The real trick, I guess, seems to be finding a way around how the system seems to be functioning here, where the chair seems to be handling all the communication.

The rules about scheduling are an interesting idea. Nothing like that exists here currently, and I don't know that it would be accepted in the culture here.

April 1, 2008 at 11:50 AM