|February 10, 2000
Volume 30 Number 12
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Too Many Things to Do:
In the summer of 1960, I got a job working at the Oregon Caves National Monument. An opportunity came up to work in the lodge's restaurant and kitchen, and I took it. As the person who washed the pots and pans, I had plenty of time to watch the head chef at work. He conducted his kitchen like a concertmaster. His ability to direct a largely unskilled kitchen staff, prepare the daily specials, and have everything ready at once for tables of hungry people amazed me. Cooking more than one dish makes me nervous; pulling a complete meal together is almost impossible. I have often thought about how the job of a faculty member in the CSU and at Chico, like a master chef, demands exceptional skill and an ability to balance many different and competing tasks. Does this mean that we are all being asked to do the impossible?
In the spring of every year, I visit with new faculty and ask how the year went. Their answers may not surprise you, but it is important to consider them because I think they reflect common problems. Each is concerned about the routine of being a new faculty member -- getting an e-mail account, a networked computer, course materials, etc. More seriously, deep concern is expressed about the many, and sometimes conflicting, expectations they face, and about the daunting nature of their workload. Let us first consider what we formally ask people to do.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) says: "The primary professional responsibilities of instructional faculty members are: teaching, research, scholarship, creative activity, and service to the University, profession and to the community." Every year people report on what they have done to meet those responsibilities. That seems simple, but of course it is not.
Each category (teaching, research, and service) is usually treated as though it were infinitely expandable and discrete. Just what is an effective teacher? How is this to be measured in a way that is helpful and meaningful? How much research, scholarship, or creative activity is enough to be worthy? Where does service begin and end? Is service to the department or profession sufficient, or must one serve the community in some distinctive manner? At the moment, there is no simple answer to these questions and often, if you are a new faculty member, the answers vary depending on whom you ask.
The complexity, overlap, and ambiguity of our tasks is recognized in the university's Faculty Personnel and Procedures Policy (FPPP). Faculty standing for retention, tenure, or promotion read the long lists of evidence that can be submitted in support of teaching, service, and research, and often interpret it to mean that they must respond to every single example. They may even be chided by department and college committees if they fail to do so. The result is that retention, tenure, and promotion become significant burdens placed on the faculty by the faculty. Five-year reviews, designed to be a helpful opportunity to review and reflect on one's career and achievements and look to the future, also generate more paper than help.
Added now to this elaborate menu are merit increases. The terms of the MOU (Article 31.7) deserve careful reading by every member of the faculty. As you know, the MOU requires an annual report from all instructional faculty who will be eligible for a merit increase "for demonstrated performance commensurate with rank, work assignment, and years of service" for teaching alone, as well as combinations of teaching, research, and service.
Finally, there is the matter of workload. As I have noted on many occasions, the role of the professoriate is changing. Faculty are being asked to embrace new definitions of scholarship (creativity, discovery, teaching, integration, and application), document the quality of their efforts in the classroom, provide access to students who come to the classroom with very different levels of cultural capital, and become more involved with their local communities. (I want to note that we also demand a lot of our professional staff -- to help students realize their potential; to play an active role in recruitment and retention of students; to learn new skills; and to be more productive.)
Let me summarize what I believe we should do. Many of our colleagues feel there is a contradiction between what we ask people to do and how we reward and support them (tenure, promotion, sabbaticals, merit increases, professional development funds). We have taken the first step in correcting part of this problem. In the 1997-1998 academic year, each department was asked to decide how they would evaluate the various forms of scholarship (creativity, discovery, teaching, integration, application). Departments were also encouraged to develop multiple measures of teaching effectiveness, and to consider ways to include community service-learning in the curriculum. There is still work to do in this area.
We should also develop a sample RTP file for lecturers, tenured, and tenure-track faculty. The university as a whole should have some common agreement on what a file could look like, how it could be organized, and how data could be presented. That alone would be an important gift to newcomers to this campus, and it could significantly reduce the burden on both individuals and committees who are asked to evaluate their colleagues for retention, tenure, and promotion. My office will provide a model for consideration by the Academic Senate.
This fall I asked the college deans and the vice provost for Information Resources to initiate discussions with the instructional faculty about workload. The ideas generated will be used by a small task force this spring to develop principles and suggestions for managing workload.
In my opinion, the department or instructional unit has a vital role to play in sustaining workload discussions and finding creative solutions. That is because workload is ultimately determined by the department, based on the dean's enrollment target. We might all follow the process now used by some departments, which is to hold discussions about what must be accomplished both individually and collectively in terms of student learning outcomes, community service-learning, service to the community, generating new resources, implementing the Strategic Plan and deciding who is going to do what. It is this last point which is the most critical.
I began by noting that it is not easy for individual faculty to balance what might be competing tasks. It is equally difficult to define what people's roles should be in meeting departmental goals. A department is a team of highly skilled specialists, hired for their disciplinary expertise. There will always be a healthy tension between the need to succeed as a disciplinary specialist and the need to work as the member of a collective. Department members must, therefore, come together regularly to determine what is in the best interests of students, what the curriculum should look like, and what the department will do to meet enrollment goals and implement the Strategic Plan. Not everyone can raise additional funds. Not everyone is skilled at working with our partners in K-12. Not everyone wants to add a community service-learning component to his or her course.
We can't all be master chefs. Campuswide, faculty members should work with the chair and dean to develop an individual plan that addresses the balance between teaching, research, and service over a three - five-year period. The plan should also include an agreement about what they will do for their department and college, what support they will receive to do it, and how they should be evaluated for retention, tenure, and merit. Such a plan and agreement would go far in offering indispensable support to faculty, new and old.
-- Scott G. McNall
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