Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The super power of productive faculty

One of the things I love, and hate, about faculty life is the flexible job description. So often, we can carve out our own path and enjoy our own interests while providing service to the institution. You like discussing pedagogy and new instructional ideas? Serve on the institution's CETL committee. Eager to guide the institution toward a certain role in the landscape of higher education? Consider the community outreach committees. Do you have a desire to speak for other faculty? Why not serve a term on faculty senate?

But there are times when the lack of boundaries in a faculty member's job description can lead to an overworked and over-committed professor. Yes, I know, I know. I am completely ruining your previously held belief that faculty members not only should, but could, do all things academic. However, too many of us are being used in ineffective ways. Are you shocked? Ask around. See what your colleagues say. There are many of us who have a variety of skill sets that may not be fully maximized by our institutions. And perhaps worse, we are losing energy and zest working outside of those skills trying to meet the needs of everyone all the time.

What can we, mere faculty members, do about this gross oversight? Break out your cape and get ready to use the one super power we all have. What is it? It is a tantalizingly simple, often over-looked, usually under-used word: "No."

Those faculty members who seem to "do it all" and manage everything actually use this superpower. Watch them in action! They skillfully target their skills to the issues, move tasks to others, and say "no" with confidence and tact.

Now we all know it is not as easy as saying no, but so many of us fear that word will raise a complicated issue (and we certainly should just say "yes" so we don't have to link ourselves in the potential problems around the word "no") that we don't use it -- but let me share something with you: we all have this super power. Why not explore yours? If you never try it, you'll never know!

I speak from years of heavy-service experience. You name the committee and I've probably served on it. Strategic planning, re-accreditation (times 3), student review, grants and outreach, countless searches, QEP, women's council, CETL, student conduct, faculty senate...from university-wide to departmental, I've been lifting that service load. Until I learned that the earth did not shatter when I threw on a (mental) cape, strapped on (imaginary) boots, and found confidence behind a (completely unreal) mask as I tried this new super power out. Would it work for me? Could I see it in action as it righted previous wrongs and cleansed the area of (not-so-evil, but definitely problematic) time-stealing requests? Yes.

Don't mistake me. I encourage you to participate actively in your campus (See "Service: Who participates?" and "demographics of service" blog entries about some benefits/drawbacks to junior faculty serving on committees). We can learn from committees. Meet colleagues from"other" parts of campus. Be involved in the future direction of our institutions. But also be realistic (she says sardonically as she houses this blog entry in the metaphor of super heroism). Focus on committees that YOU want to be involved with OR those that can benefit from the skills/background/knowledge that you can bring to the table.  Try to be sparing and purposeful in your service. Learn and befriend the word "no" -- it truly has remarkable powers. Though still on the puny side in my ability (as I am rather new to the use of this power), I can now call up this remarkable word and use it to improve faculty life. Do you also have this power? Do you dare give it a try? Seeing that I have tested it out for you and the end-of-the-world-doom-and-gloom image some of us have around using the word is not true, why not? There were no explosions, no glares, no whispered comments, no earth cracking in half or sun exploding. I promise. I tried it. Will you?

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