In recent columns, I've written about the role of teaching effectiveness and service in evaluating faculty members for tenure at community colleges.
Let's focus now on the third and final area on which we are assessed: professional development, which may include -- but certainly isn't limited to -- publishing.
I've touched briefly in past columns on the topic of publishing in the two-year sector and, from e-mail responses, have found it to be surprisingly controversial. Professors at community colleges appear about evenly divided: Some bemoan the fact that they don't have the time or resources to publish, while others worry that they will eventually be required to do so.
Their fear is understandable. At a typical two-year college, faculty members teach five courses a semester and have mandatory office hours, committee assignments, and other service expectations beyond that. It does seem to be asking a bit much for them to carve out additional time for extensive research and writing.
On the other hand, as the academic job market continues to stagnate and community colleges hire more Ph.D.'s, another group has emerged on two-year campuses: faculty members with aggressive research agendas. Considering the potential good those scholars can accomplish for their disciplines, and the prestige that can accrue to a college from having published writers on its faculty, it doesn't make sense either to squelch their enthusiasm or allow it to die from neglect.
The answer, I believe, is for administrators at two-year colleges to find ways to encourage and support people who want to publish and have the ability to do so. When I say "encourage and support," I'm not talking about a verbal pat on the back at fall convocation or a line in the campus newsletter. I mean that colleges should provide additional money and/or course-release time for those faculty members to pursue their research interests.
My college, for instance, has recently established a fellowship program that uses a competitive application process to identify faculty members with viable writing projects and reward them with significant release time from teaching.
The results have been impressive so far, as six fellows representing five disciplines are now at various stages in their book-length manuscripts. Three already have publishing contracts, while two others have received positive responses from academic presses. The sixth, whose project is creative, has had several excerpts published in literary magazines and has attracted interest from agents. (I would be interested in hearing from other readers at other two-year colleges on how their institutions support faculty members interested in research -- or not.)
So faculty members at two-year colleges clearly can publish, and many of them do. Moreover, despite what I said about the influx of Ph.D.'s into our colleges, you don't have to hold a doctorate to be engaged in scholarship: Several of my published colleagues are M.A.'s or M.F.A.'s.
Faculty members just need a little time to do that research and a sense that the college values that work -- a sense most easily conveyed through some sort of tangible reward.
For those faculty members who aren't interested in doing research, however, there are other ways to satisfy your college's requirement for tenure that you engage in professional development.
One way is to attend conferences and workshops. They can be discipline-specific or focused on pedagogy or technology. They can be local, regional, national, or international in scope, and can be aimed specifically at community-college faculty members or open to all interested scholars. Scores of such professional gatherings convene each year, announced via journal ads, mass e-mailings, and fliers posted on department bulletin boards. Suffice it to say that if a faculty member wants to attend a conference or workshop on virtually any topic, there's probably one out there.
Getting to it, however, may pose a problem, as travel budgets at two-year colleges are usually tight. But most will pay for a faculty member to attend an out-of-town conference at least occasionally, and cheaper options are often available locally, such as in-house workshops or conferences held at nearby four-year institutions. Faculty members who want to play a more active role at a conference can seek to be on a panel -- which means anything from reading an academic paper in the time-honored tradition, complete with nasal monotone, to delivering a slick, Web-enhanced slide show.
A final category I would like to mention under professional development is what some might call quasi-academic or nonacademic writing.
One of the best things about working at a two-year college is that you don't have to limit yourself to writing about your field. Any publication counts. That means you can pursue other academic interests -- like my friend the Beowulf scholar who publishes essays on pop culture. Or you can write things that aren't specifically academic in nature, such as opinion columns or community newsletters.
It's true that professors at research institutions do that sort of thing, too, but for them it's a sideline, a break from their "real work." For those of us at community colleges, such activities reflect our connection to the community and are therefore part of the job.
Ultimately, everything we do as faculty members at two-year colleges must be viewed through the prism of the community-college mission. Whether teaching classes, sitting on committees, attending conferences, or writing articles, faculty members whose primary goal is to serve their communities earn more than just good annual reviews. They also enjoy a lifetime of intellectual stimulation, professional fulfillment, and personal satisfaction.
And those are qualities that can't be measured by any evaluation system.
Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at the Lawrenceville campus of Georgia Perimeter College. He writes occasionally for our community-college column.