Besides teaching, what does a faculty member at a two-year college have to do in order to earn promotion and tenure -- or, at the very least, remain employed?
In my last column, I talked about how faculty members at community colleges are usually evaluated in three areas: teaching effectiveness, service, and professional development. I focused in that column on teaching because classroom performance is obviously the most important consideration.
But the other two areas play a role in promotion and tenure, too, and often combine to form a significant portion of a faculty member's overall evaluation.
Just as four-year institutions do, we divide service into two categories: service to the institution and service to the community. Included in the former are those chores expected of faculty members everywhere -- committee work, sponsorship of student organizations, and mentoring responsibilities. Typically, faculty members at two-year colleges are expected (or, at least, encouraged) to take on more of those tasks than their colleagues at research institutions. We don't need a list of impressive publications and conference presentations to stand out; we need evidence of good service.
Let me focus first here on committee work. Serving on some committees is a matter of choice. Service on others requires that you be appointed or elected. Curriculum committees, for example, are usually open to all full-time faculty members who regularly teach in the department or college and want to serve, whereas presidential-search panels are generally filled with appointees.
I've always encouraged faculty members new to the tenure track to serve on departmental or collegewide curriculum committees because they give you a good grasp of the pedagogical issues particular to that department or college. They also offer the best opportunity to exert real influence on the curriculum and put your fancy ideas from graduate school into practice -- if, that is, you can persuade the old guard on the committee to go along.
Some of the other committees open to any faculty member include those on hospitality, wellness, and special-events planning (like the United Way fund drive or Relay for Life). Membership on such panels will not only fill out the annual report that records your major accomplishments but also can help you make friends at the college and become part of the life of the institution.
The committees to which you must either be appointed or elected include faculty or administrative search committees, presidential task forces on issues such as salaries or workload, and governance committees and policy councils. While appointments and nominations usually go to senior faculty members, junior colleagues who make known their desire to serve may find that wish granted (so be careful what you ask for).
Whatever committees you end up on, understand that the term "service" means just that. Some general rules on participation:
Make a point to attend every meeting, and if you have to miss one, be sure to send the head of the committee an e-mail explaining why.
Be an active, participating member but not the most vocal person at the table. When asked for your opinion, be honest yet tactful. Behave collegially toward everyone and avoid taking sides too soon -- unless you really feel strongly about an issue and are sure you have chosen the right side.
Volunteer, when appropriate, to lead a subcommittee or take on other tasks on behalf of the group. That way, your committee work can provide more than just short-term annual-report fodder. It can genuinely boost your career by helping you become a respected and influential member of the faculty.
Faculty members can become involved in a variety of other service-oriented activities besides committee work. For example, student organizations -- clubs, councils, and honorary sororities or fraternities -- are always looking for faculty sponsors and advisers. On many campuses, without a faculty adviser, an organization isn't considered legitimate and therefore can't receive financial support from the college.
Be warned: The job of faculty adviser can be time-consuming. But the payoff is that you get to work directly with students -- the main reason you got into this line of work, remember?
Also, if you look hard enough you can probably find a group of students with whom you share an interest, like cinema or backpacking. Most important, being the primary contact for Phi Theta Kappa or the College Bowl team automatically elevates your status on the campus.
Another opportunity for full-time faculty members involves serving as a mentor for part-timers. True, some of those part-timers have probably been around longer than you have and don't need "mentoring." But it's also true that most two-year colleges hire a slew of new adjuncts every year, and those new hires need someone more familiar with the institution than they are in order to help them figure out which documents are due when and to whom, when the copy center is open, where the mailboxes are located, etc.
Even experienced part-time faculty members usually can't be on the campus every day or attend all department meetings, so having a contact just to pass on information is useful. If you're thinking: All of that sounds like the department head's job, think again. Chairmen don't have time, beyond conducting an initial orientation, to shepherd 15 or 20 adjuncts a semester, which is why department heads ask for faculty volunteers.
If you really take the responsibility seriously, you can do more than just pass on information to the part-timers you are advising. An occasional invitation to lunch or coffee probably wouldn't be declined, and could offer an excellent opportunity to discuss pedagogy, teaching philosophy, and other common interests. If you listen well enough, you might even learn something.
Let me touch briefly on the other category of service I mentioned -- to the community. As far as your annual report is concerned, that is basically a catchall phrase that includes anything you do outside of your regular work hours for which you don't get paid and which relates, in some way, to your area of expertise. If you are a biology professor and coach your son's Little League team, that doesn't count as service to the community. Judging your son's middle-school science fair, on the other hand, does count.
Helping out in some way in your city -- whether it "counts" or not -- is an excellent way to build good will for your college. (They don't call them "community colleges" for nothing.) At the same time, by moving outside the ivory tower (or the 1960s-style institutional brick shoebox, as the case may be) and using your expertise to benefit schools, churches, and civic organizations, you can increase your own level of prestige within the area and find a great deal of personal fulfillment. "Service to community" might not be the lengthiest or the most impressive section of your annual report, but it may well be the part of the job that gives you the most satisfaction.
Except, of course, for your professional-development activities, which I'll discuss in my next column.
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.