Recently, my department put a coffee pot in the office, and every morning, there’s fresh coffee available. For the coffee addicts in our department, this is welcome news. Now I know that sometimes it seems that every act of improving the academic work environment is a huge and daunting task. And while it’s true that many (most?) of the things in higher ed that need fixing are, in fact, huge, it’s also true that small changes in our local environment can mean a lot.
Not every positive innovation in our professional lives needs a giant budget, ongoing committee meetings, and a multi-level approval process.
Let me come at this topic from a different direction. When I started my first academic job, I spent my first few days on campus trying (in vain) to get my faculty I.D. card, my parking permit, the forms to order my course texts, and various other mundane things. Fast forward a few weeks, and I joined all of the recently hired faculty to sit through two days of orientation… at the conclusion of which we still didn’t have faculty I.D. cards or parking permits, although we had been told what we would have to do in order to get them. It would have been easy (and smarter, in my humble opinion) to set up an orientation process that included giving faculty the mundane but necessary documents they needed to get on with getting on with their jobs.
My point is not that these little things are the most important things about our work. Rather, it’s the lack of these little things that can be so very frustrating. Want to make people a little happier in your department? One thing you might do is look for a few little things that could do so. They don’t have to be expensive, they don’t have to be elaborate, and they don’t have to be difficult. (This is not to say, mind you, that we should ignore the bigger issues facing higher education that are, in fact, difficult to resolve.)
How about you? What are the little things that have made (or could make) your work environment better?