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Author Topic: Information-starved new faculty  (Read 63544 times)
glenwood
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« Reply #15 on: January 16, 2011, 1:50:48 PM »


More worrisome is the fact that the chair also does not seem to know a lot of details that relate to my position. He doesn't know how courses were scheduled in the past, has no copies of past syllabi, doesn't know about cross-listing of courses in my field, and so on.


In my department, all of these things are done by the director of undergraduate studies, the director of graduate studies, and the contact person for gen-ed classes - - - and the chair doesn't have a clue about any of them. Even a chair who was, ten years ago, director of graduate studies, doesn't know because the routine changes from time to time, often on the basis of ill-thought-out directives from some administrator in charge of computer programs for scheduling (who, among other things, changes the computer input for crosslisted courses about once every third semester).

Do not bug the chair, who has research to do as well as representing the department to the higher-ups who control funding and other important issues. Ask the person doing such things now, who may tell you to ask the person who did it last year.

And immediately make friends with the administrative assistant
. Friendly greetings, an occasional pastry or bag of Hershey kisses for the candy jar on the desk, and sincere appreciation will make your life forever more interesting. I'll bet the admin asst knows all sorts of other things, like how to get an order of cards with your name, rank, office address and phone, etc. that you don't yet even know exist.

I agree that I need to spend much more time asking the administrative assistant. Unfortunately, our department is very small, so there the positions some people have mentioned here (the assistant to the chair, the director of undergraduate studies, etc) don't exist.

It's definitely part of a cultural shift for me, as I've come from a large university, where there were very clear administrative and departmental structures in place for everything. Here it seems that the culture is one in which you don't rely on structures, but on individuals. It's not "what office regulates this procedure," but rather, "who is on the committee this year/who is dealing with that issue for our department."

This is making the learning process a bit more complicated for me, because frequently there is no clear answer to my questions (e.g. "Well, normally it's done like this. But I think so-and-so did something else. Why don't you call Prof. Smith on the curriculum committee and ask if they'd make an exception . . ."). That can be good -- there's often much more flexibility around here -- but it's also a bit of a headache, particularly since I can't be sure I've found all the information I need. I often have the feeling that there's someone else on campus who has another piece of the puzzle, and I just don't know who that person is!
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neutralname
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« Reply #16 on: January 16, 2011, 2:00:42 PM »

It might just take some patience to learn the ropes and make connections.  It must be frustrating for you right now, but after a year or two you might come to appreciate the system for its lack of administration and rules.  It could give you much more freedom.

I'd try to identify the faculty I'd like to emulate and ask them how they managed in their first year.  Given what you say about the place, it does sound like the dept chair should be mentoring you much more than he is, but maybe he is just learning how to deal with his position too.  It also sounds like the kind of place where it really helps to be on good terms with everyone else, so practice smiling and asking people about their research/hobbies/children.
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glenwood
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« Reply #17 on: January 16, 2011, 2:49:59 PM »

It might just take some patience to learn the ropes and make connections.  It must be frustrating for you right now, but after a year or two you might come to appreciate the system for its lack of administration and rules.  It could give you much more freedom.


Yes, you're definitely right about that. This thread was started so I could complain about a frustration, but in general, I'm happy that we don't have a big bureaucracy that processes everything. It's a good thing that the faculty are in charge of many procedures and decisions. It just takes some getting used to.
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csgirl
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« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2011, 8:43:33 AM »

This sounds like my department. My first year was made even more frustrating because there were rarely colleagues around to ask - we don't have real offices, just cubicles, so most faculty head straight home as soon as classes are over.  The most annoying thing was that my chair or another senior faculty would pop up every so often to tell me that I had missed the deadline for doing Important Task XYZ for Assessment (or whatever) - and it would be the first time I had heard of the task! I definitely leaned on the department secretary during that first year because she was the only person who I could count on to be at her desk and to actually know something. I made certain to get her a nice gift at Christmas.
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macaroon
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« Reply #19 on: January 17, 2011, 9:57:12 AM »

Oh, glenwood...  I'm so sorry.  I feel your pain.

How long has it been since anyone in your department was hired? 

In my department, it had been nine years since there had been a new hire, and all I needed to know to function had been forgotten... including by the administrative assistant!  Even she - who is wonderful and helpful - no longer realizes that I don't know what I don't know.   

The most annoying thing was that my chair or another senior faculty would pop up every so often to tell me that I had missed the deadline for doing Important Task XYZ for Assessment (or whatever) - and it would be the first time I had heard of the task!

csgirl, this has happened to me so many times I cannot even count.  And every single time I get thrown under the bus for it.  I want to scream.


So, to echo others, glenwood... your administrative assistant is going to be a lifesaver.  But other than that, allow me to validate your feelings of frustration.  It's not entirely your fault.  Have a drink or something.  Get some exercise. 
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elliott37
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« Reply #20 on: January 19, 2011, 12:36:16 PM »

This sounds difficult & time-consuming, & I can relate.  But it's so true what other posters have said about Freedom!  You can use your own instinct some of the time at least, without looking all over for advice.  Do whatever you think is best, & if colleagues tell you that you should have acted differently, you can simply apologise & say you didn't know the custom.
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Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time? -- Van Morrison
txloopnlil
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« Reply #21 on: January 23, 2011, 11:03:21 AM »

I can appreciate your problems also coming from an R1 to small regional where very little info was explicitly handed over to new faculty. I'll second that your admin assistant should be carefully wooed and shown tremendous amounts of appreciation as they are often the only ones with "all" the information.

I missed the departmental Christmas party my first year and apparently miffed some people ("she must be one of those atheists"), because no-one told me it was "always" on dead day before finals at lunch time, potluck and with a Chinese (sic) gift exchange.  The next year I messed it up again by bringing a ham which unbeknown to me insulted the retired emeritus professor Dr. W. -who always came in for the party and brought the ham.

In part due to lack of new faculty advising that a number of "young" faculty started a "young" faculty group across campus. It was an informal group that mostly consisted of a Friday happy hour, since the campus social culture tended to exclude single faculty and young married faculty w/o children. However it became the number one place to learn how things actually worked on campus from faculty 2-3 yrs further along the path.
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alleyoxenfree
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« Reply #22 on: January 23, 2011, 4:14:28 PM »

Consider putting all this info into a "New Faculty Handbook," for your department, and where relevant to all departments, for the university.

Ply people with more than coffee.  Chocolate works, and so do reciprocal favors.  Most staff members have never received a thank-you card in their career - you'd be surprised.  Do more than get to know your own admin.  Frequently, the information you want rests with the assessment office (which may keep syllabi), the library (which has archives), the curriculum office (ditto for syllabi and procedures), and so on.
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msparticularity
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« Reply #23 on: January 24, 2011, 12:38:55 AM »

Just go and collapse in someone's office and moan, "You've got to help me; I just can't be the guy/gal who brings the ham."

One way or another, they'll believe you need help. :)

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grasshopper
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« Reply #24 on: January 24, 2011, 6:25:59 AM »

It's definitely part of a cultural shift for me, as I've come from a large university, where there were very clear administrative and departmental structures in place for everything. Here it seems that the culture is one in which you don't rely on structures, but on individuals. It's not "what office regulates this procedure," but rather, "who is on the committee this year/who is dealing with that issue for our department."

This is making the learning process a bit more complicated for me, because frequently there is no clear answer to my questions (e.g. "Well, normally it's done like this. But I think so-and-so did something else. Why don't you call Prof. Smith on the curriculum committee and ask if they'd make an exception . . ."). That can be good -- there's often much more flexibility around here -- but it's also a bit of a headache, particularly since I can't be sure I've found all the information I need. I often have the feeling that there's someone else on campus who has another piece of the puzzle, and I just don't know who that person is!

Ha ha! I understand this. When I first came here, instead of being directed to an office or department, I was told to call Jennifer. Or Ray. "You know - Jennifer. The one with the short red hair? She'll take care of you."

The good news is that Jennifer will actually take care of you. And if there's a screw up (and there will be; there always is, big place or small), Jennifer will also be able to rectify the problem without having forms signed in triplicate.


For syllabi, you could also email the prof who taught the courses before you. They've been in your shoes, too, and are familiar with the institutional culture of Just Helping Out. They've probably got old syllabi kicking around in some doc file or another.
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prytania3
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« Reply #25 on: January 24, 2011, 9:19:00 AM »

No one at our place saves old syllabi.  It may be that some of what you're blaming on the disorganization of the chair is actually the culture of the institution.  Similarly, in our place it's the main departmental secretary who knows everything about scheduling, reserving rooms, etc.  That level of admin is not the chair's purview.  Go to the secretary first, and if she [sic] doesn't know, she'll know who knows.  But some things like past syllabi just may not be available.  That's good -- that means you can do whatever you want without having to conform to someone's elses ideas of how a class should be run.

This is surprising to me.  Doesn't it make sense to keep old syllabi for a number of reasons?  Indeed, in these days of institutional accountability, I half-expect there are requirements to keep a record of syllabi, although I don't know of any actual ones.

We have to send our chair, who forwards them to the academic dean, copies of our syllabuses or syllabi every semester. I think they use some of them for accreditation because I know they used some of mine for that purpose.     
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_touchedbyanoodle_
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« Reply #26 on: January 24, 2011, 10:21:21 AM »

Oh, Grasshopper, you've nailed the culture of my institution on the head. My biggest frustration my first year was that I was constantly given first names of people to see, yet I didn't know what department that person worked for, what his/her title was, or what his/her last name was! I once made an appointment with "John," trekked over to his office, discovered his office had been moved to a different building, froze my feet as I made an unexpected sprint outside in the snow (in heels), and then was told, "Oh, you don't need to meet with John. You need John." All that, and I had to reschedule with a different guy named John.

*eyeroll*

I feel your pain, OP. When I got my job, I landed in an office next to a woman who had been my mentor when I was a GTA (at a different institution), and we frequently carpool. People often comment that it seems as though I've been at the institution much longer than I have, and I have her to thank.

Gosh, I better run out and buy a gift. It try to reward this person every few months, and the holiday has put me behind.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #27 on: January 24, 2011, 10:32:00 AM »

  The next year I messed it up again by bringing a ham which unbeknown to me insulted the retired emeritus professor Dr. W. -who always came in for the party and brought the ham.

Look, I've been in my department probably since before you were born, and the retired person who always brought two apple pies has long since died, but I still always consult with the secretary who is the most enthusiastic overseer of pot luck events about what I should bring. She's also the person who noticed, long before anyone else did, that there were suddenly two vegetarians among the faculty and realized that both vegetarian and non-pork items were therefore essential.
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grasshopper
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« Reply #28 on: January 25, 2011, 8:46:42 AM »

Oh, Grasshopper, you've nailed the culture of my institution on the head. My biggest frustration my first year was that I was constantly given first names of people to see, yet I didn't know what department that person worked for, what his/her title was, or what his/her last name was! I once made an appointment with "John," trekked over to his office, discovered his office had been moved to a different building, froze my feet as I made an unexpected sprint outside in the snow (in heels), and then was told, "Oh, you don't need to meet with John. You need John." All that, and I had to reschedule with a different guy named John.

*eyeroll*

Ha! I bet John and John chuckle about these mixups over beer.

At least I got identifying characteristics, and often even a general direction about which building Jennifer was in. Once you find the building, finding Jennifer is easy - just ask anyone. They all know her.

My biggest problem integrating into this kind of system has been with the unintentional faux pas. Although the university has, say, a registrar's office with a generic email address on the uni website, everyone knows that Paul is the one who usually deals with those emails, so to be polite, people address their emails to Paul specifically. But it can take a new person two or three rounds of email before they realize that all the responses are coming from Paul.

It's not "the assistant registrar"; it's "George". It's not "the copy person"; it's "Sylvia". It's not "the bookstore manager"; it's "Linda". I like how everything is so personal, but it's an odd transition. I'd been used to, well, dehumanizing other university employees that I didn't know. They weren't people; they were their job titles. Not here.

The flip side is that it makes it harder for people, including me, to hide behind their job titles. Everything is just much more personal here than at my large, anonymous grad institution. The upshot is that people are more inclined to work together to get stuff done. Everyone's part of a team.
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_touchedbyanoodle_
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« Reply #29 on: January 25, 2011, 10:06:16 AM »

I agree with your upside, Grasshopper. There's a lot to be said for giving credit to the person, not the position. Just recently, actually, I experienced the latter during our inservice, and I was miffed. Fortunately, because we are a name culture, several others made me feel better by commenting on the horror of it. The person who failed to use my name is newer than I am. Go figure. ;)
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"Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist." -George Carlin
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