Thursday, November 9, at 12:15 PM in Rice Faculty Lounge sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences in collaboration with the Committee on Teaching (COT), the Committee on the Integration of Research in Teaching (CIRT),the Oberlin Center for Technologically-Enhanced Teaching (OCTET)
Facilitator: Jan Cooper, Associate Dean (for fall 2000), Office of the Dean of Arts & Sciences
[The following is not an exact transcript of what was said at this meeting but rather a compilation of some of the remarks made.]
The announced topic of conversation was the challenge of balancing a lively scholarly or artistic agenda with teaching at Oberlin.
Introductory remarks by Jan Cooper: The Dean's office is always interested in supporting productive balances between scholarship/artistic production and teaching among the faculty. Most of us first entered our professions because of a love for the subject areas or arts we chose to pursue. The College Faculty Committee on Faculty Roles, Rewards, and Responsibilities certainly heard that very clearly in the focus groups it sponsored last spring with the College faculty. It was remarkable how often in those discussions people began by talking about their passion for their own professional area when the committee asked what is at the heart of what faculty find fulfilling in their work at Oberlin. Many people eventually find deep connections between their scholarship or artistic creation and their teaching, and certainly the production of knowledge or art is a good entirely for its own sake. But trying to do both at a small residential liberal arts college with undergraduates as engaged in learning as ours is often a very difficult juggling act for us all.
3 Faculty members began the discussion by making introductory observations:
Paula Richman (Religion) said that the road hadn't been easy for her, and she's found that there are some periods (e.g. when chairing a department) when the juggling can't be done. During her first semester as a faculty member she was finishing a dissertation and she quickly learned that teaching can take up every second of time if she let it. She has found it destructive to plan to do too much scholarship during a semester of teaching. She does research (travel, extensive time in library collections, drafting large amounts of writing) during summers, Winter Terms, leaves. During teaching semesters she does other activities that don't take the same sorts of intensive concentration, e.g. revisions, copy editing, footnoting, indexing, i.e. tasks that give her a sense of accomplishment but don't take a lot of energy. She finds that doing her own work while teaching reminds her of her original interests in the areas that she teaches; it gives energy to her teaching.
Albert Matlin (Chemistry) observed that he has found that working on his research has to be a part of his weekly schedule. It has to be planned into the schedule and specific time set aside for it. It may be a bit easier with a lab schedule to do so. It's very important to create stability in one's schedule to support research. One can always improve courses, but at some point we have to let courses remain what they've been before and rely on plans created in the past in order to use that time on research instead.
David Breitman (Historical Performance) reported that his morning before the discussion was typical of the sorts of juggling problems that can occur--he meant to spend part of the morning preparing what he would say, but was caught up in preparing for his 11 AM class. Performing musicians, however, are like athletes; they have to work on their music daily or their skills will not be there for them when it's time to perform. They can't just work during summers or leaves. In performance one is largely not in control of one's schedule; others determine a lot of it. Studio faculty who teach in one-on-one lessons may be able to accommodate that a bit more, but Conservatory faculty who do classroom teaching have more difficulties. He's found that it helps to arrange reciprocal guest teaching with other Conservatory faculty--to ask others to visit his classes to teach while he must be away, and to do that for other faculty (not necessarily the same people who have filled in for him). He also takes his performance schedule into account when he schedules quizzes, occasionally placing them at times that are convenient fits. But he likes the way that when he's working with his students his own musical work gives him (and them) the sense that they are doing the same thing. Being actively engaged in his work is crucial to students. The fact that he can do the thing that they want to be able to do creates an empathy between them. He also observed that performers who don't teach have great pressure to perform (to earn a living), but there is a reverse sort of pressure for teacher/performers, and he has found that has shaped how proactively he has pursued performance opportunities.
Points made in the general discussion following the opening observations:
Family demands are an additional element in the balancing act. Many faculty find that sleep is sacrificed to achieve the balance between research/artistic production, teaching and family life.
There was some discussion about whether frequent smaller blocks of time (e.g. 3 hours in a block daily or several days a work) versus larger blocks of time (such as course releases) were what they needed to do a better job of balancing. To some extent answers depended on the types of work people do, and the conditions under which they did it (e.g. interviewing research subjects, versus "bench" science). A number of participants pointed out that the athlete metaphor applies to other sorts of scholarship besides performance; one has to keep one's head in the training to be able to do good work.
Departmental and committee service was identified as also taking up a great deal of faculty time. Some people wondered whether it might be possible to compensate extraordinary service with course reductions, although others wondered whether those courses would be replaced. One experienced faculty member urged newer members to take advantage of their early years at Oberlin when less service is expected of them.
Another issue that was mentioned was the isolation many faculty feel because they are the only person even in their own departments, working in their specific area. This can have an effect on both one's scholarship and teaching.
Several ways of keeping oneself in the scholarship/artistic performance were discussed:
Arranging to present work at conferences gives one a deadline for getting work done and puts one in regular contact with other people doing the same sorts of work with whom one can collaborate. Such collaborations can lead to participation in editing volumes in one's field or sharing data or facilities with colleagues at institutions better equipped than Oberlin.
Arranging to bring speakers who share one's expertise can be a way of getting time with a colleague in one's specialty from elsewhere, and can help our faculty build productive professional relationships.
Reading groups may provide a general intellectual context, but rarely help much in one's own specific research.
Presenting earlier versions of one's scholarly or artistic work on campus (within departments or to friends in an informal setting) can provide one with useful deadlines and interesting feedback. Non-continuing faculty may especially benefit from using such opportunities to practice job interview talks.
Presenting one's artistic work at regional festivals puts one in touch with other artists working in similar or interesting areas.
Sometimes one's research has to be redesigned to accommodate what can be done at Oberlin.
Collaborative work, especially with colleagues at other institutions, has been especially important for faculty in the Natural Sciences and Social Sciences. It may make a big difference in the kinds of data available if you're working with someone at an institution with more resources.
A number of observations were made about institutional support:
The college could be supporting travel to conferences much better than it is at the moment.
Four course teaching loads would be more conducive to the artistic or scholarly production, as would more frequent leaves.
More support could be given to set up on-campus presentations of research or art.
The faculty/staff lunches of the past in which people presented work they were engaged in might be revived in some way.
The research portfolio idea that has been implemented for new faculty might be adapted for all faculty. The allocation of money for professional expenses and teaching release time might be restructured to be more flexible and adaptable to the different sorts of needs of people working in different fields.
Individual faculty might "contract" with their departments and the college to work in ways more conducive to their research or artistic production.
Our current faculty evaluation system is crude and encourages tunnel vision. There is very little recognition for professional activities other than publication.
This meeting was attended by 22 faculty, representing 17 departments in the Conservatory of Music and College of Arts and Sciences.