Departments and Programs

Remote Learning

In the wake of the coronavirus, my faculty has been forced to shift to completely remote teaching for the remainder of the semester (and who knows how much longer). Few of them had been trained in this mode of instruction, and not all students are adequately outfitted at home with Internet-connected computers. Some students seem to be writing papers on cell phones now. Do we need to shift to a less rigorous expectation, even to mere morale-boosting?

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Livening Up the Awards Ceremony

In about a month we’ll be holding our department’s annual awards ceremony, where we recognize scholarship and writing contest winners, favorite faculty, and the like. It’s generally well-attended by students and faculty, but I’ll confess that after about a decade in the department I find it repetitive and boring (shhh, don’t tell anyone). I say some words of introduction, then we move to representatives from our awards and scholarship committee introducing a succession of award winners, bringing them forward for applause and a certificate, and then we break for cake or cookies. Any ideas on how to change things up?

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Sink or Swim

I am a chair at an institution in distress; we are experiencing line terminations of junior faculty and other budgetary cuts. The line cuts have been particularly challenging for many reasons, not least the hope that was dangled in the announcement that the lines could be restored if other cuts seem sufficient, which has made it very hard to organize. The junior faculty, extremely creative, amazing teachers with excellent publication records, feel unsupported by senior faculty, even shunned to a certain degree, and also sometimes feel cut out of decisions. Senior faculty feel like they are uncertain what to do: they are unsure how to fight back, and are uncomfortable doing planning for next year that may likely involve planning to not have the junior faculty present. Some are themselves in fight/flight/freeze mode. The sense of “business as normal” can be excruciating when business is not, in fact, normal. How ought a chair best navigate these challenging waters?

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What Is Reasonable Accommodation?

I’m running into a problem with our disabilities services office, which on our campus reviews and manages student requests for accommodations such as extra time, alternative exam formats, and the like. In the opinion of some of our faculty, this office regularly moves from its management role to a more charged advocacy role that at times has become almost adversarial, especially in terms of pushing what might the boundaries of a “reasonable accommodation.” As chair I’m caught in the middle of this. I occasionally get informed by the office that some faculty are not being especially helpful, with the implication that I should intervene or pressure them. Similarly, faculty seek my support for the limits they believe they need to put on the office’s requests, which can include telling the office to respect the faculty member’s decisions. I’m sympathetic with both parties–how do I manage these sort of situations effectively?

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Building a Better Major

Like a lot of departments we tend to aim our programming at a type of student that I will call the Classic Major. If we are aiming to develop both depth and breadth of knowledge in our students, this is the kind of student that we are looking for. However, these majors are now in the minority, at least at my institution. But we have many more of what I will call the New Major. If there is a unifying principle to the category of the New Major, it is that many of these students identify their main interest as creative writing.

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Material Interests

Part of what one learns from being chair is the inescapably material character of academic life, how the academic fabric is woven in our workplaces. It is a good thing to keep the economic underpinnings of the enterprise front and center for colleagues, helping them to balance their idealism against the many competing, often economic, priorities that departmental discussion and decision-making need to take into account.

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