How much time should we spend on campus?

When I was hired at Pacific, I was told that I would be expected to be on campus 8-5:00, five days a week. I assumed the person telling me this was kidding. Turns out, he was not, and the Dean had to intervene so that I could work off-campus sometimes. I am glad that this sort of thinking is largely a thing of the past at Pacific.

 But how much time should we be spending on campus?  Is it sufficient to be on campus for our classes, office hours, committee meetings and no more? How do we ensure that all the little last-minute, unscheduled demands on our departments get met? How much time is required to build a sense of community and shared purpose?  How do we share in the life of our campus while still maintaining the sense of autonomy and freedom that we value so highly? What if our research takes us off campus?

 I am wondering if we have a shared, unofficial, expectation about time spent on campus.

 Click the following poll to find out:

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Faculty Development Goals

My favorite part of our faculty evaluation process was the final question on the old self-evaluation form that we each completed each year. This is the question that asked how the University could help us meet our goals.

 I remember the first time I completed the self-evaluation form (then called the resume update form). I recall trying to be reasonable in my suggestions for how the University could help me in meeting my goals. I didn’t want to ask for something that I knew the University could not provide (e.g. a year off with pay), but there actually were things that the University could do to help me (e.g. money to purchase a dataset).  Unfortunately,  I never had any response from the Personnel Committee (then FDPC) or University to my suggestions.

 Perhaps, I thought, I had been too selfish. So, next I tried suggesting ways that the University could support my more collective, community-oriented goals. For example, in the fall of 1996, I listed the creation of a department webpage as my goal.

 No response.

 Over time, I realized that what I wrote in this portion of the faculty self-evaluation did not matter. So, I became bolder. In my 2000-2001 self-evaluation, I listed “have a baby” as my goal and did not request any help from the University in meeting this goal.

 I believe that the current self-evaluation forms still ask faculty for their goals for the coming year, but no longer ask how the University can support the faculty member in meeting those goals.

 I think this is more honest, but I don’t think it is an improvement.

 Here is what I would like to see – tell me what you think:

 I would like the Social Sciences to select a few (3?) broad multi-year themes for faculty development work. Then I would like each of us to develop a specific theme-related goal for the coming year and suggest what the School can – reasonably — do to help meet that goal.

 What about the following themes as possibilities for Social Sciences:

        a. increasing our use of technology in our teaching

        b. increasing our experiential and project-based teaching

        c. increasing our scholarship that includes students

        d. increasing our retention of social science students

        e. increasing our skills in grant applications and publication submission

        f. learning how to organize and run an off-campus experiential or travel courses

        g. developing a writing accross the curriculum plan for social sciences

  Whatever our themes are, they would have to be agreed upon collectively. These are not to replace your personal scholarship or teaching goals. Rather, these are more related to faculty development and to our development as a social sciences school and faculty.  For example, I might decide to learn more about how I can incorporate technology into my large intro sociology classes. I don’t know much about this, so I might need the School to pay for me to attend a workshop on it. That way I won’t have to deplete my faculty travel funds which I would want to use to present my research at a conference. So, I might find a conference on integrating technology into social sciences teaching and request that the school pay my registration and travel.

 In the absence of such a system, I worry that our faculty development in these broader areas gets put on the back burner. I can easily see that I need to learn more about integrating technology, but taken this way, it is too big, too daunting, to distant to ever make it to the list of things that I need to accomplish this day or this week. But a specific goal to learn more about what I can do in Soc 102 by the end of the year is something that I can accomplish.

 Then, the next fall, I could reflect upon how well I did or did not meet my goal. This reflection might then become part of my self-evaluation and part of my faculty development.

 I am imagining a system that breaks our school and faculty development work into more manageable chunks so that we can see and celebrate and support the progress we make each year.

 What are your thoughts?

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In thinking about discussion topics related to teaching, I have noticed that the issue of time arises over and over again (time and time again?). In order to evaluate alternative uses of time, I think we need to discuss what it is that we, as faculty, believe our students get out of the time they spend collectively in a class setting, beyond the accumulation of content.

Here are just a few examples and ideas for discussion:

 Competency-Based Instruction

Right now, the way we teach and schedule our classes tends to hold the quantity of time constant while allowing the quantity of learning to vary student by student. That is to say, each student in my Sociology 102 class had exactly the same amount of class time, but each student did not learn the same amount as evidenced by test scores.

An alternative would be to require students to master certain content, regardless of the time that mastery requires – i.e. hold learning constant, while allowing the time of learning to vary from student to student. We already do this in limited ways – two students may produce similarly satisfactory senior theses, but may have invested vastly different amounts of time in those theses. We also allow students to “test out” of certain language and math courses, a provision that favors mastery over time in class.

What would it look like if we tried this same approach elsewhere within our curriculum? Might we be able to offer fewer sections of “foundation” courses if they were taught following a mastery- or competency-based model rather than a seat-time model? What would be lost or gained in such a move?

  A-Synchronous Learning

Right now, the way that we teach and schedule our classes tends to require all subjects/content to be fit to a 14-week or 7-week schedule for a set number of hours of class-time a week. Once we have fit the material to that time schedule, we then require that all students follow the exact same schedule for learning within that framework (e.g. class meets from 9:40 to 11:15am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings).

An alternative would be scheduling and designing courses so that courses can take different periods of time and students within a course can “take the course” at different times of day or the week. This is, of course, one of the primary advantages that online courses are said to offer. This model can be combined with a competency-based curriculum as outlined above, but it is not necessarily so.

Moving some of our curriculum in this direction could mean a loss of face-to-face seat time for students. What might be gained or lost in such a move? Where do we, as faculty, believe that collective time spent in a class setting brings advantages, experiences, learning opportunities that we want to protect for our students?

  Balanced Calendar

Right now, we have a very traditional semester-interim-semester schedule. Students and faculty are expected to participate in fall and spring semesters each year, and are not expected to attend school in the summer months. Summer courses are optional for faculty and for students and, in the time that I have been at Pacific, few pursue classes in the summer. Interestingly, other area schools such asPortlandStateUniversityreport some of their highest enrollments in the summer months.

An alternative would be to adopt a more balanced calendar of three full-length terms a year (fall, spring, summer). This differs from a trimester system, because a trimester system typically fits three trimesters into the traditional 9 month school schedule. Other well-respected liberal arts colleges have done this at some point in their past (I believe that Carleton and Dartmouth are two examples) often as a temporary means to cope with insufficient facilities – if you require students to take at least one or two summer semesters during their time at the college, you effectively spread your students out.

For students, being able to take courses year round could mean that they could finish their degree in fewer years without taking fewer courses or taking on overloads. This could be appealing in a context in which summer jobs are scarce. Faculty contracts could remain as they are now, requiring that faculty teach a minimum of 2 terms a year, as long as there was a system to ensure coverage of all 3 terms of the year. Faculty could, with careful planning, schedule two years so that they have back-to-back terms “off” thereby creating a prolonged time period for scholarly work. Alternately, faculty might choose to teach 3 terms in a year when they need extra pay.

What might be lost or gained in such a move? Would we be able to manage the very complicated scheduling such a move might require?

 Shorter, Longer, and Alternative Learning Blocks

Right now, we have a fairly inflexible seat-time to credit ratio and a limited number of acceptable teaching blocks.

An alternative would be to loosen that seat-time to credit ratio for some of our classes. This would mean that a 4 credit course could possibly meet for 2 or 3 hours a week, if students are doing other, independent work for that final credit (this is similar to what incoming Dean Lisa Carstens described at her school). In our 4-credit conversion, we discussed this option as acceptable, but in practice we do not seem to do it. We might also consider holding a class in a workshop model – over two or three consecutive weekends. There might be classes that would be best suited to a 4 or even 5 day-a-week model.

We are already doing this in a very limited way and often without “official” sanction. What might be lost or gained if we moved more overtly in this direction?

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Our Identity

I have debated how to begin our School of Social Sciences Salon. I will confess that I found myself weighing what might be the most politically expedient topic to start our discussion, who I would immediately piss-off or turn-off depending upon the topic chosen or not chosen. In the end, I have decided to follow the slightly expanded version of the Szefel Rule and to try to just talk about what I honestly think we need to talk about.

So, my first thought is that we need to talk about what we are actually doing. This is my 17th year at Pacific and for most years that I have been here, we have debated who we are as a college and what we are trying to be.  To my knowledge, there has never been an “official” answer to these questions. But I believe that as faculty we know – and have known for a long time – the answer to this identity question.

As a faculty, we excel with students who have high academic abilities (or the potential thereof) but low social, cultural and economic capital. We are good with awkward, unsophisticated, needy but smart students. And those students can be transformed by their experiences at Pacific.  This is not to say that any high-ability but low socio-economic status (SES) student would do well at Pacific. Within this larger group of students, I think we best serve students who have a genuine desire to do something in the world, however they might define that civic engagement.

There are, however, implications of admitting – or even embracing – this as our raison d’être.

First, it tells us who we are not. We are not Pomona, Whitman, Middlebury or any of a number of schools who excel at teaching students who arrive with both intellectual and socio-economic capital. Pacific is not and most likely will not ever be like these schools.

Second, it tells us that our students do not think about college the way that many of us did. Our students do not come from academic families or families whose socio-economic status puts them in contact with families with strong academic traditions. This means that our students do not accept a college education as an end in and of itself. Rather, they see college as a means to another end. The end for our students is to get a job/have a career and they see the potential for many different means to that end; college is only one such means. Our students will constantly evaluate their college experience in market, cost-benefit terms in a way that students of higher SES (and most faculty) do not.  Students at Pomona, Yale, and even Whitman are joining a club – our students are purchasing a product.

Third, specializing in students with high intellectual ability, but low cultural and socio-economic ability has real implications for how we envision our role as faculty. This population of students cannot and will not perform to our standards without substantial teaching, training and guidance. They lack the skills that a more privileged background would have provided. This is not the same thing as lacking intellectual capacity, of course, though in a college environment the two deficiencies can appear similar. This guidance and development can be time-intensive, one-on-one and laborious. If we expect and need faculty to do this work, we need to value it both formally and informally. And as faculty, we need to see this as legitimate work, as an intentional part of our work as faculty, and not resent it as “hand-holding” or “remedial.”

Fourth, while a Pacific education can offer our graduates a chance to see, think about  and be in the world in a way that is otherwise available only for those with more privilege, graduating from Pacific does not make our students wealthy. Unlike students with both high intellectual capacities and high socio-economic status, our students do not return from college to their family’s position of privilege.  This means that no matter how good their experience at Pacific and no matter how much they care about Pacific, our graduates will not be able to build the kind of endowment that we want to have. This means that we need to think of other ways to ensure financial stability without depending either on constant growth or amassing a huge endowment.

The consequences of knowing – and openly admitting – who we are as a college are not all negative.

First, the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences is truly gifted, dedicated, and skilled. Given a clear direction and purpose, the faculty of this college can and will be exceptional in meeting that purpose.  I worry sometimes that our frequent return to the research-vs.-teaching debate distracts us from knowing who we are and moving together toward an agreed upon set of goals.

Second, knowing who we are and what we are trying to become –and speaking openly in a unified voice about this identity – will help us as faculty to determine the best ways to spend our time and efforts. My own sense is that we increasingly feel that our tenure, promotion and merit pay hinge upon scholarship and the numbers on our teaching course evaluations. This has the consequence of making service and the kind of nurturing, time-intensive guidance and teaching that goes on outside of formal class meetings feel like a waste of time, a frustrating distraction, and even as counter to our interests as individual faculty members. It is interesting that while students, faculty, and the Admissions Office all understand that some of our most important teaching and learning goes on outside of formal classrooms, we evaluate our teachers based only on what goes on inside the classroom. Greater clarity and a shared commitment to a purpose can make our work as faculty better.

Third, understanding that our focus is on this particular group of students provides guidance for how to navigate many of the changes facing higher education and especially small residential colleges like Pacific. Knowing who we are allows us to better answer the question of, “What can we offer our students that the internet (as just one example) never can?”  It gives us a basis for evaluating new programs and proposals for the College and can open the door to possibilities we have not considered for fear that they might move us away from attracting a more socially and economically elite student body.

Fourth, it allows us as faculty to participate in building a better world.  Sometimes this is the only thing that gets me through the last stack of papers to grade.  The truth is that most students with high SES and high academic abilities are on a trajectory. As faculty we might be a pleasant wayside while they are en route, but they are on a moving walkway, with or without our intervention. This is not the case for the students with high academic ability but low SES. For these students, you have the potential to change the trajectory of their lives and this, in turn, changes the world.  

What are your thoughts on our identity and what that identity means for how we do our work as faculty at Pacific?


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