TRANSITION FROM A LARGE UNIVERSITY TO A SMALL COLLEGE

Faculty often arrive at Knox from a large university setting, whether directly from graduate training or from a previous teaching position. The transition to the small liberal arts setting is sometimes confusing and occasionally mysterious. Life in a large department in a research university is often very different from that at a small college, and while the academic training received there got you the job, the collegial, political, professional and interpersonal training can be misleading in some subtle ways. The following subject areas and words of wisdom reflect the experiences of some of the faculty who have encountered significant differences in living within these two academic settings.

Colleagues As graduate students, some of us experienced very hierarchic departments--"the Cabots speak only to the Lodges and the Lodges speak only to God" sort of thing. In some instances, we were not only the victims of that hierarchy, but we observed junior faculty being victimized as well. While it is difficult to get support for the following in a university, it is actually true of Knox: colleagues are peers, not superiors or bosses. New faculty can create undue stress for themselves if they continue to think in a university paradigm. For instance, the creation of 8:00 a.m. classes does not mean the untenured faculty will be forced to teach them while their seniors sleep late. If you are unable to teach at that hour or feel you are doing more than your share, you may say so. If you do not feel supported, you should talk to the dean. If you feel as though speaking out will jeopardize your chances of getting tenure, there is a serious problem--either you are imagining a nonexistent paradigm or someone in your department needs to have a reality adjustment.

But newcomers should consider the manner in which they voice their views to colleagues. Too frequent complaints or suspiciousness of others' motives are likely to irritate. Additionally, being too quick to assume that one's research, service and teaching are beyond that of one's colleagues does little to enhance one's reputation for collegiality. As would be reasonable in any setting, pick your battles and proceed diplomatically.

Beware of looking for hidden agendas and of being overly concerned at disagreements between colleagues. They're much less likely here than at a bigger place to end up as battle lines in a tenure decision. Be an articulate advocate of your positions and a generous colleague; others are likely to reciprocate.

Academic Politics Many university departments are highly evolved pecking orders with clearly defined boundaries and dangerous pitfalls for the uninitiated. With a thousand or more faculty in residence overall and where anonymity and isolation are key factors, power-mongering is frequent. Empire builders and fiefdom-overlords rely on the bureaucracy of the large institution to sustain their control. In a small setting such as Knox, this is more difficult (though not impossible) to achieve.

Many new faculty experience settling-in tensions, old hand/young Turk frictions, crusty temperaments, eccentrics, even the occasional jerk, and may become wary based on the university paradigm. You needn't. Here faculty have direct and open access to senior faculty in their departments, faculty in other departments, faculty on standing committees, as well as to the administration. One can ask questions with impunity and go to the Dean for confidential advice if a problem crops up. Size and visibility create a check and balance system here. Occasionally, an individual may attempt to wield power over or undermine a colleague. If in the face of power abuse or plain old nastiness, you were previously advised to put up and shut up until tenure, you don't have to do that here. Faculty are not isolated and impotent. In most cases where a new faculty member has finally confided to someone regarding a conflict, solutions have been found. In most cases, truly egregious behavior can be stopped. But this isn't Utopia U. and it would be unfair to imply injustices have never occurred.

One has to be savvy and make choices along political lines. For instance, justice can be relative to the nature of the particular seated administration and the cadre of current tenured faculty. There are politics at Knox, though the dimension tends not to be as clandestine or isolating as in large university settings. Again, pick your battles. But if you find yourself adopting a new persona to cope with a conflict, there is a serious issue at hand and you should seek advice. In addition to talking to folks here, colleagues on other campuses can be a useful source of advice, and helpful in giving one a sense of perspective.

Teaching Knox is a teaching institution. It really means that. Many of you will have read university handbooks indicating that teaching, service, and scholarship were equally balanced in terms of promotion and review. Many of you will also have gotten the subliminal message from your former mentors, that that isn't necessarily the case and that "publish or perish" is alive and well on American campuses. Many of us had professors who were shining examples of the prestigious scholar with the big grants who is a completely job-secure poor teacher. Knox expects scholarship and celebrates scholarly success, but Knox expects excellence in the classroom. You'll want to find a way to balance research with the demands of teaching.  This can be a special challenge for those fresh from graduate school with its often single-minded focus on the research side.  See the following section on "Developing as a Teacher/Scholar" for more on this.

Contact hours You will put in lots more contact hours than many of us experienced as students. At the heart of the Knox mission is the student-teacher relationship. While the set number of classroom contact hours may be relatively limited (our teaching load is pretty reasonable compared to other institutions of our type), the expectations for out-of-classroom contact can be high. Such contact is one of the main joys of teaching here (try teaching at a commuter institution where students disappear outside of class time), but the demands can also be difficult to manage. See the section on Managing Time for help on this, especially the sections on Office hours and Independent study.

Academic Standards Teachers fresh out of grad school or new to undergraduate education can find it takes a while to establish balanced expectations in terms of student work loads. Whereas 1000 pages per week of reading, 5 texts, and 30 page minimum papers may have been the per course norm in grad school, it is excessive for undergraduates. Expectations should increase depending on the level of the course, but one shouldn't expect to cover the same amount of material at the same depth as graduate course work. While one should expect that writing standards will be high, one should not necessarily expect the same levels of excellence and sophistication one is capable of oneself. This is another area where talking to colleagues is invaluable. You might also consider asking for syllabi from your departmental colleagues. This will give you an overview of what is taught, how it is taught, how subject areas are developed and linked, syllabus writing styles, prior academic preparation for your courses, as well as a sense of what academic expectations are like. Attending professional conferences and surfing the web can be useful as well for the sharing of syllabi for courses in your area.

Collegial Interaction Many new faculty arrive imbued with passionate ideas and a desire to right the wrongs of academia. These are good and useful qualities and partly why we were hired in the first place. How we go about implementing these ideals will help determine how smooth a transition we experience and how quickly we are able to change the world. Liz Metz says, "Today I cringe when I recall how ferociously my flaming sword burned."

It is important to take time to learn the relationships within your department and within the college. It is important to take the time to ask questions. Those of us on a mission may have a tendency to assume that our ideas are novel or so obvious we can't fathom why they haven't been thought of before. Take the time to find out if in fact they have been considered before and if so, what the impediments were then. It is often the case that there is institutional history which will explain why procedures or policies are what they are. This does not preclude the possibility that change is desperately needed. One must consider that an idea may be one whose time has finally come, but earlier proponents of just such an idea may still be around and ought to be sought out for information and advice. Change is much easier in a supportive environment. (See also the section on Making Change.)

If you identify a serious problem that you feel your colleagues have allowed to slide, be generous in your approach. You may find the subject you feel you are introducing is one already of great concern to your department and the faculty at large and one which is a part of an ongoing debate with much larger ramifications. If you carefully research your position in terms of your department and the institution, you will be much more effective in presenting your point and in drawing support for it. An impatient or even hostile attitude will obviously only prejudice your position. Compassion and generosity are valuable touchstones of collegiality.