Thursday, May 12, 2016

Welcoming New Faculty and Staff to Your Department

bouquet of roses and How to welcome new faculty to your department and build community
How do you welcome new members to your faculty?
by Ann Abbott

This past year we were lucky to hire three instructors in our department to help teach Spanish, one advisor and one Teaching Assistant Professor to direct the Portuguese language program. For a department that has not experienced the same growth in non-tenure track faculty that many other departments have, this was a big jump.

Perhaps because we were not used to hiring so many people at once, the "onboarding" (as they say in business contexts) was bumpy...and at times non-existent. Some things were out of everyone's control (e.g., late arrivals due to visa issues, problematic visa categories, etc.), but other things, in hindsight, could have been handled differently.

But when it comes down to it, people in our department work very independently, are rarely in their offices, and share no real common spaces. Building a sense of community is hard in a department that doesn't really function as...well...a community. (This is not a criticism. It's simply the way that many people in the humanities work when they are not teaching or doing committee work.)

I won't revisit the past here. Instead, I want to share some ideas for beginning to create a sense of community, at least among the non-tenure track faculty.

Write on Site Meetings. Just because a person is non-tenure track doesn't mean that they do not have research and writing projects. Perhaps a Monday and Thursday meeting each week could be a good chance for people to bring their laptops, focus on their writing and build a sense of camaraderie.

Grading "Parties." The instructors were hired to help out with any course the department needs, but mostly the composition course. I know that students write three compositions in that course, and they are graded in stages. I can find out the deadlines in that course and organize an afternoon (or evening or weekend?) grading party. I say party not because it would be fun, but because we could make it more enjoyable by sitting together in a conference room, playing nice music, ordering/bringing in food, etc. Of course it wouldn't be required, but it might be a way to make that big, daunting task a little less daunting.

Lunch. A few years ago, a storage room in our building was cleared out to create a faculty break room because there was no common space in our building for people to meet and build a sense of community. I don't think that this break room accomplished what it was supposed to, but at the very least there is a place to sit for lunch and also some comfortable chairs. I almost always eat lunch at my desk, but it would also be nice to see if people wanted to meet up for lunch or coffee breaks in this area.

Personal invitations. I invited all of the new people to our home for dinner toward the end of the fall semester. Not everyone was able to come, but it was a nice way to get to know each other outside of our building and offices. Although my evenings and weekends are pretty packed with the children's activities, I definitely would like to make more time for relaxing and socializing with colleagues and friends.

I hope to implement at least some of these ideas next year. It's too late to make their arrival in our department be more warm and fuzzy; that time has passed. But it's never too late to strengthen relationships and support each other as we go about this difficult and often stressful job. 

It's not my job alone to make others feel welcome in our department. Furthermore, we work independently and always will. We often work from home or cafes where you can work, uninterrupted and write freely. The truth is, to be successful in our department you need to be very independent, resourceful, and proactive.

But in the end, whatever I am able to do for and with new people, I will also be doing for myself. I sometimes feel isolated. I sometimes want someone to write with. I could use the accountability and structure of grading parties.

And what about you? How do things work in your department? Do you think that academics have a particularly difficult time of creating community? Do you feel that your department is collaborative? I'd love to know other ways of approaching this issue.

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