I don’t remember my New Faculty Orientation that well. Why is that?
I’ve done this a few times. Each time, I was excited, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I had just moved to a new city. I was dealing with finding new housing, moving all of my stuff, getting finances in order, helping combobulate my spouse’s professional situation, and the most recent time I was dealing with a kid getting adjusted.
The professional side was a hurricane, too. I was gearing up to teach a new class. I had a research lab to set up. I had a brand new set of colleagues, my office had someone else’s stuff in it, my new computer hadn’t shown up yet, I didn’t know where any basic stuff was.
You know what would really help at this moment in time? How about locking me in a room with other professors for a whole day or three to tell us every single thing we needed know about being a professor at this university.
I hope you know that previous sentence was sarcastic. But maybe not, because it seems that’s what most universities seem to do!
Here’s what brand new tenure-track professors need before the start of the first semester:
- an email account
- enrollment in direct deposit, health insurance, and retirement benefits
- a parking or metro pass
- some coffee with other new faculty
- a handout with information about student support services
- any immediately required legally mandated training (e.g., sexual harassment)
- a friendly person in the office nextdoor to answer stupid questions
- time to get stuff done
I dare say you can knock these things out in a couple hours.
Here’s what brand new tenure-track faculty don’t need:
- a short speech from every upper-level administrator on campus, none of which end up being short
- a lesson in pedagogy
- a speech from the person running the grants office
- a speech from the person running the campus writing center
- a speech from the person running the campus disability office
- a speech from the person running the faculty development center
- a visit from the person running the bookstore
- a visit from the person running student health services
- a visit from the campus police
- a formal meal involving tablecloths, some powerpoint, and table service. (If anything, we’d just like the 50 bucks this lunch cost the university instead)
Does anybody do orientation in a way that really meets the needs of new faculty?
My answer to this is YES. On sabbatical I’m visiting the University of Otago, and my colleague here told me that she just finished her new faculty orientation. I was puzzled, because she’s been here for a whole year! And then she explained:
Here, when she first arrived, she dealt with all of the necessaries with the department admin personnel. Keys, ID, parking permit, other paperwork.
Then, nine months after working on campus, the new lecturers (aka assistant professors) are ready for a proper orientation. They’ve gotten to know their peers, taught some classes, research labs are ramping up, been applying for grants, have gotten to know a bunch of students. The know where to go for coffee and for lunch, and have an idea about the challenges and opportunities they face. And they have a feeling for what the campus is like and what the priorities are.
After a year on campus, when faculty talk to the people at the grants office, they are armed with specific questions about university funding programs they weren’t able to ask at at the outset. When faculty meet the campus disability office, they will be able to ask about specific resources that they couldn’t have anticipated earlier. When the faculty hear about the partnership with (say) the Pacific Islands outreach program or the (say) Service Learning office, then they will have very specific ideas about how these resources may anneal with their teaching and research agendas.
New faculty can get a lot more out of orientation if they’ve been on campus for at least a semester. This is because the faculty are already familiar with the campus, so they know what they need to hear from the people at the front of the room.
I think most faculty members think new orientations are mostly a waste of time, with a lot of fanfare, but little useful substance. If you take the same exact thing, and delay it by a semester or two, I think it could be more substantial.
What do you think? Does your campus do this, or would you like them to? Any ideas or suggestions?