By Yves Salomon-Fernandez
Last month, at the request of those on the campus that I oversee, we established a monthly evening social for the faculty and staff. The idea came up as an effort to better integrate adjunct faculty as part of the campus and help develop a sense of community among full-time, day and evening faculty, and staff. As a community college, the majority of our courses are taught by adjunct faculty who often travel among multiple colleges to teach or by professionals who hold a full-time day job, and teaching is their evening, weekend, or online part-time occupation. By hosting an evening social hour and alternating the days, we hope to provide an opportunity for those who can’t attend day-time town hall meetings and other events to get to know the rest of the campus and for us to get to know them.
This week, I held the second evening social. The first faculty and staff social attracted many people as the President was the official host. This week, without the President, it was more intimate gathering and felt less official. I got a chance to have more than just a passing conversation with folks about how things are going for them personally and professionally as the semester is gearing up to its end. This gave me a chance to really get to know my faculty and fellow administrative colleagues. Some of my colleagues, before the social, I would say I knew very well since I had worked closely with them on assessing student learning outcomes—work that creates professional disagreement and tensions that have to be resolved. Through our disagreements, we developed an appreciation for each other as professionals and our epistemological differences and approaches to assessment, empiricism, what qualifies as evidence, etc. I felt that I knew most of my colleagues and knew them well.
Getting to Know Each Other as People
I learned this week how much more fascinating my colleagues are as individuals outside of the classroom and their offices. They lead complex lives. They’ve had varied experiences that inform their pedagogy and drive their purpose for teaching or serving students in an administrative capacity. We swapped stories for more than two hours. I listened and thought never in a million years would I imagine that they would lead such interesting, adventurous lives, and had such a range of experiences that profoundly affect who they are and what they bring to their work.
Finding and Building on Common Ground
With so much discourse on the faculty and administration divide, it’s easy for us to forget that many of us are drawn to higher education for the same reason, especially at community colleges. The desire to provide opportunities for intellectual and career advancement for those who would not have it otherwise; the fulfillment of watching young brilliant minds grow over the course of a semester; and the satisfaction of knowing that we made a difference in someone’s life today that is likely to have a multi-generational impact are among some of the reasons that draw us and keep us in higher education. When we pit faculty against administration, we forget that.
In the end, we have so much more in common than we realize. Staying focused on the purpose and mission that bind us encourages collaboration and helps us achieve the common goal of being student-centered institutions that provide opportunity and value for students and, in the process, creates social change.