academic isolation

A horrible realization I had recently goes like this:

My community college systematically isolates faculty from the outside world of academia. It’s not intentional, but I believe it is systematic, cultural, and deeply embedded in the practices of the place. I had this realization when I recently met up for drinks with some colleagues at another institution. They had all recently been to a department meeting in which they talked about other programs and each took “assignments” to follow up with more research on what other departments are doing. Their department celebrates members who publish, who present, and who interact with the larger academic community.

My institution—including every department and every program—grudgingly sends people to conferences and administration reveals no knowledge that sending someone to a conference is professional development and can possibly benefit the department or program or institution. Administration acts like sending someone to a conference is equivalent to sending them on a paid vacation. There is no expectation that the person will come back with anything of value, and in fact, if the person comes with something of value and wants a forum to share it with colleagues, administration labels that person a “diva” and tries to squelch their enthusiasm.

People are sent to conferences, but almost no one talks about what went on at their conferences because of the discouragement from administration.

One result is that my colleagues are completely out of touch with developments in their disciplines and developments in higher ed. A few of us fight for meaningful professional development and fight to share what we’ve learned with our colleagues, but our colleagues, it seems, are gradually socialized into this twisted system and begin to see us as “divas,” too, as if our wanting to share what we’ve learned is just a way to “brag” about our “expense paid vacations.” It’s disheartening, discouraging, depressing. . . .

The other faculty in my department are smart people, but they have had their drive to stay in touch with academic beyond our institution deadened. I am the “diva” of the department and I pay a price for that.

I crave the kind of environment my colleagues at the other institution have. They meet regularly as a department to discuss articles in the journals, to talk about theory and pedagogy, to gripe about students. They meet formally as a department, smaller groups of them meet informally over beer, and they have spirited conversations about things beyond the department’s budget or policies. They engage ideas that matter.

I am so envious it hurts.

Published in: on February 10, 2008 at 6:55 am  Leave a Comment