Posts Tagged ‘Community’

A friend of mine recently bemoaned what he perceived as a lack of school spirit at his southern SLAC.  One sign that he cited is the fact that student apparel featuring the logos of the nearest big state school vastly outnumbers apparel featuring his own school.  Since he mentioned this I have paid closer attention to the clothing of my students and noted that this is not the case on my campus.  While I occasionally see students wearing apparel from a larger state school, this is the exception.  Much more common is clothing depicting the name or logo of my own institution, and the t-shirts of sorority members add to the relatively high percentage of clothing that fits into the “school spirit” category.

While I don’t perceive a problem among the students, the faculty in general are a different matter.  There seems to be a general reluctance among faculty to participate in things beyond their teaching/research/service duties.  Obviously, those duties keep them busy, but I would still like to see the number of poorly-attended discussions about teaching methods decrease.  Beyond the general amount of work to be done, I place some of the blame on the decentralized nature of faculty living.  When applying for jobs at SLACs, I imagined myself living in an isolated town of 25,000, hoping that a mall was within a half hour’s drive.  Thankfully, this is not the case, but I think that the fact that my school is within reach of a large number of other towns and cities prevents the sorts of connections that faculty can have to a school when they live and work in the same area.  In order to attend an evening or weekend event, for example, many faculty members would have to make a two-hour round trip.  For a one or two hour event, this much travel is understandably hard to justify.

Unfortunately, this situation is unlikely to change, but as somebody who is eager to dig in to this place and make it my home, a stronger sense of community would go a long way.

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One of the things that I am most looking forward to about starting a tenure track job is the opportunity to dig into the area and get to know it.  I’ve lived in the same town for the past seven years and the same apartment for the past five, but my life here has always felt temporary.  This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed living here – if given the chance, I could probably live here forever – but living here forever is not an option.  So I waited while friends bought houses and had children, knowing that upon the completion of my degree I would move on to another town where those things would likely take place.

Because I have been looking forward to having a more permanent existence I was surprised to see a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed post about a professor who has decided to put down roots after nine years, tenure, two additional children, and the relocation of his parents.  Despite these ties, he has remained insulated from his community:

I have, however, been less engaged with the life of my community than I might have been. I’ve held back reflexively.

Apart from my colleagues at the college, I have made hardly any local friends. My family and I belong to a church, but I’ve avoided getting involved in service activities. We have a stake in things like zoning laws and building permits, but I don’t go to the county meetings. Outside of the college, I am almost entirely disengaged: Work and home constitute 99 percent of my life. I can count the conversations I’ve had with my immediate neighbors on one hand.

Maybe because I have little desire to compete for prestige, I don’t see myself as the type of “potted plant – in anticipation of the next relocation” that Benton describes elsewhere in his post.  I am ready to get on with my life.  This includes learning the state bird, state flower, and state tree, which I never bothered to do in my current state but which will come in handy if I have children some day.  I’m also looking forward to learning about the history of my new community and its restaurants, parks, organizations, and people.

Like Benton, I am not returning home.  Unlike Benton, nearly all of my family members still live in the state in which I was born.  Because of this, I suppose that if an opportunity ever arose at a good school in that state I would have to consider it.  Rather than waiting for such an opportunity, however, I am going to live as if my next community and my first academic job will be my last.  I am going to dig in.

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