Monday, April 14, 2014

Empty Department Syndrome

Here’s a query from a professor published on the Chronicle of Higher Education. I have heard that the same issues arises in some law schools.:

When I arrived at my current institution, I certainly wouldn't have described the departmental culture as lively. However, if I spent a whole day working in my office, I would certainly have seen perhaps half of my colleagues, who weren't on leave that year, in the department. Fast forward to now, some years later, and it's unusual for me to see more than one or two in a day. Often, it's the same one or two I'll see each day. My colleagues have simply stopped showing up to the office for the most part. We're in the humanities, and they seem to be publishing, so they must be working from home. When I do see a colleague, it's generally when s/he's on her way to or from holding office hours. I asked our secretary how many colleagues she sees in a day, and she guessed perhaps three on a busy day. There are more than 20 of us.

Department meetings are now sparsely attended, and fewer than 1/4 of the non-leave faculty typically show up to talks given by invited speakers. It also dawned on me that, whereas when I arrived, there were usually one or two departmental parties held at colleagues' houses each year, there hasn't been one for three or four years at least. The department isn't toxic, but it does seem just to have died, or at least emptied out. Has this happened to anyone else's department? It's really strange. I don't have a point in particular, but I did wonder whether this sort of thing happened often, or at least sometimes, at other institutions or departments.

I didn’t find the published responses helpful. I think it’s a question of a school’s culture and the failure of administrators to set out a clear policy about presence on campus, to enforce that policy, to reward those adhering to the policy, and to withhold goodies from those defying the policy. It’s admittedly a tough issue.


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Any chance newer hires are on contract rather than tenure track? Contract folks sometimes are juggling other lives, other teaching etc. and can't have a live presence for their students and colleagues.

Posted by: Liz Ryan Cole | Apr 15, 2014 8:20:28 AM

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