Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bringing Speakers to Campus

Some years ago, when I was interviewing at a small state school (SSS) in a college-rich area, I asked how much contact these faculty (on a 4/4, naturally, and often looking to "publish up") had with more established scholars at bigger, more prestigious schools in some cases less than 15 miles away. The answer? None. This was disheartening, and one of the many reasons I turned down that tenure track job in a year when no other TT job presented itself.

After the ASTR conference last November, I started talking to one of the other seminar participants, who is located within reasonable driving distance from BRU, about us somehow taking advantage of that proximity of both intellectual interests and physical campuses. After two+years here, I've made few of those connections I had hoped to find at SSS, despite being in an area where such connections are at least a possibility.

I had noticed that at both my grad institution, and a BRU, some of those things were happening, but always at the senior faculty level, and often only with endowed chairs who had a pool of money to bring in.

Well, with the new courses I'm teaching in the fall, my new ASTR friend would be a phenomenal supplement to my pedagogy, and could bring in a richer sense of particular discourses on particular texts than I could. So I'm looking for ways to bring him to campus, a process that is just beginning, and I'd be really interested to hear other people's ideas on.

But more generally, I think this is an idea that we need to be considering more persistently. I am always concerned when I hear "ivory tower" epithets, and their implications that universities are not connected to the real world. These epithets feel truer when I realize that universities and departments aren't often very good at making connections with each other, let alone with the real world.

And yet the guest lecture format seems to be a low-risk, low-cost win-win for everyone involved. When speakers are comparatively local, costs can be kept very low, especially if faculty are willing to swap talks or think more creatively about logistics. Both parties benefit: the speaker, especially younger scholars, benefit with lines for annual reports, with chances to work out new scholarship with somewhat lower stakes, with networking connections forged and reinforced. And of course the hosts benefit, too, with an influx of new ideas, the opportunities for publicity that an incoming speaker brings, and of course the same networking possibilities.

But often these kinds of connections are reserved for established scholars whose work is well-known, even famous. But what if we work toward establishing these exchanges, these networks for recently-tenured, untenured, and off-the-tenure-track faculty, and even advanced graduate students? Establishing these connections with each other can only enrich the profession, the campus, and the individuals involved.

So how do we do it?

Well, it starts with talking about it at all. Although I know that Flavia, Dr. Crazy, Dr. Virago, Nels, Chuck Tryon, or JBJ are very strong contributors in their fields, and that grad students like Sisyphus or Acephalous are becoming, I haven't, until now, thought about trying to bring them to my campus. But why not? Dr. V completely changed the way I taught medieval drama, and I'm using an essay by Nels in my grad class this semester. We can meet-up at conferences. Let's meet-up at each other's campuses. Let's talk in each other's classes. Let's make turn some of the potential offered by the connections of the academic blogosophere into on-site connections on our campuses and in our classrooms.

Who are you going to tag first?


Anonymous said...

Horace -- Brilliant. I, too, despair about the Tower's refusal to see itself as a community, or a series of interlocking communities. Wonderful to see someone working through ways to change that.

Why not let students in on the action, too? A few small, regional campuses (both public and private) in Massachusetts have gotten together to organize a yearly undergrad Shakespeare conference, where I did a thing a while back, and it's a lovely little phenomenon. Cool for the students to get to present their work and to meet like-minded folks from other schools; cool for the Renaissance faculty at these regional campuses to get together to dish and share a pedagogical experience; cool for the schools to be able to advertise that they do something so lively and enriching. Everyone wins, at relatively little cost. 'Course, someone's gotta organize it. Something to think about for your neck of the woods?

Horace said...

You're absolutely right, Neo, and in fact, we do precisely that sort of thing here at BRU: last weekend in fact. And conferences generally, at all levels, strike me as the one well-established way that we do encourage networking. It's been among the only ways that I've really figured out how to do it besides the blogosphere.

But I agree that getting undergrads in on the action on all levels is important and useful.

One way I'm thinking about doing this is asking some students to make up a practice audience for a talk I'm giving in March. Having them as a test audience could be both instructive for me, in terms of feedback from an interested but non-specialist audience, and for them in terms of hearing the talk fresh off the presses.

Dr. Virago said...

I would *totally* come to your U and give a guest lecture or two on medieval drama, and perhaps lead a grad seminar discussion on it as well.

My PhD U had a Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies that brought in "guest faculty" sometimes only for a week at a time, put them up, and paid them a modest honorarium to give a couple of public lectures and do a mini-seminar with grad students. But as you suggest, that was all about the big names.

*But* one of the things this Center was also good at was including faculty across the greater metro area, including the other R1s, the SLACs, the comprehensives, etc. And through their events, while I was still a grad student, I met a lot of these people. And when I was writing my diss, one of those connections I made turned into guest lectures in an MA seminar in one of the comprehensive U's.

I guess the point here is that if you start by focusing on people with the same range of interests -- period, theory, or whatever -- it's easier to build outwards, with or without a well-endowed center.

And I have to say, the medievalist and early modern folks up the road at the closest R1 here have been *great* at letting me take advantage of them, their speaker series, and even their more intimate seminars.

And again, if you want me to come guest lecture, I'm pretty cheap! :)

Anonymous said...

Um, I'd come to BRU, too. Heck, I've been there once before for a workshop--it's pretty!

undine said...

Horace, this is a great idea. Aren't you concerned, though, about outing the pseudonymous bloggers?

Although I'd love to post about my field, I don't dare because it's smaller and hence more easily identifiable than that of the medievalists.

Anonymous said...

Same here. I'd love to talk about movies in your neck of the woods. I've been able to milk my blog for some good service and publishing opportunities, but I definitely sense that we could take advantage of these connections in a more self-conscious way.

undine: In terms of "outing" pseudonymous bloggers, I don't think you'd have to reveal *where* you found out about that outstanding young scholar to your colleagues. As long as you could justify bringing someone to campus based on their research, I don't think any other explanation would be needed.

Sisyphus said...

One of our profs I work with has small children ---- that has made traveling to conferences for him, as part of an academic couple, very difficult.

So this prof goes through his field journal and reads the reviews and ads for new books ---- then he gets on the phone and calls every junior faculty who has just brought out a book in his field and he twists their arm until they come out and give a talk at our U. (It helps that we have nice weather.) The new profs want to do it cause they are promoting their book and getting stuff on their cv (and probably thinking to hit this prof up for external letters too?) and the prof loves it because, besides getting nice dinners out on the humanities center tab, he gets a much quieter and focused sort of networking with the prof --- kinda like a stalker-ish effect of concentrating on one single person at a conference. He hates crowds and making small talk, and the visitors and him get to know each other much better.

The way we run them are often like a campus visit, without the high stakes --- we put them up somewhere nice and they go have lunch, see the campus, maybe lead a grad seminar, give a talk, go out to dinner, then the next day they usually have free to see the sights.

We also have some "SoCal Inter-Campus Society of X" things that people try to bring different UCs together around, and it somewhat works, but our campuses are pretty spread out. If you want some campus websites with this stuff, I can send them to you.

And once you have a book to promote I can put you in touch with this prof! ;) (we'd have to squeeze a bit to fit your interests)

SEK said...

Invite me! I'll underbid Dr. Virago (and anyone else, for that matter). For the record, I've been invited to talk about three times on the strength of the blog, and had a wonderful experience each time. I'd love to present on my actual, you know, research, although I'm not sure whether I could out-medieval Dr. V. Maybe, I don't know, "Living with Medieval Paleographers: An Americanist's Perspective"? Have a feeling the audience for that one might not be too large, though.

Horace said...

Hey now! Hey now! hold it down. I can't invite all of you. at least not all at once.

And part of the key here would be local or at least semi local, which would mean some of you would be difficult to bring. The whole airfare thing is an obstacle to me bringing many of you. This is less a wine-and-dine mentality, and more of a crash-on-my-couch kinda thing.

I am heartened by the eagerness of people to do this kind of thing, and not just travel, but bring people in. Really. Look around your campus. Any room for people to bring along?

Dr. Virago said...

I'll drive and I'll crash on your couch, too. I can *totally* underbid SEK! :)

But seriously, you're right. Instead of just exploiting the nearest R1 for their resources by driving to it, I should be bringing some people *here*.