I promised a whole host of posts a few days ago, and I promise, some of them are coming, but I write today with a concern that is both pressing and philosophical: How does dialogue occur within an academic department. Ours is one that, while not undergoing any kind of full-scale transformation, is going through some changes that need to be hashed out, question involving teaching load, course caps, tenure requirements, and faculty hiring directions.
We're a comparatively large (about 40 TT faculty) department that is remarkably collegial, though this seems facilitated largely by neglect rather than loads of outright sociable warmth. What this tends to mean is that we are free of factions, generally, but when contentious issues do come up, we are out of practice in actually hammering them out, and so those issues either get decided for us, or we decide them somewhat blindly.
Certainly email listservs might be a component of good communication, but ours is largely unused for discussion (I think people are too afraid of flame wars). And our monthly faculty meetings are usually a hurried ninety minutes, in which everybody says their piece, nobody listens, and after we get a little itchy about sitting in that room. we all go back to our offices and vote however we were going to in the first place.
In my ideal world, we'd be better at discussing our own best interests, and actually deliberating over issues. The upshot of dialogue should be that nothing gets railroaded through, but neither does warring factionalism keep us at a stalemate, or worse.
I know that such utopian departments aren't possible, for as much as we like to think of ourselves as enlightened socratic bodies in a protype democracy, truth is, we're as petty and venal and contentious as any group of self-interested humans.
But still: dialogue as a goal. How do departments facilitate it well? how do individuals within departments (say, newly tenured faculty who have little to no administrative responsibility) facilitate it? Please: what works best in your department? what is a disaster?