Monday, May 23, 2011

Welcomes: Some thoughts on Academic Communities

It seems, for the time being at least, that the department bleeding is done. We've lost most of the people whom we were likely to lose, and those who remain (and let's be serious; it's a big department and a lot of us remain) are in the frankly enviable position of being able to look at all of the newly blank spaces on our departmental rolls, and think about possibilities, and potential.

The question I'm asking myself is, "At this moment and at this institution, what kind of department do I want to be a part of?"

Certainly I have many ambitions for this department, as a space for learning, primarily, but also as a space for living. And to me, both of those things are best convivially. Conviviality is a value we don't often speak of, but it's really high up there on my list. I love to eat and drink with friends, to have long talks about stuff over coffee, or sitting on a bench. A friend and colleague of mine and I took our kids on an outing yesterday, and the cumulative hours in the car talking over our relationship to cities, the difficulties of junior faculty at our institution, and how roles for women in academia were and weren't changing... these topics were as satisfying as the rest of the outing.

What does this have to do with the university? A lot, I think. At least to me. My understanding of the university is that it is a site for exchange, a place where ideas mingle because the idea-havers are mingling. Mingling itself is an important function, I think, and so a convivial atmosphere, in which we understand that working together is a kind of living together, for me fosters the best place for good teaching and great scholarship.

So this week, an incoming faculty member is arriving in town to look for houses, do some paperwork, etc. And I'm happy that we're hosting him and his spouse for a meal. I hope it's the first of many. Because the way to establish a convivial space, one in which we learn and think together begins with a simple but generous welcome. Any readers, then, on their way to new homes, new departments, let me wish you a department and an institution that welcomes you generously and convivially. I hope it becomes a good place to work, and through working, to live. As I hope this place will continue to be, even more so, for us here.

1 comment:

Dr. Koshary said...

Thanks for the good wishes! May I add that there's both freedom and anxiety in going to a new department that won't be hosting me long-term? I'm very hopeful about the conviviality you describe: the faculty went to some lengths to emphasize this to me during the hiring process. I was kind of amazed that they did, since this position cannot possibly run for more than two years. What does conviviality look like in terms of the colleague who, as everyone understands, must move on not so long after arriving?