At Your Service

My tenure story is the all-too-familiar tale of the assistant professor hired to start a new program. That program becomes wildly successful, beyond anyone’s predictions. Someone has to administer the needs of the program, so the new assistant professor (aka me) handles it. As the program grows, she handles more of its administration. She and another new hire in her field handle the details together, working in remarkable agreement and cooperation.

The program is a runaway success, drawing in half of the majors in the department. The assistant professor, however, is taking it for the team. Every year her evaluations admonish her to do more research and less service, but no one steps up to help with the increasingly crippling service load.

Finally, after four years, the two assistant professors make a major public cry for help, and the department grants both of them release time from teaching a course in exchange for running the program.

By then, though, it is too late to help… –Lynne MurphyAt Your Service (Chronicle)

This story doesn’t exactly apply to me. I was hired to take a leadership role in the new media journalism program, a position that includes advising the school paper. And our program is successful. Just the other day, my division chair was walking down the hallway with his nose in a printout, and he poked his head in my office to tell me that our journalism enrollment was “outstanding.” The next day I heard from a former journalism major who said she regretted changing to a journalism minor, and a different student who, after her coach told her to quit the paper to spend more time at practice, quit the team instead.

Murphy is talking about being worked to death through service. Regular readers of my blog will, I hope, forgive me for mentioning yet again that SHU gives me a course release every semester to advise the paper. I do teach a 1-credit “Media Lab” course, but most students who work on the paper don’t take that course. So, advising the paper includes dropping by when the students are working, just so I can see them interacting with each other; and of course, I am available via e-mail and phone.

When I attended a workshop for new advisers of college newspapers, I was the only tenure-track faculty member in the group; others were part-timers, administrators, or even members of the residence life staff.

Whenever the paper is in production, I make sure to schedule my week with several hours of puntable work, so that I can drop it and help troubleshoot whatever problem may come up. The students are handling issues of journalism ethics and quality just fine on their own, but technology glitches and personnel issues have been some areas where I thought the students welcomed my intervention.

While I always block out time expecting to have to deal with a crisis, the truth is often the students just want to talk about what they did when they solved a crisis on their own. It’s easy to be a mentor on those occasions! If I don’t need to intervene, then my office gets cleaned, my inbox gets sorted, my blog gets a few extra entries, and my students get their papers returned a little faster.

I can take all this in stride because my job isn’t to put out a paper… my job is to teach a rapidly-rotating group of students how to put out a paper.

A core group of students expressed significant interest in putting out a summer issue of the paper — something that we could give out to incoming freshmen when they visit the campus during the summer. We already have magazine-length articles that a previous group of Media Lab students wrote last year, so I’d love it we could have a glossy cover and — who knows — maybe even color.

I do need to carve out some time for making revisions to my latest article (still under review, but the editor has been very positive). This is the time of the year when the workload starts to pile up and students stop smiling at me when I see them in the hall (particularly if they’ve just skipped my class). And then it’s time for midterms and a conference in New York.

Whoops, my daughter’s nap is over, so my blogging time today is, too.