A colleague of mine has been attending a series of mentoring sessions with tenure-track faculty this week. These meetings are designed to give the assistant professors an assessment of their progress, evaluate their teaching-research-service activities to see if these are in an appropriate balance, and discuss any questions or concerns.
My colleague reported that the department chair and other senior faculty involved in the discussions were particularly concerned that the assistant professors not teach 'too much' or do much service work in their first few years. This has also been my experience with recent discussions involving the progress of tenure-track faculty.
Most of the motivation for this approach is to give assistant professors time to get their research programs going, but some of the motivation involves helping new faculty become good teachers. If you have time to focus on one new course at a time, that new course will be better than if you are also teaching another new course. If you slowly build up your repertoire of courses and get a solid start, everyone benefits.
This go-slow approach to teaching and service is interesting because it is the opposite of the way things used to be in my department. Even as recently as 10-12 years ago, the philosophy was 'pile the teaching and committee work on the assistant professors', giving real meaning to the adjective 'assistant'.
My colleague has the same reaction I do to the current system: advocating the new mode as a progressive way to support early career faculty so that they make a good start and don't go insane in the process, and yet feeling a twinge of "Wouldn't it have been nice if ..." (things had been that way for me).
This twinge must be suppressed until it is only a faint feeling of wistfulness. Otherwise there is a danger that senior faculty like me will get in the mode of "Well if I had to suffer, so should they" or "I'm not impressed with her because she didn't work as hard as I did when I was an assistant professor".
I don't see that happening, at least not in a way that people are willing to express openly. This gives me some hope that academia can change to allow for a better work environment and work-life balance: if we can overcome our urge to treat assistant professors as we were treated when we were at that stage, and still respect them for what they accomplish, we can make some progress.
9 months ago