From the Editor: The Professional Nitty Gritty

By Aaron Barlow

While we may wish to spend our time pondering academic freedom, new means of scholarship, philosophies of shared governance, and other grand questions surrounding higher education in the twenty-first century, our daily lives as faculty members are spent mostly among the trees, where we actually toil. It is there that we find the paths that lead us to understanding of the forest. Our work is certainly not divorced from our philosophizing. However, we often forget to mention, when we finally reach a promontory where we can see over the trees, just how it is we got there.

Whether we are tenured senior faculty members, probationary for tenure, or teaching on contingent lines, we have spent years preparing for the work we are doing, and we continue to develop our courses, our institutions, and our own knowledge. Rare is that academic who does no more than recycle past syllabi, who teaches on autopilot, who sleeps through department meetings, and whose reputation rests on scholarship of the distant past. It is not impossible to find a person who fits this description, but, for the most part, the stereotype is far from the truth. Faculty members are dedicated to their jobs, working long hours and frequently stepping beyond duties required of them. Adjunct or “distinguished professor,” we are all professionals. 

This issue of Academe starts among the trees of academia, though the essays do rise, at points, to survey the broader picture. The first essay, by Julie Vargas, focuses on the work and study that needs to go into digital educational tools before they can serve us effectively. Here, as elsewhere, it helps to know what we are doing before we start—and it helps to know what was learned in the past. Jonathan Rees looks at digital tools as well, but he warns that we should be paying attention to their implications for the future. 

Joseph A. Raelin and June Kevorkian show us what can be done when we begin to look beyond the boundaries of our own institutions, while Michael McDevitt speaks to the implications of actions within an institution. We act in concert even when we act alone. Carol Colatrella follows with an essay showing another kind of connection, this time between disciplines and discipline types. 

Alisa and Noah Roost, by focusing on the needs of veterans, remind us that we must be thinking constantly about where our students start: we can assume little about their backgrounds and the skills and weaknesses they bring to the classroom. Sometimes, too, we need to think more carefully about what we bring to the classroom. J. Elizabeth Miller and Peter Seldin examine faculty evaluations, wondering if they actually can help us improve our teaching. We tend to be uneasy about being evaluated for “collegiality,” but we need to acknowledge that at times we encounter behavior that can only be described, according to Clara Wajngurt, as bullying.  

The two online-only articles in the electronic edition of this issue relate directly to two in the print magazine. The first, an article by Liz Fayer, Garreth Zalud, Mark Baron, and Cynthia M. Anderson, examines the underrepresentation of women in the sciences and complements Carol Colatrella’s article. The second, by Barb Holdcroft, builds on Clara Wajngurt’s article by discussing bullying behaviors of students.