Our job search closed last week with 26 applicants. The pool looks strong. It is encouraging to see that outsiders view UMW as a place where exciting work is being done vis a vis teaching and learning.
The next step for the search committee will be to review the candidates and select a short list to invite to campus. Before we make each of our choices, I think it important that we (the search committee) have a discussion about what we are looking for, what our values are. Think of it as calibrating our thinking before we make our choices. I have been on search committees where this was not done, and in some cases I had no sense of why people made the choices they did, which made the whole process less satisfactory than it could be. I believe strongly in working for consensus, rather than voting. We are, after all, supposed to be on the same team. The selection process shouldn’t be about winning or losing, but rather finding the best possible candidate. While consensus isn’t always possible, it is always worth working for.
Here is my thinking based on the position description. I ask only that my colleagues on the search committee keep an open mind about what I have to say and I will do the same for them.
My ideal candidate should be a leader, more than a manager or a technical expert. He or she should view their primary responsibility as building a community of thinkers interested in exploring teaching and learning through a scholarly perspective, colleagues who are willing to approach their teaching responsibilities with as much seriousness and care as they do their disciplinary scholarship. The candidate should be able to manage programs and should understand the technical aspects of in-class and web-based learning, but those aptitudes without leadership ability are not sufficient.
My ideal candidate should have experience as a disciplinary practitioner, consisting of a pattern or history of teaching and scholarship in their field. This characteristic is important for several reasons. First, the teaching center director is to be a faculty member, though one with substantial administrative responsibilities. Faculty members teach and do scholarship. ‘Staff’ members do not teach, and most do not do scholarship. This is not to diminish staff members, but to point out that they have a different set of responsibilities and a different culture.
Another reason the candidate should teach and do research is credibility. The Teaching Center is more than a place; indeed, at present there is no place! The TC Director will not be effective if he or she is perceived as an outside ‘expert’ whose job it is to fix what most faculty believe isn’t broken: their teaching. The Director must be seen as a fellow faculty member, a colleague from another department who has something to offer A staff member or pure administrator is unlikely to be perceived that way.
There is a great deal of innovative teaching and thinking about such at UMW, but most of us don’t know about all of what’s going on. How can we harness that? How can we build on what we’ve got? The TC is not about remediation. It’s a venue for sharing ideas and exploring opportunities. My ideal candidate would have a plan for catalyzing this.
The ideal candidate should be an excellent listener. They should be diplomatic. They should be respectful of teaching faculty. Teaching is perceived as a very personal thing, and at the same time, most teachers are apprehensive about letting others see what they do. Someone coming in saying, “You should be teaching this way, instead of the way you are doing!” is unlikely to be very successful. The ideal candidate should probably build relationships before they try to facilitate change.
The ideal candidate should understand the strengths and weaknesses of Web2.0 tools. The candidate should understand that many faculty don’t see those tools as having any relevance for their teaching, even while the candidate believes that they may. They should be able to appreciate and build on the work we’ve already done here at UMW with these tools.
The ideal candidate should understand the strengths and weaknesses of using a course management system, like Blackboard. They should understand that for many if not most faculty, a CMS is all the technology they think they need to employ in their teaching, and the candidate needs to respect that point of view. After all, all faculty were trained in their discipline but few were trained to teach and even fewer to teach with technology.
The ideal candidate should see technology as merely a tool to reach the end of more effective teaching and learning, not as an end in itself. They should see this all the while understanding that every teaching approach uses technology at some level, where technology is understood to mean tools and method. A blackboard and chalk is a technology. The candidate should rarely approach faculty to persuade them to adopt a new technology tool, instead they should approach them to help solve a teaching and learning problem or to make an existing pedagogical tack stronger and more effective.
This is my current thinking about our ideal candidate. I’m willing to be persuaded differently by others on the search committee, but only if they are willing to talk about what they think.
Postscript: A reader pointed out that Jerry Slezak might be blamed for these views when the author is me, Steve Greenlaw. Apologies to Jerry!