They’re here!

July 24, 2012, 2:31 pm

Just like the ghosts in Poltergeist, you may not see your new faculty, but they are around.

Just to remind everyone: those faculty members you hired last spring from somewhere far, far away? They are actually moving to your town, setting up their utilities and newspaper delivery (if anyone still gets a hard copy newspaper), working on their syllabi, and finding the closest restaurants/movie theaters/post offices/etc. They *and any accompanying family members* could also be lonely in their new place, if they have no connections to friends or family in the area.

I have had some horrible moving experiences and some good ones, and contact with the people from my new department made a real difference. In our first big move, we arrived in the small college town on July 4th weekend. Our new home–the first we had ever bought–didn’t have any working water or electricity, the former owner having them turned off, even though he told us he wouldn’t. After spending a night at a local motel that would take us in with our dog and waking up early to call for service, we waited in a very hot house for the movers to arrive the next day. It was miserable. Several days later, the sewer backed up into the bathroom, and we began a round of repairs of our poorly working facilities.

It then got worse for us, as we sat alone in our new home for more than three weeks. We unpacked boxes, watched summer storms blow by, made our way around town to Target and grocery stores, and caught up on previous seasons of the Sopranos… but we were lonely and bored.

At the end of three weeks, I finally called the chair of the search committee and invited he and his wife to go out to dinner with us. I admitted that we were lonely and needed some company that would get us out of the house! They were very gracious and turned the invitation around, inviting us to come to their house for dinner. It was a good time, and both the gf and I were so grateful to have someone to new with whom we could spend some time.

That said, it was the last invite we got until school began. To make matters worse, my gf left to return to school in another state, and it would be months before I received another invitation from a colleague to share a meal.

My next big move, to another small college town, was so much different. Colleagues contacted me from the moment I accepted the position. People took us out to lunch and dinner, invited us to their homes, and offered all kinds of advice, information, and support. One colleague brought over tools to help us install a washer and dryer, and another sent an information sheet with names and contact info for hairdressers, doctors, veterinarians, etc. I was so impressed by the welcome provided by these folks, I didn’t know what to do with myself. It really made an impression, though.

Now that I am in a leadership position, I try to remember how challenging those first few months in a new town can be, both for the faculty member and their family. I have been in contact with the incoming faculty members, making sure we had the dates of their arrival. We notified them about the upcoming university orientation for new faculty. I worked with our administrative staff to set up their computers and get them on the campus email, unit listservs, and the unit website, so that they could hit the ground running.

I also had my assistant send out a notice to all of the current faculty, letting them know when the new faculty were arriving and how they could be reached (cell phone & email). I encouraged the faculty members to connect with the newbies and do what they could to help folks feel welcome, like inviting them to dinner, drinks, a trip to the farmer’s market, an evening out, etc. If you can manage to invite the whole family, for those who have kids, it is even better.  (FYI: It is hard to find a sitter in a new town.) If you know when they are arriving with the movers, sometimes bringing a couple pizzas or a “welcome basket” can be helpful. It is nice not to have to think about cooking when you spent the day unloading heavy boxes.

I would also encourage administrators to plan several different kinds of welcome activities for new faculty. Work-based gatherings could focus on bringing them up to speed on campus stuff (i.e., how to get on the web-based course management systems, order textbooks, etc.), while lunchtime and after hours gatherings could provide informal settings for new faculty to meet the rest of the faculty and staff. Also, reinforcing the message “We are so happy to have you here!” goes a long way to the new faculty member feeling welcome. I have had newcomer orientation experiences where I got tired of the “Hello, my name is…” quality, but I always appreciated having varied opportunities, over time, to get to know folks. And even my more introverted friends are glad to meet people in their new towns, though they tend to focus on one or two people at a time, even in larger gatherings.

I am following my own advice: I plan to have a dinner with the new faculty when they arrive. This first connection will be followed by an off-campus gathering early in the semester for all of the faculty and their spouses/partners, so everyone can get to know each other in a more relaxed setting. I hope this will help set the tone for the faculty to be welcoming and approachable.

Last week, one young, single faculty member arrived in town. I invited her to meet me for dinner at a local restaurant near her home. We talked about her move (frustrating and difficult), things going on in town, getting a driver’s license, and places to eat and work out. We also discussed work-related issues,  including answering her questions about the way the university works and some of the changes going on in our program. At the end of our meal, she thanked me for “remembering her” and “getting her out of the house.” I hope that these little gestures help her feel valued and welcomed, and that she sees our school and our community as a place she wants to be.


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