I’m a co-adviser for Mnemosyne, usually referred to by students as MAAZ, for pronunciation purposes. This is Richard Bland College’s art and literary publication, and I’m the adviser for the literary part. About 10 students told me they were interested in helping out. Last week we had our first meeting of the semester to talk about promoting the publication and getting submissions. After e-mails and conversations and students’ promises that they would be there, only one student showed up. One student.
It would be easy to put all the blame on the students. They definitely deserve some of it. But I think there’s something more, and it’s not just students. The lack of student participation at the meeting reflected a collegewide crisis at RBC: a lack of “community,” in the most abstract sense of the word. As a faculty member, I wonder what I can do about it.
Richard Bland College is a small institution in Petersburg, Va., with about 1,500 students and about 35 full-time faculty members. Small isn’t bad. We have small class sizes. If I see a group of students, there’s a good chance I know a few of them by name. Most faculty members know and talk to one another. It’s a friendly place to be; however, I wouldn’t say we have a “community” here, at least not a tight-knit one.
We have some faculty events on the campus—brown-bag lectures and that sort of thing. They are generally poorly attended by other faculty members. Some clubs with more student participants than Mnemosyne schedule events that are open to faculty members. They are only slightly better attended. Once or twice a semester, faculty members hold a pot-luck type of get-together on the campus. They are well attended, but there’s very little talk of teaching or scholarship at the gatherings, which usually come at the beginnings or ends of semesters.
Faculty and staff members get together after work hours every month or so, but, again, this is a social thing. When it comes to professional development and/or recognition, there’s not a lot of interest, it seems, at least when it comes to attending the few events we have on the campus.
I get it. We’re busy. Really busy. Most of us teach 15 credit hours a semester or more. Most of us are advisers. Most of us sponsor a club or two (or more). We also have a new president, and we’ve undergone some significant structural changes, which resulted in lots and lots of meetings, some of which have had their own attendance problems.
That is a short list of full-timer difficulties. Adjuncts share some of those issues, and they have different problems as well, such as sharing office space in a large, reverberant room, being treated like outsiders, and receiving low wages, all of which surely affect morale (not to mention efficiency, student learning, etc.). Time is an issue for us all. So is energy.
And yet sometimes it seems as if something else—something I’m not sure I can articulate very well—keeps us from getting together, if only in a hallway to talk about classroom happenings. It could be fear. I offer this as a possibility only because I’m afraid sometimes of seeming inadequate. Some former colleagues have told me that this fear is common among all teachers, but perhaps it’s heightened here for some reason. Or it could be a history of noninvolvement, created by the college’s past leaders. It could be the demotivation that comes when someone works hard for a long time, on an event perhaps, only to have it squashed by “low enrollment” or “funding priorities.” It could be something else entirely.
It’s important to note that I’m still a newbie here, so I just may not be privy yet to the kind of abstract atmosphere I’m trying to write about in this post. Despite what I wrote once, I actually have made an effort to participate in campus events and to be social, which is how I know attendance at some of these opportunities is lackluster.
I also get the impression sometimes—OK, a colleague told me—that my writing for this blog makes people hesitant to talk with me, maybe even near me, about campus issues, which is an interesting dilemma I’ve gotten myself into. This is to say that it could be me. But I don’t really think it is. And I don’t think this issue is exclusive to RBC either.
There’s no easy solution. Perhaps the administration could free up some resources to give us time and motivation. Certainly Virginia could make education a higher priority. As a faculty member, though, I can do something immediate. I can challenge myself to be more involved, to attend brown-bag lectures, to start conversations about the classroom—“Want to hear what a student said?” or “Guess what we did in class the other day?”
There’s not a lot of time and energy for such things, but, honestly, there is a little bit, which might be all it takes. The hope is that building the community is as infectious—among faculty members, staff members, and students—as the avoidance of it seems to be. Because right now, one student and I need some help with Mnemosyne.