In my last post, I attempted to summarize what I thought were some of the most salient points of Karen Stephenson’s brilliant, complex, and far-reaching keynote address to Faculty Academy on Thurs. May 18th. I also suggested six possible “take-away” points for deliberation, which I intended to be a starting point for conversation. So stimulating, cogent, and compelling was Stephenson’s presentation that I’d like to take the opportunity to develop some of those “take-away” points in a series of posts.

What are the hierarchical and network, formal and informal relationships that exist between faculty? This question alone seems dauntingly huge, and can shift from dept. to dept., from committee to committee, and from year to year within depts., committees, and faculty governing bodies. One small piece of this pertains to the way in which hierarchical and trust-based relationships express themselves in the interactions between un-tenured and tenured faculty as they work together to develop and enrich the social and intellectual capital of the institution.

Relationships between junior and senior faculty may be articulated in (at least) the following ways:

1. formally and hierarchically (as when, for example, senior/junior co-teachers function in the classroom as lecturer/discussant; senior faculty has full control of planning the course, while junior faculty performs student assessment)

2. informally and hierarchically (I would argue that has the potential to be the most awkward one for junior faculty, because it “walks and talks” like a trust-based relationship, but is in fact an authoritatively-based one)

3. formally within a network model (I’m thinking specifically of fruitful and fully realized mentorships)

4. informally within a network model (junior faculty, for example, seeking occasional advice from trusted senior faculty whom the junior faculty perceive as “pulsetakers”).

So, across a campus at large, and even within a single dept., a junior faculty member may experience a wide range of authoritative and trust-based relationships with senior colleagues.

Committees, therefore, are particularly interesting, not only because they are cells of activity within the larger “sub-organization” of faculty, but also because there exists such a dynamic range of formal and informal, authoritative and trust-based relationships in the composition of each committee, and the composition of each committee changes every year. And, then, not every committee is equal either, in terms of the nature of the work it does, whom that work effects, and the points of contact it utilizes to complete its social, intellectual, and transactional obligations (the question “obligations to whom?” is another nettled and complicated question…). Because these committees perform a great deal of policy development and often work as ambassadors between a faculty governing body and the administration, the tacit relationships within committees can have far-reaching consequences (positive, negative, and mixed).

Navigating this nexus of relationships is probably something that some people do better than others, and here’s where department chairs who want their junior faculty to succeed can have real impact early on. Appoint senior faculty members who tend to function well in trust-based relationships to serve as mentors; in the absence of a formal mentoring system, encourage connection between junior faculty and trusted and trust-enabling senior faculty.

Readers, what have your experiences of mentoring been?