The University Record, September 3, 1997

Importance, value of teaching stressed at New Faculty Orientation

Monts said the bottom line is that if you do not teach well at Michigan, you won't get tenure. Photo by Bob Kalmbach


By Rebecca A. Doyle

"You will not get tenure here if you do not teach well," Lester P. Monts told the audience of fresh faculty faces last week. Monts noted that two years ago when he had faced a similar audience, he may have frightened a number of them with the same statement. But teaching is very important at Michigan, he said, and the bottom line remains that tenure is not awarded to those who do not teach well, despite Michigan's reputation for emphasis on research.

Monts, associate provost for academic and multicultural affairs and professor of ethnomusicology, spoke in answer to questions about the road to tenure during the new faculty orientation last week. The orientation program was sponsored by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT).

A luncheon was accompanied by remarks from President Lee C. Bollinger and Nancy E. Cantor, who assumed the post of provost and executive vice president for academic affairs on Sept. 1. Information tables ringed the walls of the Michigan League Ballroom, offering brochures and services from the many University units that support faculty activity.

Bollinger, reaching back to 1973 for his first college teaching experience, talked about the terror he felt when addressing hundreds of students for the first time, many of them near the same age as he. He also talked about his love for the U-M and the "essence" of the University.

"The U-M has a kind of seriousness of purpose that I just admire tremendously. It is more resistant to intellectual trends and fads than almost any other place I know. It has a capacity to nurture young faculty . . . in a way that is in the context of insistence on quality. The University of Michigan has a commitment to high standards that is unusual in the world of higher education."

Bollinger referred to help he had received in making his ideas coherent, orderly and well-formed, and said, "I just think that is a gift that the culture of the University can give you. I say that to you because I think that is our obligation and our responsibility to you, and it is critical to the institution."

Recently returned from a three-week vacation, Cantor said she had searched for inspiration about what a provost should say to new faculty members in the Leelanau Enterprise, a small newspaper in a town near her vacation quarters.

"I can tell you that the swamps have been drained and there are many fewer mosquitoes," Cantor said.

"Now, back to reality."

Cantor told new faculty that a commitment to one's own discipline should not preclude involvement in other areas at the U-M, and that collaboration and interdisciplinary studies were the norm rather than the exception among University faculty. She cited the Bentley Historical Library, Clements Library, Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the Media Union and the Institute for Social Research as some areas in which faculty could become involved outside their own disciplines.

"We believe firmly in both intellectual and social diversity because, in fact, it is what our mission is about," Cantor said. "Do it as a discipline area, do it as an interdiscipline area. Do it however you want to do it. But reach out and engage the institution and challenge the students to really think less protectively of their most valued attitudes, beliefs, sense of knowledge, views of what is real and what is not."

The luncheon address was preceded by a morning session titled "What I Wish I Had Known," presented by four U-M faculty members addressing their own Michigan experience.

CRLT Director Connie Cook introduced the faculty panelists. Their advice centered on leaving enough time for personal lives and not getting lost in the large and complex University system.

"Don't give away all the good parts of teaching to teaching assistants," cautioned Barbara Frederickson, who came to the U-M from Duke University two years ago. Teaching classes of 230 students for the first time, Frederickson had decided that she would devote more of her time to preparing lectures and assign graduate student instructors to take over the smaller discussion groups.

"After a semester of that, I was more burned out from teaching than I had ever been. I realized that I had given away all the good parts of the course that renewed me the most--having conversations with students.

"Build in some interventions to make sure you keep some of the good parts. Find ways to get to know your students," she said.

Mark Brandon, who has been a faculty member for three years, said he had heard the U-M described as "an aggregate of schools and departments held together by a common football team." He noted that the University is a large and sprawling complex. "It's easy to get frustrated and lost here, even if you have family to ground you." He cautioned new faculty to take time to seek out faculty colleagues to share ideas, to begin collaborations and to foster intellectual relationships outside their individual departments.

Edith Lewis, a U-M faculty member for 12 years and currently associate professor of social work and of women's studies, said that the most important piece of advice she could offer was "to remind you to keep a life." Often the race for tenure, demands of students and of colleagues, and perceived pressure to publish lead faculty members to give their entire lives to the U-M. "The saddest thing," she said, "is to watch someone give their entire life to the U-M and then have little to show if they are denied a promotion or tenure."

Panelist David Dawson jokingly maintains he has been at the University 150 years. He told the audience that the single most important lesson he could teach his new colleagues was that "the more you can see students and colleagues as people, the better it works. Personal understanding is important and worth the effort."

In addition to the annual orientation session for new faculty, CRLT offers workshops and programs to assist faculty members in advancing their teaching skills and incorporating new technology in the curriculum. CRLT staff also are available to assist faculty in evaluating current programs and curriculum.