Chair Talk 4.1 Starting Again
The start of a new academic year is always exciting, but this year promises to be more exciting than most. I felt some of that excitement at the new faculty orientation the other day - a room full of fresh young (and not so young) faces that represent the future of the UA.
For the benefit of our new colleagues a few words about these Chair Talks. I write them sporadically to bring important issues to the faculty’s attention, and also to reflect on things going on at the UA and beyond. They will appear in your inbox as the spirit and events move me, and you can do with them as you wish. I am happy to get feedback, and will respond. One thing I will not be doing in these Chair Talks is engaging in political discussions. We are all free as citizens to say what we please, and we also enjoy the protections of academic freedom, but we do not have the right to use UA resources to engage in partisan political activity. In practice, this means we cannot use UA email for political purposes, and we should make clear when we speak in public that we speak as private citizens and do not speak for the UA.
To facilitate discussion amongst faculty about politically-fraught topics I have started and curate a google group for UA faculty where we can say whatever we please without using UA resources - if you wish to be added to this group just send your non-UA email address to my gmail account:
My comments to the new faculty the other day followed a robust Q&A session with our new President, Dr. Robert C. Robbins. Bobby, as he wishes to be called, has been here only a few months but has already brought a style of hands-on engagement to campus, and an easy-going accessibility that bodes well for the future. This coming year will bring change to the UA in many ways, including a new strategic planning process that will allow the campus to create a vision for the future that we can all get behind. But we will not be re-inventing the wheel - as the President made clear in his comments the UA is already an outstanding institution with very strong faculty. We do need to take a good hard look at ourselves, and ask how we can thrive in the current environment, but we will do this by building on who we are, where we are located, and what our core mission must be as a research-intensive, student-centered, land grant institution.
In that context I want to briefly address two issues that speak directly to our core values as an institution: our commitment to diversity and student success. I won’t repeat here the points I’ve made in past Chair Talks about diversity - interested readers can access those Talks on the Faculty Governance website. But in the current climate nationally it is essential to state that here at the UA we believe in and try to leverage the advantages of diversity in all ways. One of those ways involves insisting on respect for every member of our community, and for modeling that respect in the classroom, the lab, and every other place in which we work and play together. As it turns out we have an opportunity right away to do exactly that. On Monday, August 21 (this coming week) there will be a solar eclipse, which we will experience in a partial way here in Tucson. For many Native Americans an eclipse is of sacred significance, possibly bringing out negativity, suffering and misfortune, while at the same time cleansing the world with positive energy. Showing respect and reverence during an eclipse is very important to many of our Native American students and colleagues. Navajo protocol, for instance, requires a pause in normal activity, taking shelter in a home or building, showing reverence by being quiet and still, and abstaining from a variety of daily activities. Faculty can show their respect for our students and colleagues by accepting their requests for excused absences from class on Monday, allowing them to honor their cultural protocols during the eclipse.
Another core value at the UA is a commitment to student success. When a student leaves the UA before graduating with a degree that is a bad outcome, for both the student and the UA. That is why recent news about student retention is particularly welcome. As of this week, our first-time, full-time retention number is trending well ahead of the target set for us by the Regents (83%). This has been realized through a number of initiatives, and many of our colleagues around the UA deserve our thanks for the hard work they do in admissions, student support, and many other places. It is important for faculty to be aware of some of the things we can do to help: first, we can help students understand that the path to success is often not a straight line. Talk about your own failures if you’re comfortable doing so. Second, we can let students know that intelligence is not fixed - academic ability improves with dedication and hard work. Third, if you happen to have been the first in your family to go to college, share that with your students. It will make a difference. Finally, to double back to the issue of diversity, treat all your students with respect and make sure they treat each other with respect, too. Many students, particularly those from traditionally marginalized groups, report unpleasant interchanges that we should be doing everything we can to eliminate. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we do our best to educate the citizens of the future, and to make sure they reflect the values we hold dear.
Have a great start to the new academic year. You’ll be hearing from me — and I in turn look forward to hearing from you.
Chair of the Faculty