Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Goody-Two-Shoes, That's Me

Having just read Dr. Crazy's recent post on higher ed reform, and having also just come from the first day of our faculty retreat (via a colleague's house--sorry; I'm a little drunk; I'll try to make this coherent or at least typed well) has me feeling...dare I say, good about my dinky little college.

Here's what's what.

First, yesterday we got raises. Or rather, we had a meeting with the president and AND (Awesome New Dean, for those just joining us) in which the current financial priorities were explained and we got our new salary envelopes. Now, okay, our salaries really suck pretty deeply, and the board was recently made aware of just how badly off we all were compared to other institutions in our state. So it's not like we started off strong and this is just icing. No; even with my (quite modest) raise, I'm way below equity. But it's a start, at a time when most colleges and universities are doing no such thing. Moreover--and more importantly--full professors were given priority in the new salary scheme. Many of the fulls have been here for ages, working away for like $50k--more than I make (let me be clear: my salary still kind of sucks, like a lot)--but quite a terrible salary. And they got the big bumps. And this was explained to us, by rank, quite fully, such that I'm okay with my modest raise and really pleased that the college is looking out for its more senior folk, too--folk who, in this profession, could not get other jobs at this point and who could, therefore, safely be screwed over if the administration so chose.

Now, there's a more cynical reading or two of all of the above, but I don't think that there's any reason to pursue it.

Second: for like the fifth year in a row, our enrollment is at a record high. And, because we are tuition-driven and have NO endowment or state funding, this means that we're doing okay (by our piddly standards). Benefits are secure. All retirees were replaced last year and we have one new tenure line. Our new hires have stellar records and great degrees. And with the large number of new faculty that we've hired over the last few years, there's a lot of energy--a lot of positive change. (Our senior faculty ROCK, by the way. But many of them are tired. It's good to have new people to push us forward, too.)

Our priorities this year involve, essentially, assessing how well our curriculum integrates and advances our liberal arts mission. We have a lot of pre-professional ideology to push against, but I like the direction of our agenda--and that pushback is not from the administration, and that's a good thing.

And we discovered this summer that somewhere in the range of 60% of our first-year students are first-generation; it seems to me that this is relatively high for a SLAC, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it's good to know. It will surely affect some pedagogy, but it also has helped me, at least, think differently about our mission and what exactly we're doing here.

I hate to be a Pollyanna. And so I'll admit that, yes, this job is rotten on a number of days: we do too much, we are too small, and have I mentioned that our salaries are lame? But at least I feel like we're pointed in the right direction (and doing better financially than we have in a long time, apparently), and that everyone is pretty much on board. I hope that there are other colleges out there in the same boat, and that the outlook on Higher Ed need not be as bleak as it so often seems.


Maude said...

I like the positivity. Either a therapist or a psych prof told me once that I should force myself to wear rose-colored glasses every once in a while, that even knowing that I was forcing it upon myself, it would still go a long way toward helping with my attitude and depression. So I, for one, amidst all my gloomy-gus-debbie-downerness am glad to hear positive things going on! yay!!

And congrats on the raise!

What Now? said...

What a good beginning for the new year! Sounds like things are going in a good direction for the school and for you.

Belle said...

It's sounds wonderful. We too are at record enrollments, but (isn't there always a bump) too many are coming in on full rides and international enrollments are down >30% (they pay full) so we got 2% pay cuts after a couple of years of no raises and benefit cuts. But I love that you're feeling good about it - wine or no - and that so many first-timers are coming into a SLAC!

Sisyphus said...

Hooray for raises! And for plans to take over the world!

Hey, got any of those full-time jobs opening up over there for me? (she says waggling her eyebrows like Groucho Marx)

heu mihi said...

Sis--we're working on it. Seriously. We do need another person who would be roughly like you.... (But we also need a lot of other people, so don't get your hopes up yet. Rest assured, I'll let you know if we run a search!)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thank you for this reminder as our own semester starts (one week and counting). There is a hell of a lot that we could be negative about. In fact, the morale last year really hit bottom. But it's always possible to pick up a shovel and start digging, and I don't want to be *that* person. Work for better, but no need to exacerbate problems by making them the only thing we think and talk about.

You're my attitude role model.

Flavia said...

Yeah. We're doing pretty well, too--no salary cuts, no firings of staff, and we're hiring at least as many TT faculty as in years past. The administration is even going ahead with plans for a fancy new classroom building dedicated to the humanities (!), right at the center of campus.

It's not as if there haven't been lots of cuts around the edges, staff positions left vacant, or certain plans put on hold--but the message we've been getting is basically positive: that we expect times to get better, and are acting accordingly.

As you suggest, it makes a big difference whether the higher-ups have a crisis, lockdown mentality--or one of prudent optimism. Thanks for spreading more of it around.

Bardiac said...

Sounds great!

I taught at a ruralish midwestern SLAC for a couple years, and was surprised how many of the students were first generation. They were often fairly local and fairly hesitant about a big school, but the SLAC fit their needs pretty well.

Wishing you a GREAT year!