Statements from Board of Trustees Plenary Session, Feb. 21, 2009

Lots of people are working very hard to figure out ways to get the college solvent and to keep it that way. It helps me to reflect on what exactly it is that we’re committed to sustaining.

It is the season of personnel reviews. On the faculty side, that means the third-year review, tenure, and promotion to full professor. In addition to CV, syllabi, and publications, candidates’ files include letters from departmental colleagues, from CC staff and faculty outside the department, evaluations of teaching from students and alums, and assessments of the faculty member’s scholarly work from experts in the field. Almost without exception, faculty under review also provide statements about their approach to teaching, to research, and to service to the college and community.

In these statements, they typically inventory courses they’ve taught, the articles they’ve published, their work on committees and in their departments. Often they detail what they’ve done to improve their classes, what they believe remains to be done. These glimpses into how individuals see themselves as teachers, scholars, and college citizens take the reviewer to the very center of what defines and distinguishes the college. They always intrigue me; sometimes they intimidate me; every so often, they inspire and move me.

Let me quote directly from three statements which spell out elements of excellence, CC style.

Lori Driscoll, assistant professor of psychology, on teaching

“Teaching is about meeting students where they are intellectually and developmentally, showing them how to elevate themselves given the tools they have, and helping them to recognize and develop tools they do not yet have. I use course rigor to challenge my students to learn the language and skills of science, but in a way that also implicitly exercises and hones responsibility, perseverance, and a sense of intellectual community … The developmental process inherent in education applies to faculty as much as it does to students. I learn something about myself with every class I teach, and I know that I am still becoming a stronger teacher. The first day that I have decided I have nothing to learn about being a better teacher is the day that I need to retire.”

Eric Perramond, assistant professor of environmental science, on scholarship

“My scholarship has always been and always will be vital to who I am as both a teacher and a person … I frequently integrate my past research results or insights, current research projects, and future ideas into my classes at Colorado College … I cannot rightly ask my classes to write a major research paper in a block if I am not doing the same in my non-teaching blocks and summers … My goal, then, is not to become famous through research, but rather to make our students lifelong learners and instill or reinforce their sense of curiosity.”

Kate Leonard, associate professor of art, on service

“The growing reluctance for college teachers, even at small institutions such as ours, to engage with the college in ways that compromise their professional development or private lives may be inevitable and may have some merit. Yet, I regret the loss of colleagues who stand ready to pitch in, without thought to their own convenience … Such attitudes once served to distinguish liberal arts education from large research universities … this contrast has blurred over time. These attitudes cannot be truly expressed in laminated mission statements or cliched campaign photographs–to me they speak most eloquently the excellence that has marked legendary and influential colleges … I strongly believe in a tradition of liberal arts teaching that assumes many quiet, voluntary acts making the institution a better place. These are done spontaneously, without thinking about recognition, calculating their value for formal review, and in fact often forgotten about unless recalled by others.”

I might cite other thoughtful analyses, with different levels of self-awareness and different slants on the different dimensions of a faculty member’s professional life. These in particular stand out for me because they affirm some basic connections: The teacher as learner, the scholar as teacher, the teacher-scholar as campus citizen. I am not suggesting that all faculty members do or should imagine their roles exactly this way. But when expressed in action, by respected colleagues, these values resonate beyond the individuals who hold them.