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Time Available to Students

Georgetown, among all research universities, has an unusually strong commitment to the formation of its students. By this is meant a deep attention to the intellectual and field-knowledge component of the student’s growth, a care about enhancing their resilience to setbacks, a shaping of their values-based discernment of the best choices for themselves, and attending to their development as a leader in service to the wider world.

This takes faculty time – meeting with students, listening to their concerns, shaping their attention to the best ways for their own learning, coaching them in career and life choices, and supporting their research and scholarly efforts.

Such meetings, as well as classes, are the vehicles by which the role model of critical inquiry and research is communicated by the faculty to the students. In short, faculty are always teaching, whenever they are in the presence of students.

Of course, email and other electronic communication occurs 24/7, so that faculty can interact with students without being face to face. Much of the transactional nature of the relationship between faculty and students can easily be handled via electronic media. These include specific questions about course material and protocols. However, special impact often lies in the moments of face to face interaction – these are the moments that can be life-changing for the student.

On some campuses, there has been a confusion about the role of the student in the life of a faculty member. When faculty cultural norms evolve that threaten the integration of research and teaching, there is often a tendency for faculty to work outside their offices, advancing their scholarship in isolation of students. On such campuses, faculty office hallways tend to be sets of closed doors to empty offices. Faculty come to campus for teaching and a preset limited number of office hours to meet with students. Separating teaching and research cheats the students of insights into the life of an academic, with all the joys and sorrows of discovery and creation. Once again, when face to face time between students and faculty is maximized, students can see faculty doing their research and faculty can communicate their passion about their work.

At this moment in the university, we are all working quite diligently to integrate teaching and research. We’re called to do this by our students, who are increasingly asking us for research-based experiences as part of their curriculum. New course formats are arising throughout the university. These changes in pedagogy will increase the likelihood that our faculty can communicate their deep interest and passion about their fields of expertise. At the same time, students will be exposed to more role modeling of the life of the mind. Indeed, our hope is a new integration of research and teaching, viewing them as partners in achieving the university’s mission.

We have ample evidence that when faculty interact with students in the area of research, students learn more, become more excited about the field, and develop more critical thinking skills.

All of this, however, requires faculty and students working together. Maximizing the number of moments that faculty have in meaningful interaction with our students must be our goal.

8 thoughts on “Time Available to Students

  1. This welcome humanistic post reminds me of one of the most remarkable student interactions I had in a nearly five-decade career at Georgetown. One of the duties of faculty in the French Department is giving mandatory exams of oral proficiency for students of SFS, exams which students must pass in order to graduate. One particular Spring Semester, a concerned colleague sent me a student who had exhibited a severe mental block during her oral exam and was despairing of finding a solution. It was thought that involving her somehow in a performance-based theater class in French could help her overcome that block. Classes had already begun, but I agreed to allow her to attend. The play being rehearsed was a Surrealist-cum-Absurdist play that greatly tickled her funny bone and had her bursting frequently into astonishing peals of laughter. Taken aback at first, I found a way to integrate her into some related performance work in which her singular laughter was well employed. At the end of the semester, she sat once again for her SFS Oral Proficiency, with the self-same colleagues. This time, she aced the exam, receiving an
    ” A “, to the incredulous amazement of those colleagues. A surprising example of face-time changing the destiny of a student, the issue, that time around, being a deep-seated connection between the student’s subjective reality and the objective nature of the performance material.
    Years later, while in Greece, I visited Epidaurus, the famed open-air theater of Greek antiquity, only to discover, on the very same grounds, ruins of a temple to Asclepios, the god of medecine, which preceded the construction of the theater. The final touch was learning that the temple in question had specialized in dream therapy.
    Truth — theatric, psychic and pedagogic — can indeed be stranger than fiction.

  2. Yes, in my more-than-25 years at Georgetown, I have seen my department turn into an increasingly empty hallway to unoccupied faculty offices. A major systemic reason for this is that newer faculty cannot afford housing in the nearby area, and they are forced to commute from increasingly significant distances. As a result, they come in only on their teaching days (normally twice a week), and even then leave early to avoid rush hour traffic on top of their long commutes. It is unfortunate that Georgetown ended its mortgage assistance program (which admittedly was rather anemic to begin with). It would be a tremendous benefit to the student community, ultimately, to provide this kind of practical aid to faculty.

  3. Thank you, very important points as usual, particularly:

    “We have ample evidence that when faculty interact with students in the area of research, students learn more, become more excited about the field, and develop more critical thinking skills. All of this, however, requires faculty and students working together. Maximizing the number of moments that faculty have in meaningful interaction with our students must be our goal.”

    Indeed, this is true and this is our goal, and having our faculty doors closed, being away from face – to – face interactions, etc. does indeed hold us back with these goals as justly pointed out.

    I don’t honestly know what the challenges of other faculty from other disciplines might be in meeting this goal, but as a 20 year veteran of successfully mentoring many dozens of undergraduate researchers in my chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology research laboratories I ruefully admit that my office door is often closed, that I am often away from face – to – face interactions with my undergraduate students, and that I do not devote the one – on – one time to them that I would wish, as pointed out in the post. This bothers me. But, the simple fact is that, to provide truly modern, high quality research opportunities for my students, I must write grants. For many hours and hours, days and months. It’s difficult and time consuming stuff. Undergraduates imbedded in research experiences cost money. They are wonderful, and a thrill to have around, but in the sciences at least, the reality is that they break stuff. They spill stuff. Expensive stuff. They’re supposed to. A high quality science research experience cannot be timid, cannot be apprehensive, the undergrad must dive in and be bold. Try things that won’t work the first time (maybe not the second or third either). So things break. Supplies go down the drain. This is as it should be. It is the cost of doing business.

    Yet, in the 20 years that I have successfully mentored many dozens of undergrads in what is a carefully and lovingly crafted cutting edge research environment, no Dean, Provost, or any other administrative officer has (to my knowledge) ever offered to provide meaningful funding to cover the laboratory costs of that successful undergraduate mentoring. If undergrad researchers break equipment in my labs, my grant activity pays to fix it; there is no “college undergraduate research – teaching equipment fund for researchers willing to open their labs” that I know of. If they need supplies, my grant activity buys them. The best of these research gung – ho students actually make significant progress and accrue other expenses. If the research is good, then good for them ! But the price is, unfortunately, that my office door, and the office door of any scientist truly dedicated to the mission eloquently described in this week’s post, will be closed for more time than we would wish, until the NIH and NSF budget paylines somehow, magically, become a bit less brutal. The way things are going though, I would not hold my breath. If the institution seriously wishes to provide top notch research experiences for large(r) numbers of undergraduates, then a meaningful, realistic, and sustainable way to fund those activities should be created.

  4. Further musings from a retired literature / foreign language / performing arts professor, whose world view, challenges and preoccupations were clearly at some distance from esteemed colleagues in the experimental sciences : In a way, I think that this provostial post has brought us full circle from Renascence pedagogy, as expressed by 16th century Michel de Montaigne, who famously wrote that the purpose of education was to ” frotter et limer notre cervelle contre celle d’autrui “, meaning ” to rub and file our grey matter against that of another “, a proposition which a closed door to an empty faculty office renders somewhat intangible to say the least. He also, coincidentally, prefigured a cure for plagiarism, to wit : ” Les abeilles butinent de ca de la les fleurs, mais elles en font le miel, qui est tout leur “, or, if you will : ” Bees flit and feed from flower to flower, but they make honey, which is theirs, and not another’s “.
    The morality of this poetic gambit ? There may be a thought-worthy connection between meaningful face-time and source-respectful originality.

  5. Having attended Georgetown as a lifelong learning student, my professors here were either my age peers (a minority) or younger than me (a majority). From that perspective, I can honestly say that virtually all of them sincerely share the aspiration Provost Groves sets forth in this week’s blog, and try hard to live up to it.

    Three subgroups of them, however, have particular difficulty doing so because of the constraints inherent in their particular situations. The first are young faculty, for the reasons Professor Cho states. The second are those like Professor Roepe with significant responsibilities to obtain grant money for the University.

    The third are adjunct professors (of which we and our peers now have many), who because of their relatively low pay levels must, in order to make ends meet, teach large numbers of courses (often at multiple universities) and/or simultaneously have supplemental jobs–and therefor simply don’t have the time. [I exclude from this group the non-education professionals we hire as “professors of the practice” in various fields].

    Switching to a parental perspective, I find it troubling that a college price tag of over quarter of a million dollars (and the significant student and parental debt that comes with it for many) is not sufficient (at all these universities, not just Georgetown) to fund the level of student-faculty interaction Provost Groves rightly advocates. That is the very thing we think we pay for.

    Maybe we are getting resource allocation wrong. Many commentators have made the observation that our major universities are over-allocating to the administrative function at the expense of teaching and research. I don’t know whether that’s true. During my time on campus, I also met many very good administrators doing obviously important work.

    But I think we owe it to our mission to find out. It seems to me the time has come for Georgetown (and I’d say the the same for our peers)–under the auspices of our executive leadership and Board of Directors–to engage a top, outside and independent management consultant to review our operations and advise us as to what (if any) changes we need to make in this important regard.

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