Universities exist both to create knowledge and to pass the knowledge won by previous generations to the rising generation. They exist for their students. And, in a very real sense, a university’s students and graduates embody that institution. They physically represent what that university produces.
But a university’s faculty is the institution’s soul.
Students graduate. But it is not uncommon for faculty members to serve 30 or 40 years. Collectively, they determine the nature of an institution: how welcoming it is, how innovative, how rigorous, and how outward facing.
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There are few jobs as interesting, or as all-consuming, as full-time faculty positions at institutions that value teaching. The best faculty members love their disciplines and they love teaching. To love a discipline means to practice it, to advance knowledge in that discipline, and to contribute to that discipline. That is a full-time job. To love to teach means to care about students, to be able to motivate and encourage each student and to adjust to the different ways in which each individual student learns. That, too, is a full-time job. A typical professor views holidays, when the university is not in session, as an opportunity to do research in labs or in the field or in archives.
Although faculty positions come with long hours, and the constant awareness — often hard on personal lives — that there is more that could be done, the competition for faculty positions is intense. And, yet, it is surprisingly difficult to hire first-rate faculty members. A look at the numbers reveals why. Each year the number of new PhDs in the United States in core academic disciplines ranges from a little over 50 in fields like classics or medieval studies or biomechanics to over 3,000 in psychology. This may sound like a lot, but more than half will not want academic jobs. Other jobs pay more and demand less. In addition, most of the more than 4,000 higher educational institutions will be looking for faculty in a number of core disciplines. So there are fewer positions than candidates.
The best candidates have multiple offers, and will look to institutions where they can thrive. It is here that the collective resources of the Cross-Campus Alliance and the academic community it creates can tip the balance in attracting highly desirable faculty members to our area. Faculty are drawn by strong students, of course, but they are also attracted by the prospect of colleagues in disciplines related to theirs.
This past year, for example, New College hired a terrific neurobiologist who studies how neural circuits responsible for vocalization change in the course of evolution. Biologists at the University of South Florida-Sarasota Manatee participated in the hiring committee that brought her here, just as biologists at New College had earlier participated in the hiring of the USF-SM faculty.
Each year brings an ever-growing number of new faculty to Alliance institutions. This year, there are 66 new faculty, including another neurobiologist, a specialist in motion design, and a nursing instructor.
USF-SM’s new hires include two professors specializing in information technology. They brought national research grants with them, including one from Google to train local high school teachers to teach Advanced Placement computer science courses.
A five-year, $750,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has drawn arts and humanities faculty at different CCA and community arts organizations together in four exciting interdisciplinary projects. For example, a project called “Art Intersections: Art, Humanities and Science” will involve faculty in art, design, behavioral social science and mathematics from New College, Ringling College and State College together with individuals from Art Center Sarasota and Realize Bradenton.
These projects are the tip of an iceberg. There are many others in the works. Faculty members are currently exploring the creation of courses explicitly designed for students at all CCA institutions. Coding, a skill central to much of modern life, is emerging in different areas at the CCA institutions, and we expect joint efforts here from our talented faculty members. This is an exciting time, and we are creating synergy together that none of us could generate alone.
Donal O’Shea is president at New College of Florida, a member of the Cross College Alliance. CCA is comprised of six colleges, universities and campuses with our own, distinct identities and offerings who share a common vision: to build an educational network among the region’s educational organizations that amplifies and expands learning opportunities for our collective 18,000 students and the communities that surround us. Learn more at crosscollegealliance.org