U plays for keeps with new faculty

A summer orientation encourages faculty to integrate into the broader U community.

Karlee Weinmann

New students aren’t the only ones feeling lost on campus.

While faculty members might seem to have it all together in the classroom, the University offered its first new faculty orientation last summer to help establish a stronger link between educators and the institution.

In a Feb. 8 presentation to the Board of Regents’ Faculty, Staff and Student Affairs Committee, Arlene Carney, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, described the goals and future face of the program.

The Faculty Culture Task Force, formed to accomplish strategic positioning objectives, found many faculty members felt connected to their work only on a departmental level. Fewer felt an association to their colleges and an even smaller number felt a strong tie to the University.

“A faculty member who’s already a stellar person will be a more engaged teacher and scholar if he or she feels connected to the University,” she said.

Organizers divided the three-day orientation between St. Paul and the East and West Banks to acquaint new faculty with each campus.

Of the 96 new faculty members that attended, many arrived in the Twin Cities shortly before the August program.

At the orientation, University President Bob Bruininks and Provost E. Thomas Sullivan greeted attendees.

Faculty attended large group presentations, small breakout sessions and a University-related information fair.

Tracie Collins, associate professor of medicine, is a recent transplant from Baylor University in Texas who attended the orientation to meet other new faculty members.

“I really wanted to connect, and I felt like that would be a way to meet other people who wanted to connect,” she said.

Like Collins, Trica Keaton was not entirely new to the faculty scene before her current stint at the University.

She worked at Indiana University, where she said there was no such orientation offered.

“It seemed to be a really collaborative effort as opposed to being college specific,” she said. “It transcended the different kinds of academic entities on campus and all of those boundaries.”

Carney said feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, though some offered their critiques of the session.

Michele Allen, an assistant professor of family medicine and community health, said she didn’t participate in the orientation but perused the planned presentation topics for the orientation and was surprised at a lack of coverage in certain areas.

“For women faculty, balancing home, child-care needs and demands with work is an issue,” she said. “It’s kind of striking to me that none of the issues (were) really addressed.”

Though it wasn’t on the agenda, speakers did touch on those topics in the context of tenure.

Assistant biomedical engineering professor Tay Netoff likened his orientation experience to cramming for a test.

“It was three days, so it was super saturating,” he said.

Netoff said he felt increased stress from the orientation because it fell close to the start of the semester.

“It’s a trade-off,” he said. “The earlier you have it, the less pressure people will feel. The later you have it, more people will come.”

All new faculty members could continue sharing experiences and insights with one another at six luncheons scheduled throughout the academic year.

Since orientation, new faculty members have been getting used to their new posts, with continued assistance.

Karen Zentner Bacig, assistant to the vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, maintains an e-mail account strictly for new faculty concerns.

New faculty members can write e-mails dealing with virtually any concern or question to the address.

Keaton utilized the resource several times for general queries like grant information.

“It’s been like a lifeline,” she said.

Carney said this type of interaction and focused welcoming could ultimately lead to greater levels of retention of these faculty members.

“Just as we want students to remain at the ‘U’ and graduate, we want faculty to remain at the ‘U’ and become distinguished teachers,” Carney said.

Netoff said since orientation, he’s envisioned a future for himself at the University.

“This is the beginning of something,” he said. “Here is a community of which I am part.”