• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Scholars’ Day

Offering a nifty idea for other campuses to try.

May 16, 2022
 
 

I don’t know how many other community colleges do this, but I highly recommend it.

For most of the last several years, we’ve had Scholars’ Day on the day after graduation. Graduation is usually on a Thursday, so that typically puts Scholars’ Day on Friday. This year it was on Friday the 13th, which seemed in keeping with its recent history: a couple of years ago, we had to cancel it due to a gas leak on campus. Later, of course, it was pre-empted by the COVID closure. Even this year we had a hiccup, but we were able to get past it.

The format is simple enough. It’s akin to an academic conference, except that all of the speakers are people who work here. Folks give presentations on their research, their teaching or even their pet interests. It’s open to faculty and staff, and everybody is allowed to attend whichever sessions they want.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

Part of the joy of it comes from knowing that we just had graduation; it’s the unofficial start of summer. Another part comes from watching people present on the things they’re proud of. In my role, I don’t often get to see faculty in their natural habitat, doing what they’re paid to do. But on Scholars’ Day, I get to see their presentation skills in full bloom. It’s heartening. I also like the positive message that the format sends: expertise doesn’t always have to be imported. We have some very smart people, with important things to say, right here. That may be a daily message at research universities, but it’s often neglected at community colleges.

This year we held Scholars’ Day on Zoom, which seemed excessive until it suddenly didn’t. I hadn’t really thought about it, but one of the benefits of Zoom is that everybody can actually see the slide decks. In classrooms, that isn’t always true. One presentation in particular took advantage of the affordances of the format to build in clips from the Star Wars movies, casting commercial publishers as the Evil Empire and OER as the Rebellion. I’ll admit getting a kick out of that one.

Community colleges generally don’t subscribe to the publish-or-perish system. But that doesn’t mean people here don’t have scholarly interests and talents. Sharing them with colleagues sets a wonderfully positive tone to end the academic year.

The topics are chosen by the participants themselves, and there are usually enough concurrent sessions running at a given time that it’s easy to find something of interest. That contrasts nicely with the traditional model of professional development via a single guest speaker for the entire campus. Typically, the speaker is good, but the topic is of interest only to some. (I’ve also seen some cringey mismatches of speaker to context, as when the guest assumes that we have university-level resources available. Those moments can be demoralizing.)

The good news is that a day like this can be very inexpensive. It’s held on campus, so there’s no issue of airfare or hotel stays. We already have the rooms, so we don’t have to rent a facility. (If it’s on Zoom, that’s even easier.) Keeping it relatively short—something like 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.—tends to ensure good attendance.

I can’t take credit for the idea, having inherited it upon my arrival, but I strongly encourage other places to give it a try. It’s one of the least expensive, highest-payoff professional development days you can do, and it’s a morale booster, too. Highly recommended.

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