A Better Campus Community through Participation

communityRecent events had me thinking about PSU’s level of internal community engagement. In the past few weeks, I attended a first anniversary session for faculty, the monthly College of Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Research Brown-Bag, Second Thursday Social Club, my monthly Drop-in Provost Sessions, the Administrative Briefing, a “First Thursday” at a Pearl District Gallery featuring work of faculty in the Arts, and our Winter Symposium.

While a number of faculty and staff participated in these events, attendance was minimal. Even the Second Thursday Social Club that attracts about 100 faculty and staff each month reflects a small percentage of our total PSU faculty and staff.

Increasing Faculty and Staff Participation
Each of these events and other PSU events are occasions to learn about each other, the university, the challenges ahead, and opportunities. I have asked some faculty and staff why the attendance is low at many of these events. The response is often that people are “too busy.”

I get it. There are not enough hours in the day (or night!) to accomplish everything. I understand we all need to make choices in our professional and personal lives as to how we spend our time. However, there is a case to be made for greater faculty and staff participation at campus events. They are opportunities to create community; add quality and joy to our working environment; expand our knowledge; and learn more about each other.

Making time for campus events is like exercise. We know it is good for us, but we do not do it unless we make it a priority.

For those who could not make it, here is what you missed:

First anniversary session for recently hired faculty. As second- and third-year faculty, you were not able to share the positive and challenging aspects of your first-year experiences and provide suggestions on how to make improvements for fellow faculty members.

campus community

Professor Steve Thorne

Monthly College of Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Research Brown-Bag. You missed World Languages and Literature Professor Steve Thorne’s presentation, “Rewilding Learning and Communicative Action.” The 12 of us in attendance were treated to a terrific presentation. Professor Thorne’s interdisciplinary examination of semiotic ecology and linguistic complexity demonstrated the sophisticated interactions that occur in online gaming. His application of research to his pedagogy and his humorous delivery made me think: Who would not want to take a class from this faculty member?

Second Thursday Social Club. You missed opportunities to find out about the new grandchild of a colleague, a research grant a faculty member received, views about topics and comments at the last Faculty Senate meeting, and what kind of beer someone likes.

Monthly Drop-in Session with the Provost. You would have participated with a half a dozen colleagues engaged in a conversation about how we can address issues students have raised about inclusive and culturally-responsive pedagogy, course content, course materials and classroom climate. There was not agreement on everything, but the conversation resulted in some new perspectives and directions.

Administrative Briefing. You missed hearing about the completion of our Strategic Plan, PSU day at the Capitol, the Ballot Measure, the FY 17 budget process, and a chance to meet our new Vice President of Global Equity and Inclusion, Carmen Suarez.

First Thursday in the Pearl. Although not a PSU-sponsored event, First Thursday in the Pearl is an opportunity to see the work of our Art and Design faculty in a public setting and to learn about their scholarly activity.

Winter Symposium. Less than 10% of our fulltime faculty and staff attended the January Winter Symposium. You missed out on faculty, staff and student panels addressing academic breadth, equity, global awareness and well-being. You were not able to be in on the start of the conversation the Faculty Senate is having on “What it means to be educated in the 21st century.”

I do not want to come across as overly critical.  There are many campus events and I understand no one can be at every one. Teaching, meetings, department events, students, family and other obligations prevent attendance.  I also recognize the campus community contributions made by our colleagues who give of their time to service on committees and the Faculty Senate. These are important forms of engagement.

Nevertheless, I am struck by the low attendance at so many campus events that have the potential to bring faculty and staff from different disciplines and units together. I think we are missing important opportunities to get to know and interact with our colleagues, exchange ideas, foster interdisciplinary collaborations and learn from one another.

I am interested in your ideas on how we can increase faculty and staff participation at campus events. Please share thoughts below.


8 thoughts on “A Better Campus Community through Participation

  1. I think the culture around PSU is that attending events has to be done on personal time or be pre-approved by the department manager to attend during work hours. I think it would be helpful to have HR encourage department managers to encourage their employees to attend events and not have them feel like they are “skipping” out on work to attend.


  2. Actually, I’ve often been pleasantly surprised by how many people show up at events here in Portland. I guess it all depends on one’s expectations. At the U. Of Illinos at Chicago we had a much harder time getting people to show up for anything at all. Here, last week’s Gus and Libby Solomon lecture drew a large audience; today’s university day in Salem drew more PSU supporters than from any other university; next week’s MLK presentation’s 2000 tix sold out in 3 days; and last fall attendance at football games was the highest in twenty years. But it would be great to have more engagement and I encourage everyone to make an extra effort to come out and support your colleagues and our students.


  3. This is the same question that we discussed just yesterday at the Advisory Council meeting of the World Languages and Literatures, but in relation to departmental events. We did not find a satisfactory answer, but we will continue to explore the question. I must add that it is something that I noticed when I arrived at PSU in 1992. I remain stumped.


  4. I’m delighted to see that participation in community events is valued here, and appreciate the comments that note PSU’s already elevated level of engagement (Wim Wiewel), and the importance of support from HR and elsewhere (Tiah). Both of these are true: PSU’s faculty are unusually dedicated, and attending events can feel like a guilty incursion into “real” responsibilities. Dean Karen Marrongelle’s cutting short an all-CLAS chairs meeting so that chairs could attend the Students of Color Speak Out event is a wonderful example of how these work together: the chairs had already allotted “work” time for the meeting, the Dean signaled that the event was part of “work,” and I heard from several of those dedicated attendees that the event was a very important experience for them.
    We could really build on this by “counting” these events as “work.” As a member of my department’s committee to look at graduate education, I came across a university that counted “attendance at at least two department events” toward requirements for the MA degree. How can we reward this kind of community participation without expecting even more of our dedicated colleagues? Certainly not by ascribing blame.


  5. For me, it often comes down to not enough hours in the day or the timing of events. Many events are scheduled during times when I teach. For example, the Winter Symposium was 8:30-3:30 on a Wednesday, and I was teaching during 3 1/2 of those hours. It didn’t make sense for me to come for an hour, leave for two hours, come for an hour, leave for 2 1/2 hours.

    Evening events are hard for anyone with a family or children. Part of the compromise a lot of people make by staying at a lower-paying institution like PSU is the trade-off of personal time vs. university time. If my salary is going to be in the lowest 10%, then I am at least going to be home to feed and talk to my kids.


  6. In my view, participation in campus events, which for me most often involves attending public and different departmental talks and lectures, multiple working group research sessions, and co-hosting my department’s monthly Round Table research talks, is central to why I so love university life. Indeed, this is one of the highlights of the job as there are always things to learn — new contexts and processes of inquiry, analytic and methodological tools, theoretical frameworks, research literatures, approaches to basic discovery science and those that draw from philosophy or critical theoretical traditions, and perhaps not surprisingly, especially when I am listening to research situated in a discipline that is distant from my own, I often end up seeing new solutions to problems (and new opportunities) in my own research.

    As Maude Hines suggested above, for graduate students (and I would extend this to faculty), participation in research events in particular is an essential aspect of ongoing professional development (I have no problem requiring that grad students attend, minimally, all departmental lectures and events!). We all get better at thinking, asking good questions, and analysis/interpretation when we do more of it, as both a listener/questioner as well as a researcher/author/presenter.

    This said, we all have considerable work-internal and life-external constraints that limit our abilities to do as much as we might like. Some tactics I’ve been exploring include trying to attend (open) departmental lecture series in other departments a few times a term (and blocking these out on my calendar), or inviting a colleague to go with me to a talk so that I can combine professional social time with someone I know (or want to know better) with an opportunity to learn about a near or more distant discipline’s research culture.

    In the end, perhaps we might consider reframing participation in campus events away from descriptors such as “obligation” and even “work”, and toward the ways that attendance in events viscerally contribute to the on-going creation of an intellectually stimulating and exciting life, something that we all want and benefit from greatly (faculty, students, staff, administrators, as well as the PDX metro community).


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