Li interviewd me on Friday for the department “oral history project” that Leda is spearheading this semester (mentioned in the comments to “Ghetto Talk”). I’m not sure where it’s going, what the plans for it are, but it was an opportunity for me to reflect on what I perceive in terms of present department dynamics and speculate with Li about possible meaning(s).
In my abnormal way, I woke up this morning thinking about it. 🙂
I’m wondering if we’re at or near a tipping point, when the composition of faculty shifts enough from “old hands” to “new blood” to generate the conditions for a cultural shift. Elaine Myers, in revisiting the instantaneous transmission myth of the hundredth monkey makes two points:
1) “The truly innovative points of view tend to come from those on the edge between youth and adulthood. The older generation continues to cling to the world view they grew up with. The new idea does not become universal until the older generation withdraws from power, and a younger generation matures within the new point of view.”
2) and “creating a new alternative does not automatically displace older alternatives. It just provides more choices.”
I don’t the median number of years our faculty has served (if someone knows or could calculate it that would be way cool, my guess is its at least around the upper teens or lower twenties), but there are people who’ve been associated with the department for more than 40 years! This is incredible, I think, in this day and age, and a tribute to the positive aspects of department culture.
Yet there are features or aspects of the department’s culture that really aren’t all that great, at least for graduate students. I know there is a calculus among faculty needs, graduate student needs, and undergraduate student needs with which I am not intimately familiar, but I do have a strong suspicion that improving the climate for/among graduate students will have not only a positive effect upon undergraduate education but also a ripple up effect on faculty.
Li and I spoke about last year’s mentoring project. The thread here includes some odd bits from me about mentoring in general, but there is a fair amount of discussion about the dynamics of international and domestic student interaction if one reads through and checks out the comments.
The memory I woke up with was someone telling me last year, when we were just getting the mentoring project rolling, that the climate of the department changed when international students started coming. I don’t the comment was intended in a negative, accusatory way, but rather that this person simply noticed that the culture of humor and practical jokestery that had existed for quite a while faded around the same time that the population of international students began to increase.
I’m not surprised, as I think about it, that humor was the “first casualty” of integration, because humor is notoriously hard to translate across cultures.