Alongside all the other stuff that’s been happening at my university this year, we’re also changing around our organisational structure, moving from four Faculties to three.* That means that from this summer I’ll be doing my current role not only for Politics, Sociology, English Literature, Languages, Film, Theatre, Dance and our conservatoire, but also Economics, Law, Management and our Business School.
[I’ll pause there, as I’m not sure I’ve written out that list in full before and I think I might need a moment.
As you’ll imagine, there’s plenty to deal with on a practical scale, but let’s focus for now on the more cultural aspect of building a sense of a joint venture.
In a such a diverse and large Faculty, there are clearly both barriers and opportunities: part of my work is to overcome the former and exploit the latter.
The barriers are the same that I imagine you all face, particularly the indeterminate position of the Faculty, neither close enough to the individual academic to really generate a sense of belonging nor in control of the institution’s overall direction. While our Faculties have become more meaningful units in recent years, I’d say that most people still look to their department or school as a relevant unit.
Moreover, because we’ll cover the full range of arts, humanities and social sciences, anything we might do at Faculty level might as well be shared with the rest of the university, since we’ll have to operate at a fairly a-disciplinary level in our L&T development work.
But this said, the bringing together of all these subjects does offer a great potential for making something useful for colleagues. The new Faculty team has already been talking about a number of ideas to do this, all framed by a general intent not to just do stuff for the sake of it. This is an important point, because in the longer run, our best bet of building new ties and activities is to have individuals feeling that this is something genuinely useful.
With that in mind, one suggestion is to use our inaugural talk from the Dean (and associated drinks event) to gather ideas from staff. Putting whiteboards at the side of the room, we’d get people to write down what they see as barriers and opportunities for L&T (and research) in the Faculty, which we would then use to shape an agenda of events through the coming year.
Even if the list they produce looks a lot like what we might draw up, the framing is that it comes from them and gives them a sense of ownership. As a Faculty we demonstrate that we both listen and act on our colleagues’ input and we all get something that we asked for, rather than what someone thought we should have.
The parallels to classroom practice should be pretty clear here. By moving from a didactic to a dialogic approach, we’re tying in people to the process, which in turn should improve their engagement.
Whether this works I don’t know. Indeed, I’d hesitate to make any strong conclusion for at least a year. However, as always, I travel hopefully and I’ll do what I can to help matters along.
Deep breath now.
* – we’re talking about the structures, rather than the people, to avoid confusing American speakers.