I write this column at the end of the academic year, knowing when you read these words, the year will have concluded and summer will be on its way. But it is good to remember what the end of the academic year means for students and staff. April and May are rushes of deadlines and obligations, meetings and reports. It is both exhilarating and exhausting.
Faculty, too, face the rush of deadlines and obligations as the year ends. At Colgate, faculty members operate in specific and unique rhythms and engage in intensive activities that sustain the university’s academic enterprise, many of which are invisible to the alumni body or even to students and staff. It is important, I believe, that alumni know of these rhythms and the role they play in Colgate’s future.
First, through a remarkably elaborate set of evaluations, the faculty offer their recommendations to the provost and dean of the faculty, and then to the president and trustees, for those faculty who should be awarded tenure. Departments assemble dossiers for those faculty who are under consideration for tenure and promotion, letters from scholars from around the world are gathered, and student teaching evaluations are assembled. Each dossier is considered by department colleagues and then by an elected committee of faculty. Eventually the decision to grant or deny tenure is made. Few procedures are as exhaustive as this process at Colgate, as is also the case at other fine colleges and universities. To join a faculty permanently is the beginning of a scholar’s true sustained professional life, and it is a deeply important moment for the institution.
Departments that are searching for new faculty members often are completing the hiring process in these months. Each year, Colgate brings to the ranks of the faculty a number of new teacher-scholars. Colgate faculty will consider leading candidates for these new positions. Scholars from around the world are interviewed by faculty members and deans for days at a time. A small number are ultimately appointed to join the university’s faculty ranks. Years later, after demonstrating their teaching prowess and their scholarly contributions, these new scholars will themselves be considered for tenure at Colgate.
“It is through Colgate’s commitment to academic rigor and accomplishment, to inquiry in its highest form, that the institution becomes truly great.”
The final cycle completed by most faculty in the spring is the organization of one’s research program. For faculty, summer is a short, rushed time — the one true opportunity to engage deeply and without distraction in the production of knowledge. Through university and other sources of support, Colgate faculty travel the world, remake their laboratories, or settle down in the library for weeks of writing. The scholarly life of the faculty is renewed and engaged once again. The crucial months of April and May provide the final moments to set up the work of a productive summer.
As was recently stated in Colgate’s report to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, “Active scholarship … fuels the faculty’s enthusiasm for teaching in their discipline, inspiring many students to become involved in their own original research. More generally, to teach is to impart knowledge gained via such scholarship. …This endeavor takes different forms in different disciplines, but it always seeks to advance the frontiers of the field or provide new insights into old problems and dilemmas. It is, therefore, no overstatement to say that original scholarship is at the heart of this university; it is an essential element of who we are.”
I believe that alumni should know of these rhythms, this deep work of the university, because it is through Colgate’s commitment to academic rigor and accomplishment, to inquiry in its highest form, that the institution becomes truly great. It is through this work that Colgate’s reach and reputation is extended. It is also a fundamental part of the foundation upon which the university’s future rests.
In the years ahead, I hope to be writing to alumni about new buildings being built and new programs being launched; about admissions results and athletics triumphs. I hope to be writing about the bicentennial celebrations and how thousands of alumni returned to campus to welcome in Colgate’s third century.
But I also hope I will be able to convey the importance of the seemingly quieter work of building and sustaining Colgate’s academic enterprise through its faculty. To assemble a faculty of worldwide reputation, to support their intellectual lives throughout their careers, and to provide them with the tools to bring their knowledge and wisdom to generations of Colgate students is perhaps my most important work and the effort for which the university will be measured in the decades to come.
I invite you, in this issue, and in ones forthcoming, to learn of this faculty and consider their efforts. It is one of the most important ways we can understand and, importantly, sustain the work of this university.