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Beyond the bounds of the classroom

by | Feb 28, 2017 | Campus | 0 comments

As students wander the halls of their universities, it’s nearly impossible for them to go without seeing an advertisement for an event put on by a campus club or a service offered by their students’ association. Student life centers on academics, but involved students take on the sometimes Herculean task of expanding beyond their studies, and they do so largely on their
own time.

Likewise, involved faculty work tirelessly outside of the classroom to ensure a successful, sustainable student experience for those who cross the thresholds of their universities.

While student leaders might prefer to get involved through volunteering for events and campaigns, faculty involvement can look very different.

For professors at MacEwan University, this involvement — or “service”, as it is commonly called by faculty — takes the form of administrative tasks that are built into the role of continuing faculty. “Continuing faculty” refers to faculty who are at MacEwan on a long-term basis, as opposed to sessional faculty who work on a term-to-term contractual basis.

Paul Martin, MacEwan’s faculty development coordinator at the Centre for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFÉ) and an instructor in the English department at the university, said faculty involvement can range from sitting on department or university-wide committees to taking on heavier tasks, like chairing departments.

According to Martin, service is not something that is expected of sessional faculty, but a certain degree of service is indeed required for continuing faculty.

Martin stated that at MacEwan, sessional faculty largely outnumber continuing faculty, which has implications where service work is concerned. Martin said because sessional faculty are not expected to perform service work, a large load of work is left to be completed by continuing faculty.

“A lot of that (service) work winds up being done by a fairly small number of people,” he said.

Unlike students who might be volunteering their time for causes within the university community, service work is something that is built into the role of continuing faculty, and Martin estimates that about 20 per cent of their time is dedicated to it.

“For most people, it’s just part of their regular job … so they sort of have to fit all that in within their teaching load,” he said. He added that research is another aspect of work life that faculty must balance with service and teaching.

As a philosophy professor and the chair of the humanities department at MacEwan, Edvard Lorkovic is no stranger to balancing the demands of service or administrative work while teaching.

Lorkovic said service work is a common expectation from continuing faculty at most universities, though there is no set, tangible list of expectations that faculty are asked to meet.

“I’m not sure there is a very clear … threshold that everyone is expected to reach and not pass,” Lorkovic said.

“If one were really looking at all faculty members, you would notice a rather wide range of amounts and degree of service.”

Lorkovic said service work is not an addition to the responsibilities of faculty. Rather, it’s part of the job, adding that the role of professor is multidimensional and captures more than just lecturing in a classroom.

“I don’t know a single university that doesn’t expect some amount of service,” he said.

“Service to the community is a way of thinking about it. Scholars are not just teachers; they are sort of this whole package.”

He added that it’s imperative universities make sure these tasks are not being passed onto sessional faculty, who are not contractually obligated to provide the university with service work.

‘We’re better today than we might’ve been a decade ago, and hopefully a decade from now, we’ll be even better off.’

-Edvard Lorkovic

“Sessional faculty are not expected or required to do anything that we would call service. A number of them, out of goodwill, do,” he said. “We don’t want to exclude somebody from activities that they want to engage in … but it’s also really important to make it clear that we would never hold non-participation against anyone.”

It can be somewhat unclear, however, just how beneficial this kind of work is for students — if at all. Are faculty being made to carry out administrative tasks that take away from time that would be better spent educating students?

Lorkovic and Martin agree this is not the case, and that service work is complementary to life in the classroom. Both believe the involvement of faculty in the university’s decision-making processes is ultimately beneficial to students.

“It’s important for the students, and I think it’s also important for the institution, that we have faculty members at the table, really being an active part of the governance structure of the institution,” Martin said.

He added that in a room full of decision-makers, faculty members can act as champions for student interests, guiding the institution in a direction that best facilitates the success of students.

“The people who are the strongest advocates for students coming first are often the faculty themselves,” Martin said, referencing the “students first” pillar under which MacEwan operates.

“I’ve certainly been in meetings where I’ve seen faculty make that point,” he added.

For Lorkovic, faculty involvement allows the university to better plan for achieving long-term goals. While students might be at MacEwan for an average of four to six years, faculty will remain for decades, providing insight into the past and using that experience to shape the future of the institution.

Although service work and classroom duties can go hand-in- hand, it’s still important for faculty to be able to manage their multitude of duties.

“It can be difficult to strike a balance, but I imagine that’s not true just of academics,” Lorkovic said, adding that, like students, faculty sometimes struggle to fit all the pieces together.

“There are times in a semester, or times in one’s career, where it is harder to strike something that looks like a good balance, but thankfully it’s … not a challenge all the time,” Lorkovic added.

“There are days when some task of mine takes me away from some other task, but I think that in the end, they do complement each other.”

Lorkovic believes MacEwan has made strides in managing the gap between the administrative and academic sides of university life — noting that sometimes the two are inseparable — but there remains work to be done.

“We’re better today than we might’ve been a decade ago,” he said, “and hopefully a decade from now, we’ll be even better off.”

Cover illustration by Alley MacLean.

Parvin Sedighi

The Griff


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