“There is more to life than work” – Gen X Faculty and U

This morning’s IHE brings us a report on emergent characteristics of Gen X professors, which brings some of the familiar characterizations of my generation into the study of faculty life. It turns out, for example, that we value transparency in the tenure and promotion process and the teaching component of academic life. Radical ideas!

As I read this report, I had two thoughts:

  1. this study seems somewhat “behind” the discussions we’ve had in the library community about Gen X professionals – likely because it takes longer to become credentialed and employed in an academic department than it does to do so in the library world; and,
  2. the fact that this study seems to bring key elements of the characterization of Gen X students into that of Gen X faculty members reinforces the importance of how we relate to the current generation of undergraduate students.

That is, if many of the characterizations that we (and others) have made about Millennial students and their relationship to the library (and, more broadly, to their information environment) carry forward in the same way, then we had really better focus our efforts on thoughtful transformation if we don’t want to read a report in 5-8 years telling us how Gen Y professors do or do not value the library.

Don’t use the Summers model of building faculty relationships

I once asked a librarian who was retiring his secret to getting along with teaching faculty. “Never criticize them, never tell them they’re wrong, do all you can to get them everything they want.” I nodded, but I remember being amused by what seemed to be an overly deferential approach. Of course there is a certain wisdom here, apparently not followed by the recently resigned president of Harvard Lawrence Summers.

Camille Paglia is no bootlicker, but even she notes Summers’ failures in this regard in a recent scorching editorial for the New York Times:

As president, he had a duty to research the tribal creeds and customs of those he wished to convert. Foolishly thinking plain speech and common sense would suffice, he flunked Academic Anthropology 101.

As academic librarians, we don’t need to be cowering apple polishers to have productive relationships with our faculty colleagues, but like Larry Summers, if you seek to form collaborative partnerships with them, you aren’t going to get far with conflict and confrontation.