Be personal advocates for higher education, Folkins tells new faculty

At the annual luncheon Aug. 9, the University welcomed about 50 new faculty members, including two new deans: Dr. Wayne Unsell, of the College of Technology, and Dr. Rodney Rogers, of the College of Business Administration.

Because “there’s a lot about higher education that the public doesn’t understand,” resulting in inaccurate stereotypes of faculty members and a climate of distrust—and in light of the current challenges to education funding and academic freedom—“we need to improve how we communicate with the public in many ways,” Provost John Folkins told the group.

One way is on a very casual, individual level, when faculty members are asked what they do. Folkins advised the faculty to develop an “elevator speech” to describe their teaching and research. “Don’t be aloof and waste this powerful opportunity to tell people what you do and why it’s important,” he said.

Like an elevator ride, the description should be short, he said. It should also be in layman’s terms that cover the central points without being too general. “Understanding is the goal—not showing off,” he said. “If we can’t explain what we do, how can we be seen as effective teachers?

“Make it relevant,” he went on. “Tie what you’re doing to making a better world. Whether we’re in basic, applied or engaged scholarship, we’re doing our work to make an impact.”

And while not taking yourself too seriously, Folkins said, make sure to convey why the work is important. With such strong competition for resources today, “we need to stand up and take credit for our contributions.”

August 14, 2006