“I will check with my colleagues across the state.”
I might say this sentence every one or two months to answer questions about how to accomplish something. The academic vice president of the community college in my state has an intimate group that meets once a month during the school year, and there is an email list where we can ask each other questions.
This is very helpful. Many of us face the same or very similar dilemma, and no one can monopolize wisdom. A problem that plagues one university may have been solved in another university a few years ago; asking the problem in a low-cost way can save a lot of time.
Massachusetts has something very similar, although it also has a group of deans. Each college will send a dean every year, and they will participate in collaborative professional development. There may be more helpful than here, because in Massachusetts, the faculty union of community colleges has a statewide contract. Everyone is dealing with the same contract issues. The contract here is local, but many challenges are still common.
Discussions at the monthly meeting regularly introduce perspectives that are quite different from mine. Even if I don’t find them convincing, I find them provocative. Perhaps most importantly, they assured me that some of the problems I faced were only part of the landscape of the industry. No one else on my campus owns (or owns) my job; I am surrounded by people who do the same job as me, and seeing some of the same things I see provides a guarantee.
Teachers have their unions, and colleagues from different curriculum areas gather to share common concerns. (NJEA also holds a statewide conference every year, so faculty and staff from all over the state can talk to each other.) But many people in administrative positions do not have a regular, structured way to talk to each other on campus.
Someone told me that for a while, part of the problem was cost. The campus must provide lunch, and depending on your location in the state, some people will have to spend the entire day. But Zoom has changed this, it has never been applied to email lists. Now, an hour-long meeting takes only one hour, no need to worry about parking or serving lunch. It doesn’t have to be as difficult as before.
If anything, the value may be greater now. With the decline in enrollment, there is a shortage of funds. Dealing with these issues in a way that still maintains our academic values is no small challenge. Cross-campus collaboration can be a low-cost, low-risk way to help everyone in a specific role understand the possibilities of that role more comprehensively.
Some roles already have kinship groups, such as financial aid directors and student affairs officials. But many people still don’t, and I don’t know why. Not even academic deans (here), although of course they can. Some of our people sent from Holyoke appreciate the views they have gained through talking with their counterparts elsewhere; I don’t know why this is not true here either.
Smart and secular reader, have I not seen any shortcomings in intimate groups? It seems that as long as we choose to try, we can get huge benefits at the lowest cost.