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Self-care has become a familiar concept and an area of interest in faculty development and in student life. For many, self-care has become the substance of our reflections about personality traits that stem from our family of origin to concerns about longevity in our professional and vocational lives. The call ...
I came across a book during graduate work whose title still haunts me: When Work Disappears by William Julius Wilson (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996). The book is not without controversy as it argues how poverty came to exist in west Chicago because of manufacturing company flight. I am not writing, however, ...
Date Reviewed: December 10, 2019
Against the backdrop of growing debate over both the nature and value of higher education, David Cunningham and twelve scholars offer what they believe may serve as a “common purpose” – vocation. Along with the word, “calling,” vocation has theological roots, but Cunningham argues that a “more expansive” approach to the word “is attentive to questions of profession, work, and employment” and “encompasses a much broader range of concerns that will arise during a college student’s current and future life.” The writers of this volume do not believe that appealing to the concept of vocation will eliminate conflict swirling around competing visions of the academy, but they do believe that the concept appeals to both the roots of the modern university and the goals of faculty from across the academy (3).
With that goal in mind, Cunningham and his co-contributors divide their effort into four parts. Eschewing a disciplinary-centered approach to their work, they instead consider “four different pathways or approaches through which the disciplines can come into conversation with one another: first by emphasizing certain themes that are common to them all; second, by borrowing concepts from one discipline that can apply to many other disciplines; third, by focusing on the future lives of undergraduates…; and fourth, by considering some of the institution-wide obstacles that need to be addressed if the language of vocation and calling is to be perceived as relevant to all academic departments and programs” (14).
In a closing epilogue, Cunningham notes that the volume demonstrates that neither vocation nor calling exhaust the concerns that arise from their use in the academy. The words, “responsibility, character, virtue, mission, covenant, mapmaking, storytelling, performance, work, [and] leisure,” along with others, figure in the contributions to this volume (315). That should come as no surprise, he argues. From the very beginning, Cunningham commends a definition of vocation that is “capacious, dynamic, and elastic” (315, cf. 10ff.).
Accordingly, he argues that one should approach the issue of vocation prepared to use multiple vocabularies that reveal different, but interrelated discoveries. To have a vocation means that one is shaped by that calling (317ff.); that one is summoned “from without” (319f.); that one must decide what to do (320f.); that those who are called inevitably consider their link to the callings of others (321f.); and that they are compelled to think about the impact their vocations will have on the future (322ff.).
This is the second of three volumes in an ambitious and welcome effort to recapture the inspiration of vocation as a locus for higher education. The first, published in 2015 under the title, At This Time and in This Place, focused on pedagogy. The third, published in January of 2019 appeared under the title, Hearing Vocationally Differently, and expands on the vocabulary associated with vocation, relying on contributors from diverse religious traditions.
One may well wonder what the prospects will be for the project of this series. Embattled as the academy is – by forces both within and without – one would hope that scholars will find a common inspiration that will lend new energy and focus to their work. But even cursory attention to the debates roiling college and university campuses underlines the truth that “an optimist is someone who is not in possession of all the facts.” It is difficult to believe that disciplines that are struggling to define a shared vision of the work that they are doing could agree on a vision for the larger work to which the whole academy is devoted.
The task that the writers propose is made all the more difficult by the choice of “vocation” as the organizing principle around which they attempt to rally their readers. As Cunningham himself observes, the verb vocare is transitive (317). As such, it implies that one is not only called, but one is also called by someone or something. The absence of a shared understanding of who or what issues that call - if anyone or anything does – underlines how little shared vision may be in the offing for the modern academy.
For theological educators the answer to that question and others ought to be easier to achieve, but anyone who teaches in the modern divinity school knows better than that. As seminaries struggle to address declining enrollments, degree programs are crafted with an eye to the individual’s goals and the notion of vocation – and the spiritual formation that accompanies it – has slipped again to the margins of theological education. Where it still lingers, it is necessarily governed by private definitions. In the meantime, seminary faculties differ with one another as much or more on such questions as the faculties at any college or university.
The effort made by Cunningham and his co-contributors comes, then, as both question and indictment: What is it about the concept of vocation that leads even a small but brave cohort of scholars without shared confessional commitments to imagine that they can galvanize their work around the concept? The indictment is this: What are the factors that have relegated the question of vocation to the margins of the very institutions that gave birth to the vocabulary?
At the time of this conversation, Eric Barreto was on the faculty at Luther Seminary, but he has since joined the faculty at Princeton Theological Seminary. His teaching practice is informed by his bi-regional and multi-lingual backgrounds. The biblical text and the ancient world are sites for destabilizing contemporary notions about the stability of historical conceptions of the possibility/ies of living harmoniously within diverse communities.
The “I” That Teaches - A new video project that invites senior scholars to talk about their teaching lives. These scholar-teachers candidly discuss how religious, educational, and family backgrounds inform their vocational commitments and, also, characterize their teaching persona. From the vantage point of a practiced teaching philosophy we get an intimate account of the value and art of teaching well.
Click here to watch all episodes of "The "I" That Teaches" on YouTube
Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor's Life
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
If one were to ask faculty to describe the developmental continuum of an academic career, the responses would probably be structured along the titles that correspond to the faculty ranks of assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. In Mapping Your Academic Career, Gary Burge takes a different approach, examining how faculty careers are shaped by developmental shifts that occur naturally across an adult lifespan. His central thesis is that the development of most faculty proceeds along predictable trajectories that are related, yet not necessarily identical, to their rank. Burge identifies three stages of development in a faculty career, which he labels as “cohorts.” These do not necessarily correspond to faculty rank or age. Instead, they are shaped by: (1) a scholar’s perception of themselves, their career, and their relationship to their institution; and (2) the institution’s perception of the scholar’s career progress and value within the institution.
Consistent with other lifespan developmental theories, each cohort is characterized by a central developmental task or question, which influences the choices they make and the forms of support they need. For cohort one, which corresponds to the early phase of an academic career (or possibly a shift to a new institution for experienced faculty), the central task is finding security and vocational identity, with tenure or a long-term contract being the watershed. The central task in cohort two, the midcareer period, is success – that is, achieving mastery and developing a unique voice in one’s teaching and scholarship. For cohort three, who are typically senior, tenured, full professors, it is finding significance – determining their value to the institution and the guild.
As a newly tenured faculty member, I approached this book under the assumption that it would focus, at least in part, upon mapping the path to tenure and promotion; that it would discuss the institutional commitments and guild activities that would most likely gain the approval of promotion committees, provosts, and president. Burge’s text, however, is not primarily concerned with how to get to each phase. He spends virtually no time discussing how to get a tenure-track position, how to get tenure, or how to map your path to professor. Instead, he is concerned with the health and vitality of faculty careers and how faculty can successfully navigate the tasks of finding security, success, and significance. Burge devotes a full chapter to each of the three cohorts, describing the individual, interpersonal, and institutional characteristics that predict successful navigation of the stage. He also notes that there are “predictable pitfalls” within each cohort, which may negatively impact, and in some cases end, a scholar’s career.
Burge’s text is most helpful for mid-career and senior faculty, as well as for the administrators who oversee them. Because of the prominent role and impact of tenure, faculty development efforts inordinately focus upon it. There is little attention upon helping tenured faculty intentionally reflect upon their vocation, including their commitments to teaching, scholarship, and service within their institutions and the larger society. Burge’s text draws attention to the ways in which faculty evolve as they mature. He provides some insight into the issues that contribute to faculty members’ loss of focus or motivation following tenure or promotion.
A significant shortcoming of the book is that it lacks a sound basis of support. Burge provides no description of the methodology used to identify the cohorts. There is no interview data and little support from extant literature to support many of his assumptions. His analysis relies heavily upon personal experience and anecdotes, which he often interprets in troubling ways. While he tries to include issues of race, ethnicity, and culture, his handling of those issues is sometimes clumsy and shortsighted. He does not question or critique institutional structures or systems that hamper the success and vitality of female and ethnic minorities. He treats these issues instead as individual problems that are the responsibility of ethnic minority and female faculty members to navigate.
Still, Mapping Your Academic Career is a worthy effort and a helpful book that faculty and administrators should read. In it, Burge names what is often unnamed in faculty development. And while the book has little in the way of firm support, it provides a good foundation for research on the developmental shifts and challenges facing faculty across their careers