Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I teach to go to meetings

I used to think my job was to teach, but now I think I teach to go to meetings. The meetings begin at 8;00 or 9:00, are shoe-horned in between classes and don't stop until 5:00 or 5:30, but many things are eventually getting done.

In General Education, we have combined a first-year Women's Studies course with English Composition. The collaboration of classes involves a Women's Studies and English teaching duo that further coordinates with another first-year course, in say, Nutrition, Psychology, Statistics or Climate Studies. The teachers and students in these courses make up a Living/Learning community, where we hope that by sharing curriculum and ideas, students will look for and find connections across disciplines. It involved a lot of planning, thus meetings.

Our Russell Sage College Curriculum Committee approves new courses and the changes to existing courses. We meet once a week. Our goal for the year is to continue the overhaul of general education at Sage. We have had the current curriculum in place for over 15 years and while we have piloted new programs, we have yet to formally make major changes. Students now take a "Chinese menu" of courses--two from natural sciences, two from social sciences, four from humanities and various cross-cultural and capstone courses. Our charge now is to look at what skills we think all students should cross the stage with at graduation and use that for our foundation of courses.

It only involves getting the input, buy-in and then approval of the entire Sage faculty. Simple, right? We'll see...after many more meeting.

Our Theatre department's new Theatre Institute at Sage is shaping up plans for the year. Meetings are being held to discuss making the Institute a resource for the entire campus. NYSTI was a great resource for our department, but did not often collaborate with the wider Sage community. We think it is important to begin sharing resources and ideas with departments like Education and English, to integrate and appreciate each other's work. All it takes is meetings to get it done.

So why am I blogging at 6:00 a.m.? I have one class and four meetings today. Add grading to that and maybe lunch and there won't be time for blogging later. I teach to meet.

Friday, September 2, 2011

So What Have I Missed...? (Part Two)

Our Provost, Terry Weiner, calls it "zigging when everyone else is zagging." I'll explain. Over the years, Sage has had less and less new faculty put on tenure lines, with the number of tenured faculty dropping at the college. This fits with the national trend for colleges to jettison faculty tenure lines for more adjuncts, lecturers and on-line classes. These options can more cost effective, but also reduces the number of faculty available to advise, do committee work and simply keep the campus humming.

During the last three years, tenure has slowly been restored to Sage. After six years, I was put on a tenure line and in February (gratefully) received tenure. Each year the numbers of both new and old faculty put on tenure lines is increasing. At the last Board of Trustees meeting, the Board agreed to allow Sage to become a more tenure-driven institution, meaning that campus-wide, tenure lines may be available for all faculty. After this year, faculty who are not tenured will either be placed on tenure lines or become "Professors of the Practice". The POP will be on multi-year contracts, with more emphasis on teaching and service and less research requirements. This may be a preferable option for a long-serving, untenured faculty member who does not wish to go through the tenure review process.

I think that this is good news for Sage. It should strengthen faculty investment in the institution and puts out a strong message that faculty work is valued at Sage. It bucks a national trend and that's always interesting. One thing I know for sure is that I'm glad I don't have to go up for tenure again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

So What Have I Missed...? (Part One)

Since last blogging I have bought a house and had a daughter--both activities seemed to occupy a lot of my spring semester. If I were a better blogger, what would I have reported?

Middle States Re-accreditation

When I got into academia, Middle States sounded like something from J.R.R. Tolkien--an underground world where an alternate society or civilization existed alongside our own. It turns out (alas) that Middle States refers to the academic accrediting body that visits Sage every ten years. It is not made up of gnomes or folklore folk, but a volunteer team of professors and administrators that examine every aspect of the college community. The volunteers read Sage's lengthy self-study and then meet to discuss the results. Meetings are held with faculty, students, administrators, coaches, committees, maintenance staff and trustees--no stone is left unturned.

It is a high stakes effort to really look at institutional strengths and weaknesses and prove to the accrediting team that the college is capable of continued success. A large number of faculty and staff worked for nearly two years on the self-study, which is Dostoevsky-like in length and detail--a real saga of Sage history, past, present and projected-future. Those who wrote this tome deserve immediate tenure, year-long sabbaticals or at the very least, a steak dinner. Due to their efforts, Sage passed with many "commendations" and only a short list of "recommendations" and "collegial suggestions"--all of which are beginning to be addressed by the Sage community.

I attended several of the meetings and learned how helpful it is to have total strangers both confirm what you already know and illuminate aspects you may not have thought about. The most ringing reminder from the committee was to continue investing in the women's college mission, where Sage's unique history sets us apart from other institutions. While many women's colleges continue to go co-ed, it will be interesting to see how this challenge is addressed at Sage.

What else have I missed? Next blog...Tenure at Sage.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy (Sage) Mother's Day

A Mother's Day story about two of my favorite women of influence.

From (story attached below if the link doesn't work)

Last year for Mother’s Day my daughter Eleanor, 1.5 at the time (with a little help from her father) gave me a Garmin Forerunner wristwatch, a running gadget that tracks distance, pace and time.

A simple gift, but it meant so much more. Since having Eleanor in October 2008 I began running for the first time in my life. My first race was with her in tow, being pushed in her stroller. As Eleanor has grown in age, I have grown as a runner. To me it represents the strong women I have become as a mother and as a person. Running is hard, it takes dedication and time, and being able to balance life, work, motherhood, nursing and all the challenges that come with being a mother, have all been obstacles I have overcome.

Eleanor, now 2.5 admires my running and racing. She comes to all of my races and cheers me on. It is a great chance for her to see men and women competing against each other, and for her to be exposed to women athletes. She is excited to run her first race (a kid’s mile) coming up this Thanksgiving, shortly after she turns 3. I want her to know that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to, like I, her mother did when it came to running. The Garmin watch it gadget, but the strength and dedication are tools I can pass down to her for a lifetime of positivity.

--Victoria Baecker

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hello (New) Theatre Institute!

The creation of the Theatre Institute at Sage has been well-covered by local media, including this very paper:

To add to that news, it is good to report that work on the endeavor continues well. An open house over the weekend yielded a great number of parents, students and teachers interested in the program's offerings. The Saturday training school will begin next week with a stage combat camp to run during the April spring break. Auditions were held last week for two touring productions that will go into local schools during May and June. Finally, an advisory committee has been organized to help the Institute plan for the future.

All good news for now. Look for the opening of Seussical next week, which will be playing through the middle of April with morning school performances.

In a world where nothing seems to happen too quickly, the good will and support behind the Theatre Institute at Sage has been a sudden pleasure.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Heiress Collaborative

Do you ever get tired of the sound of your own voice? I know that students get tired of mine. It's often when I close my mouth and allow the students their say that some very exciting learning begins to happen. Swallowing my pride, I decided to apply the same principle to directing and turned over the responsibility to the cast of The Heiress.

I did hedge my bets a bit, casting myself in the production so that I still get an occasional say. The process is new to me and imperfect, but we are finding our groove. The cast began with an entire week of discussion around the table, analyzing the text and characters to the point where we were nearly all on the same page. Together we also trimmed the script to keep its length under two hours. We are working on a three-quarters thrust stage, so each cast member is an "extra eye" on the seven scenes of the play, working with me to make sure that the staging reads to all members of the audience. Administratively, the cast worked with an artist on the poster design and put together a youtube video promoting the play. We are also collectively responsible for running lights and sound, assisting with costume changes and load-in of all physical aspects of a show, like a self-contained unit.

The Heiress is a perfect play for this experiment. It has a cast of nine, which usually gives us just enough people working behind the scenes while others are onstage. Were it a musical or more complexly structured piece, the collaboration may not work, but The Heiress is relatively simple and straight-forward. It has only a single set and two acts and falls into that category of play where it seems that people just stand around talking. It's definitely a challenge making that type of play seem active and the students are learning a lot about storytelling.

Leaders are definitely emerging on all fronts. Several people have stepped forward as strong directors, while others enjoy the more administrative and technical aspects. All are pulling double duty as actors, which for me has been personally stressful. As a director, your brain is wired to analyze and control the action, but as an actor you must let go and just allow yourself to be in the moment. It's not a comfortable combination, a tightrope of sorts, but a situation that I am definitely learning from. Sometimes the collective voice feels like too many cooks in the kitchen, while at other times it yields some very fresh results. Again, it is a tightrope walk for us all and one of the first situations where I find myself giving notes to (and getting notes from) others actors.

The Heiress opens Wednesday, February 23 - Sunday, February 22. For more information, go to

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snow Days at Sage

True confession--teachers love snow days as much as any student. If you don't have to be shoveling your driveway or raking your roof, then sitting around in pajamas and drinking hot chocolate beats teaching a class--occasionally.

Like everything else in the world, a good beginning begets a good end. The trouble with all of the snow days front loaded into the semester is that it has been hard settling into a groove. It can take two weeks just to learn student names, establish the tone of the course and get everyone headed in the right direction. A semester that begins in fits and starts really feels like it hasn't started at all. I'm still a foreigner in a classroom of strangers.

Not to say anything of meetings postponed, guest lectures canceled and work groups that still haven't worked. I am on a committee that hasn't yet met this semester, but we are communicating on an e-mail thread that is surely threatening a Guinness record. Reply all...reply all...reply all. Finally, despite the dedicated work of the facilities crew, it is extremely difficult to park on campus. Just the thought of going to work is daunting.

So, if the time off been in February, I wouldn't feel as disjointed, but I guess you take your jammies and hot chocolate when you can get it.