Humility as essential to faculty success

Rob Jenkins, an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College,* proposes The Five Characteristics of Successful New Faculty Members.  The first one on his list is humility, which includes the importance of seeking out an experienced faculty mentor.

You might be surprised at how many new hires show up believing they’re smarter than their colleagues, or thinking they already know more about how the institution ought to function than do people who have been there 20 years.

You should assume that, as a rookie, you know nothing about the culture of the institution or the way it runs, much less the way it ought to run. Spend the first few months watching and listening to the people around you, observing how they conduct themselves and how others respond to them. From that you will learn much about how to behave—and how not to.

Seek out an experienced faculty mentor, someone who’s been at the college at least three or four years. Avoid members of the “old guard” who appear jaded, disillusioned, and burned out; you don’t want their attitudes to rub off on you. Look for someone who knows the ropes but hasn’t yet considered using them to hang himself/herself.

(Note: Your department chair may assign you a mentor, but if that relationship is unsatisfactory, feel free to seek out another one on your own. You may very well start with a mentor and end up with a friend.)

What do you think?  Is humility the most essential feature of becoming successful as a new faculty member?  How have you seen humility taught/understood, learned, and/or lived out in higher education?  Note:  For the rest of Jenkins’ list visit The Five Characteristics of Successful New Faculty Members.

*Another one of his articles is highlighted in the ESN post Dumbledore as a model admin?

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Clint commented on September 17, 2009 Reply

    Pfft. I already know everything.

    Mike Austin commented on September 28, 2009 Reply

    I think humility is one of the key virtues missing in much of academia. Anyone who has been to a committee meeting will likely have evidence of this. I am sometimes amazed at what pride will make people do or say–myself, included, I suppose, as this is the humble thing to say;). This is a virtue I’ve studied recently, as I’m a moral philosopher, and I think it is essential to success, if we define that as flourishing and contributing to the common good of the university.

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