Faculty orientation revamped

Though there were no hiking boots or FroCo ice cream socials, new faculty members across the University experienced their own version of “Camp Yale” this year.

Before most students arrived back in New Haven this fall, 64 new faculty members took part in a revamped two-day orientation program on Aug. 20 and 21. Provost Benjamin Polak said the University “experimented” with the format of faculty orientation this year in an effort to emulate the success of Yale’s freshman orientation program and prepare new professors for life at Yale and in New Haven. This year’s orientation, which was extended to two days instead of one, featured new workshops on topics such as Yale’s library system and teaching methods. New professors interviewed said the program provided a helpful introduction to the University.

“Whether a person chooses to stay at Yale or not, their time at Yale should be formative — it should be the kind of experience as a faculty member that really helps them launch their career, hopefully here,” said associate provost Jim Antony, who organized the new orientation. “This is one of those inaugural types of act that I think sets that tone.”

Antony said one popular addition was a panel entitled “Understanding Review, Promotion and Leaves,” which gave a detailed overview of Yale’s tenure process, which was overhauled in 2007. Yale College Dean Mary Miller, who helped lead a panel for new professors in the arts and humanities, said the orientation sought to “demystify” processes at Yale that can be confusing or daunting to new faculty members.

This year’s orientation also placed a greater emphasis on teaching practices. Bill Rando, director of the Yale Teaching Center, helped lead several workshops that discussed topics including syllabus writing, Yale’s grading system and library and collection resources.

Rando said both he and Antony hope to broaden the scope of the workshops to emphasize different techniques to enhance classroom teaching in future years.

“We want to prepare people for shopping period and the role of the deans and all of that … but what we really want to do is start a conversation about effective teaching, and so I think we should focus more of our time on that,” Rando said. “I think it’s important to start off a faculty member’s experience with a focus on teaching because a lot of these folks love to teach, and everybody who teaches wants to be a good teacher.”

Though Antony said he is just beginning to review feedback from orientation participants, he said next year the orientation might include more information about Yale’s online resources and technological capabilities that can be utilized in the classroom.

Antony said the orientation aimed to foster community both within the cohort of new faculty and to build relationships between those arriving on campus for the first time and current faculty members and administrators.

“A lot of time when junior faculty come to new place, they’re really anxious,” Antony said. “To sit down and hear from people who have been successful here talk about loving the place and loving students, that sends a really great message.”

Daniel Greco, a new philosophy professor, said the orientation program gave him a chance to meet new faculty in other departments with whom he would not have interacted otherwise.

Music professor Rebekah Ahrendt, who also joined the faculty this fall, said she particularly enjoyed the sessions on teaching. A lot of professors feel nervous about stepping into an unfamiliar classroom, she said, adding that it was helpful to learn about Yale policies on syllabi and shopping period ahead of time.

“The panelists discussed a lot of aspects of undergraduate life that might be particular to Yale that it’s good for us to learn about and familiarize ourselves with so we can also support the students,” said Anne Eller, a new history professor.

Eller said Yale’s faculty orientation was similar to that of the University of Connecticut, where she taught prior to coming to Yale.

“Schools have their own philosophies and approaches, and [an orientation program] helps you feel like part of the university,” she said.

Thirty-seven of the orientation attendees were new tenured or tenure-track professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and 27 were non-ladder faculty or faculty in the professional schools.

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