Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Retaining Master Jugglers

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Retaining Master Jugglers

Article excerpt

Last week I got an e-mail from a young sister who is in her first year of university teaching. Curiously, the e-mail was time-stamped 2 a.m. Poignantly, it was a shout for help and advice.

"How do I handle all of the demands on my time?" sister asked.

Her note described a schedule that brimmed over with responsibilities -- three classes a semester, preparation and research, faculty advising, community service. Active in her church and in civic organizations, and one of only three Black faculty females on her campus, she says she finds herself stretched in too many directions.

"Black students from all disciplines come to see me with issues, problems, and concerns. My department wants me to serve on campus committees. I'm from this community, so I get lots of requests to speak at events and meetings. And I am determined to publish, determined to get tenure. Where do I find the time?"

I'm not noted for having an abundance of balance in my own space. I've spent much of my time burning the candle at both ends, and being stretched between deadlines. So I'm hardly qualified to offer advice about balance -- except to say, read Iyanla Vanzant, take a deep breath, prioritize.

Still, the e-mail reminded me of a conversation I had with a student who was bitterly critical of an African American faculty member who had not taken the time to meet with her.

"I can't meet during his office hours, and you would think he would make another time," the testy student told me.

In a few minutes, I was able to determine that the student simply wanted to know the famous Black man whose presence on her campus was an affirmation that she too could make it in academe. She was taking none of his classes, and wasn't even in the same field. Still, she felt he ought to make time for her simply because they were both African American.

I have sympathy for the student. But I have sympathy for the faculty member, as well. Too many of the 26,000 African Americans who teach on our nation's college campuses are masterful juggles who are often required to meet the many expectations of their various constituencies. Their first allegiance, of course, is to the students they teach each semester, and to their past students who tug with requests for recommendations and advice. After that, though, how is one to prioritize requests from departments, campus, and community? How responsible is one to be a role model for every African American on campus? How much help can a burnt-out faculty member offer anyone? And if one doesn't publish at the expected level, how much help can an out-of-work faculty member offer?

The juggling act is one that nonminority faculty have difficulty understanding. But then, they aren't viewed as representatives and role models for their race -- although women are sometimes placed in a similar gender position, especially when they are in nontraditional fields. Even if seen as representatives, there are simply more nontraditional faculty to go around. …

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