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Faculty Profile: De Mol ends sixth year as faculty chair

Karen De Mol

Karen De Mol

Dr. Karen De Mol, whose office is tucked away in the lower level of the music building, says she’s thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities she’s had to “rub shoulders” with historians, chemists, social workers, and more during the six years she’s been chair of the faculty assembly. It’s certainly not that she doesn’t enjoy her colleagues in the music department. In fact she says, “There we all are together, busy with music all day—and most evenings too. What could be better?” Yet the regular contact she’s had with colleagues who are passionately committed to their work has given new meaning to being part of an academic community. She says it has heightened her respect for her colleagues and for their insights and their commitment to the mission of the college.

When De Mol began her term as chair of the faculty assembly, her responsibilities seemed fairly limited: prepare the agenda for faculty meetings—in consultation with Secretary Duane Bajema and Vice President for Academic Affairs Rockne McCarthy—and lead faculty meetings. She was done, until the next meeting.

Almost. As chair of the faculty assembly she also plans the periodic faculty forums—evenings when professors share ideas, deliberate, and debate—and encourage each other.

But in the last couple of years other expectations have been added to the role. The faculty chair and secretary are increasingly being used as representatives of the faculty to meet with and serve on a variety of committees and ad hoc groups on campus. This year, they also began meeting regularly with the Academic Council.

“We’re another set of ears and eyes, looking for opportunities to enhance communication among different parts of the college community,” De Mol says, adding that she and Bajema work very much as a team.

“We don’t claim to be able always to speak for the whole faculty; we speak as ourselves on behalf of the faculty, bringing a faculty voice and perspective to various discussions.”

One of De Mol’s main goals is to encourage better communication—between herself and faculty members, between individual faculty members, and between faculty and administrators. She’s learned that because she lives across campus from most of the faculty, it’s best to visit them in person when she needs to talk about a matter.

“It makes a huge difference,” she says, “because in person you are able to deal with others better as people and to learn the context, both professional and family, in which they live and work—to know my colleagues as whole people rather than simply as bearers of issues.”

As a result of such face-to-face conversations, her job of leading faculty meetings is also easier. “I get to know personalities. I get to know that the person who speaks firmly or intensely in faculty assembly usually speaks firmly or intensely in other contexts, and the person who speaks quietly or hesitantly usually speaks quietly or hesitantly in other settings.” It takes some of the guesswork out of dealing with group dynamics in meetings. Having personal relationships with her colleagues also gives her a better basis for conversations that have the potential for conflict, she believes.

Despite the fact that her position could take up much more of her time, DeMol’s role as faculty chair is only a small part of her work. She is an avid and committed teacher. And she loves her work.

She counts it a privilege to work with people who share her Christian faith and reformational approach to life as they prepare students for the rest of their lives. “I love working with people who believe in the purpose of this institution,” she says. “It’s not just a job for us.”

She’s learned things too.

“Teaching and learning is a very cooperative process,” she says. “Unless you are sensitive to whether and how students are learning, you aren’t really teaching.” She says she’s learned over and over again the amazing fact that each student is a unique person, with unique gifts, and gifts that grow. She tries to apply that knowledge to her interaction with faculty colleagues too.

At the end of the day—following classes, meetings, and conversations—she bids goodbye to her last student but hangs on to her clarinet. Playing—practicing—has always been both a challenge and a joy. It’s physical, it’s expressive, and for her it’s the perfect end to busy days filled with challenges, hard work, and a job done as well as she could do it.