The Voice: Fall 2001

The Voice

Faculty work to keep up in their profession

Professional development opportunities are plentiful

Sally Jongsma

    Professional training for employees is not a luxury that only happens when the money happens to be available. It is vital to the growth and health of any organization or institution, says Dr. Rockne McCarthy, vice president for academic affairs.
    “The business world knows that you may cut travel schedules or supplies purchased but you don’t eliminate professional growth opportunities for your employees if you want to maintain a strong business,” he adds. The same is true for colleges like Dordt. Faculty members are always going to be at different levels of development, maturity, and experience, says McCarthy. They need support and encouragement to become the best classroom teachers they can. They need mentoring and support as they work out their Christian perspective in their field. They need opportunities to keep up with research and information in rapidly changing fields of study. And, as they become more proficient in the classroom, they need room and time to deepen their insights and share them with others.
    “In a learning community like Dordt College, we expect students to continue to grow and learn once they leave here,” says McCarthy. “We also expect faculty to continue to grow and learn.”
    Many faculty members do, especially during the summer months when classes are not in session. This summer faculty members attended workshops and seminars on a range of topics. Some attended pedagogical workshops. Dr. Roger Henderson followed in the footsteps of a number of Dordt faculty who have participated in the Faculty Development Institute at the University of Prince Edward Island. Others applied for and were accepted into nationally funded workshops. Dr. Sherri Lantinga joined psychology colleagues at Calvin College for five weeks in a Pew workshop titled "Loss of the Self in a Post-modern, Therapeutic Culture,” and Dr. Calvin Jongsma partici-pated in a National Endowment for the Humanities six-week research and discussion seminar at Case Western Reserve University on “Proofs and Refutations in Mathematics Today.” Others attended conferences in their academic fields—some mixing business with travel: Dr. Henry Duitman went to the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles in Lucerne, Switzerland, Chris Rehn attended a law conference in Budapest, Hungary, and David Helmstetter attended the third annual conference on Social Work in Health and Mental Health in Finland.
    Several faculty members gave papers at academic conferences: Dr. Ronald Vos to the American Scientific Affiliation meeting at Kansas State, Simon du Toit at Association for Theater in Higher Education in Chicago, and John Van Dyk and Lloyd Den Boer at a Christian school symposium in Leeds, England. Some wrote articles, edited books, or continued working on books—or novels in the case of James Schaap. Others had chapters published in recently released books.
    Some professors, like Vos and Drs. Delmar Vander Zee and Dick Hodgson taught in summer environmental studies programs. Education faculty taught in Dordt’s summer graduate program and agriculture faculty initiated the new summer semester.
    Still others participated in study tours or studied in other countries. Art Professor Susan Van Geest attended a marble and woodcarving workshop in France before traveling to Italy to view art works. Dr. Ken Bussema participated in the Latin American Studies Program (LASP) Faculty Study Tour, a ten-day ‘mini’ LASP experience designed to help faculty and off-campus directors understand what students experience on LASP. The tour included living with host families in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, lectures, seminars and excursions.
    Still others served as consultants in agriculture, education, and business. And some volunteered their time, like Diana Gonzalez who taught a Spanish course for IDEA ministries in Merida, Mexico, and Dr. Robert Hilbelink who helped with accounting at Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico.
    Doing research, writing articles or papers (including four-year and eight-year contract papers), reading current literature, preparing for new courses or revamping old ones, and conducting department program reviews occupied the summer for many faculty.
    Although not all of the activities listed above require extra funding, some do. Dordt sets aside part of its budget annually for faculty development. Faculty development funding comes in many different forms. Each faculty member may receive three percent of his or her base salary to attend conferences or pay professional memberships. The college helps fund graduate study and approved post-graduate study leaves. Funds are also available for special projects, institutional assignments, and travel to present academic papers.
    Participating in faculty development opportunities has been largely voluntary, McCarthy says, although it isn’t really since professors need to stay current in their discipline and effective in the classroom. Most eagerly make use of the opportunities provided by the college. And although they are not required to attend a specified number of conferences or workshops, faculty members must regularly update an academic profile in which they outline their plans for professional development or ongoing education.
    But the concept of faculty development has become more deliberate at Dordt in the last years. In addition to more opportunities, there are also more required elements. In the early years of a person’s tenure on the faculty, participating in regular faculty development activities is fairly structured. Each person on faculty must write three papers that are tied to contract interviews. Following their first year on faculty, professors not only set development goals for themselves for the future, but they also revise and update a response they wrote to “The Educational Framework of Dordt College” when they applied for a position.
    During their fourth year faculty are asked to write a paper that discusses how a Reformed, biblical faith shapes their educational work at Dordt College—their view of their discipline, their students, and the learning process. And during year eight of their contract they write a mature statement of how work in their discipline is shaped by their faith, demonstrating how a biblical perspective is developed in a specific topic or issue. In some cases these submissions take alternative forms. For example, Dr. Benjamin Kornelis, a professor of music and director of Dordt’s choirs, is composing a piece of music for his eight-year contract. Performance of the piece will be accompanied by a short presentation and discussion of the composition.
    “People who have gone through this process say it has been a valuable experience,” says McCarthy. As course work gets to a point where professors don’t need to spend quite as much time on preparation, it is good to be pushed to go to another level in thinking about issues related to a discipline and classroom pedagogy issues, McCarthy believes.
    At present, the faculty status committee, the committee on campus that is responsible for making contract recommendations to the VPAA, is also considering ways to build in regular professional development expectations for senior faculty who have more permanent contracts. And McCarthy expects to see the awarding of development funds move to this committee in more of a peer review process.
    Overall, McCarthy is very pleased with Dordt’s faculty development program.

    “Already in 1991 the North Central Association, Dordt’s regional accrediting body, affirmed the program, and we’re doing even better now,” he says. His goal is to get the program endowed so that its future stays secure. “We don’t want it to be jeopardized when we have a period of declining enrollment,” he says. He hopes that he can report on more developments in the program within the next few years.

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