Friday, March 08, 2013

Booknote: Mentoring Faculty of Color

First, I am posting my brief general review of the book as I posted it to my GoodReads profile. Then, I will jot down additional notes and some quotes from the book I want to remember and share with others.

Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and UniversitiesMentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities by Dwayne Mack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book features 14 essays written by underrepresented faculty who teach at predominantly white colleges and universities. The book fills a very important gap in the literature of higher education: how faculty members of minority groups go through getting tenure, the obstacles and challenges they face, and the various paths they take in creating a way out of no way. The book starts with a solid introduction that provides context and sets up the book well. From there, this collection of essays does various things, and it does them well. Some essays give testimony and provide encouragement for readers. Other essays break down the mechanics of academia and debunk sacred cows such as the idea that academia and higher education are a meritocracy (they are not). Additionally, there are essays that provide very practical advice on issues ranging from how to create a good CV to how to deal with the tenure-track workload. This is definitely a book that every graduate student of color and every recent graduate school graduate of color needs to have.

Furthermore, this is a book that senior faculty, of any color-- white or ethnic-- needs to read as well. It provides information and tools necessary to provide good mentoring opportunities for new scholars. A big message here is for those who came before to give back to those who are coming after them.

Overall, whether you are a new scholar of color on the tenure track or a veteran seeking to learn more about how to help your peers, this is a book for you. The essays are clear and easy to read. This is a book you will probably want to keep on your shelf.

I will add that the book has some things to say to academic librarians, but I will write about that a bit more in my professional blog.

View all my reviews

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As an academic librarian, I think this book has much to say and offer for those academic librarians of color who are on a tenure track. It also has lessons for those of us on the academic life who may be faculty (sort of, of a different kind, hybrid, what have you) or just academic professionals. The book tells you what you need to know in simple and direct language. The authors demystify the stuff that scholars of color need to know that the majority take for granted or in some cases flat-out refuse to tell them.

Some highlights from some of the essays in the book: 

  • Pottinger's essay describing the Lasallian environment reminded me of my own days in a Lasallian school. The lesson of using the college mission to build your own academic reputation and get buy-in as minority scholar is an important one. It makes me think how I may be able to get it done here at Berea College.
  • The Otieno essay was well-structured and provided a nice set of steps at the end for a summary. In fact, various essays in the book provide good summaries at the end. 
  • Otieno provides some valuable advice on informal mentoring relations: "As in any situation where free advice is given, it is your responsibility to critically reflect upon the advice you get through these informal relationships" (34).
  • I found Khaleel's essay moving and to be honest I cringed at times, maybe in part because I have found myself in situations similar to hers in the past. How she put up with some of the straight up bigotry on her campus truly amazes me. She is probably much more patient than I am because after the second job description change I would have told them what they could do with it. 
  • Professor Khaleel goes on to write, "it is ironic that faculty hired to teach in colleges and universities seldom have formal training to teach." I've said that for ages, and I should know. Unlike the vast majority of my librarian peers and teaching faculty I work with, I DO have formal teaching training, and years of experience now in teaching (and no, not just one-shots as one big shot librarian who shall remain nameless once suggested to try to put me down a few years back). 
  •   From Garcia's essay, "Work with students was not formally acknowledged, but instead viewed as a disconnect from the academic realm" (76). This grinds my gears. For me, students come first, and your little faculty coffee talk can wait. Sadly, I know librarians who have that same attitude when it comes to direct student work; this is the kind of librarian who, even though they claim to be public services librarians, prefer to simply sit in an office and be hooked online to "serve" via chat, Facebook, Twitter, so on. Not that online services are not important, but not if it degrades personal, human service. If you think you can do it all sitting down on a computer without seeing a human being (and you are not a programmer, cataloger or some other technical job), you probably should not work as a librarian. And by the way library and academic administrators, when I am working with students, I am working. That is part of my job, and if I have to make you wait because a student needs me, I will make you wait. 
  • Liu's essay on Success in Academic Life for faculty is a very practical essay and likely makes it worth the purchase price of the book. How come no one told me this kind of thing as I came up the ranks? We need more of this stuff. And yes, this includes librarians, who, for all the image of being helpful, can often be anything but helpful with colleagues. 
  • On a broader note, we probably need a similar book on mentoring librarians of color that is as effective as this one. There are bits and pieces out there, but not as concise as this book. 
  • Mack reminds us that in spite of lack of campus collegiality, we scholars of color share a responsibility to "make a way out of no way." I admit, not something I find easy, but I keep trying.
  • Smith asks great question: "Why has being a good scholar and academic come to mean that one should be working incessantly at the expense of doing social justice work, having fun, or maintaining interests outside academia?" (198). As I would say, magnificent question.  For me, the answer was to leave the doctoral path and become an academic librarian. Believe me, so far, it has been a good path. 

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