New faculty learn about York at their own orientation

Members of Vanier Productions

On Aug. 26 and 27, new York University faculty members had their own orientation where they learned not only tips of the trade – ways to de-stress and strive for a work-life balance – but also learned about institutional priorities and challenges.

Sue Vail address new faculty members
Sue Vail addresses new faculty members

The two-day event was planned and hosted by the Office of the AVP Teaching and Learning and the Teaching Commons. Following the president’s breakfast on the first day, there was a keynote speech by Rhonda Lenton, vice-president academic and provost, on York University’s mandate and core priorities and the role of new faculty. A faculty panel on balancing research, teaching and service at the University regaled the new members with how-to-survive and thrive tips, followed by afternoon roundtable breakout sessions on topics ranging from creating an inclusive classroom to understanding your research supports and networks.

To kick off the day, student theatre company Vanier College Productions gave the bright-eyed professors a taste of the struggles their students face in balancing their time, which needs to accommodate transit, academic course requirements, part-time jobs … and still leave time for sleep. As Sue Vail, associate vice-president, teaching and learning, said, “It helps us all to remember why we’re here – it’s all about the student experience.”

Members of Vanier Productions performed a skit for new faculty members
Members of Vanier College Productions performed a skit for new faculty members

Vice-Provost Alice Pitt expanded on that theme by reminding new faculty that they not only have a responsibility to advance their own specialized areas of knowledge, but enormous responsibilities to educate our young people. “You share responsibility for shaping York University as it encounters its challenges and opportunities … that’s a pretty interesting role and an important one.”

The faculty orientation was at times a sobering look at what postsecondary education and York University in particular will face in the years to come, but also a reminder that with change comes opportunities and a chance to make a difference. As Vail said, “We have a number of challenges that are before us and it’s going to take all of our strength and energy to find creative and innovative ways to overcome those challenges.”

Alice Pitt talks to new faculty members during their orientation
Alice Pitt talks to new faculty members during their orientation

In her keynote address to new faculty, Vice-President Academic and Provost Rhonda Lenton shared the imperative for colleagues to understand the culture and priorities of the University to contribute to the advancement of the University’s vision. She talked about the values of York articulated in the University Advancement Plan, including “social justice, embracing inclusivity, diversity, social responsibility and community building,” as well as “the major transformative initiatives that are intended to ensure York’s position as a leader in higher education in Ontario and in Canada.

“Higher education in general,” said Lenton, “is experiencing significant change, especially in Ontario, where the relationship with government is fast evolving with increased emphases on accountability and differentiation as a response to fiscal challenges and the higher demand for postsecondary education. Together these shifts have created an interesting landscape where government resources are directed to advancing their priorities, and where universities must necessarily seek opportunities to align their own priorities with those of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, while protecting the autonomy of the institution’s mission.”

Rhonda Lenton talks about challenges and opportunities
Rhonda Lenton talks about challenges and opportunities

The Greater Toronto Area continues to experience increased demand for higher education, which is unique in the province, said Lenton. York happens to be right in the catchment area for huge growth in Peel and York regions.

Change is also happening in the classroom. “While we all appreciate the pressure on you as faculty members to generate research, we also expect you to provide a rich student learning experience in the classroom,” she said. “Among some of the specific objectives that the University has set in York’s planning documents are to clearly articulate student learning outcomes, and to enhance learning through technological innovation and by incorporating experiential education activities both inside and now outside the classroom.”

Despite the changes, Lenton called it “a very exciting time” overall.

From left Professors Michael Longford Sonia Lawrence Gary Turner and Jennifer Foster give new faculty some tips of the trade
From left, Professors Michael Longford, Sonia Lawrence, Gary Turner and Jennifer Foster give new faculty some tips of the trade

To help new faculty members adjust, a panel of four professors was on hand to offer tips on balancing research, teaching and service. Some of the suggestions included: ensuring time for mental breaks; learning meditation; linking service with research and teaching so they support each other; keeping strict but generous office hours; taking advantage of York’s encouragement of interdisciplinary work and opportunities; and finding a good role model and mentor.

Day two – Teaching, Learning and Student Success Day – focused on ways to facilitate student success, including: finding out what kind of professor you are and want to be; better understanding York’s student demographics; applying learning innovation techniques; and learning what last year’s new faculty wished they had known sooner.

For more information, visit the Teaching Commons website.