Faculty Development is a "fuzzy" concept with multiple meanings and definitions. Typically faculty development refers to a college or university based program of "renewal." Many universities, for example, offer sabbatical opportunities – a period of time during which faculty are released from their normal duties to pursue personal academic interests. These are not vacations: faculty on sabbatical are expected to use the time to write a grant, or publish a book or article. Release time may also take the form of a summer workshop focusing on improving one's performance in the classroom.
Faculty careers tend to extend over several decades, and repetitive teaching schedules and research obligations may dull the spirit. So renewal may take the form of developing new teaching and research interests. Faculty members at the University of Wisconsin conceptualize faculty development as follows:
"... the societal problems to which a university addresses itself, both in teaching and research, continue to shift in form and nature, and the boundaries between disciplines shift over time. To deal with such developing issues, faculty members often need an introduction to another discipline entirely or else an opportunity to explore in depth the areas where traditionally separate disciplines intersect."
Faculty Development in the Human Odyssey Program
Auburn University's Human Odyssey Program provides "... an opportunity to explore in depth the areas where traditionally separate disciplines intersect." During the past 32 years it has served as a continuous AU faculty development program.
Approximately 40 current tenured AU faculty members have taught in the Human Odyssey program. (Link to attached list.) Each has had the experience of teaching a common curriculum with several other faculty members from outside their discipline. Each has had to accommodate the thoughts of others, and give up being the sole authority in the classroom.
Ideally, each learned from each other's discipline, and from each others "way of knowing." More importantly, each has had the opportunity to revisit and reexamine what they know, and what they don't know. In a classroom setting, each has had the opportunity to examine his or her assumptions about the nature of reality, and "… the societal problems to which a university addresses itself." This is a humbling experience. Academics rarely agree on everything (anything?), and HO students have the opportunity to entertain complexity, and to model the thinking and rhetoric of opposing views.
"faculty members often need an introduction to another discipline entirely or else an opportunity to explore in depth the areas where traditionally separate disciplines intersect"
The 170 source readings are academically challenging for faculty and students alike. Many of the readings propose tough questions and propositions, with few to no easy answers. Some examples follow: Are humans clever apes? What is myth, and why may it be important for "modern" western cultures? Is war an inevitable part of the human condition? How should humans respond to the knowledge that their earth is a speck in a barely measurable universe? Why do humans produce visual art? Music? Why should humans care about the environment? Can the human mind be explained by the chemical interactions of the brain? How should humans respond to the indeterminacy of a quantum universe? When does life begin? When does a person begin?
Engaging in this discourse changes faculty who participate in the Human Odyssey program. Often, new and lifelong friendships are made. One of the functions of collegiality is to maintain a social environment that promotes cooperation and trust Each week, either before or after the Tuesday lab, HO faculty gather to break bread at a social reception featuring light refreshments. Past and present HO faculty members gather annually for social events in each others homes. Few of us remain unchanged by our own Human Odyssey.