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Reclaiming My Voice As A Scholar

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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So what is my voice as a scholar now? Just like 35 years ago, I'm taking ideas from one discipline and helping people use them in their own lives. Back then, it was using ideas from medicine and social science to help women make good decisions; now it is using ideas from the higher education field to help faculty members make good decisions. Always with the principle that we learn most from listening to one another and that our networks of relationships change the world. I think these are principles that are very deep in my generation. 



The posting below looks at the four decade academic career of sociologist and how it evolved both through personal growth and contemporary developments. It is by Susanne Morgan of Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, and is #54 in a series of selected excerpts from The National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Vol. 20, Number 2, February 2011.© Copyright 1996-2011. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: A Brief Overview of the Study of Creativity


Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Reclaiming My Voice As A Scholar


In a way, I never lost it. But it took awhile for one discipline to catch up and for me to discover the other.

My first job with a Ph.D. was in 1972 and I was 27: young and bewildered . . . and pregnant, with a toddler at home.

I had no real mentoring from grad school in the late 1960s. By the time I got my degree, the number of women Ph.D.s in sociology in the U.S. had shot up: there were 138! But in 1969 when I finished my coursework, only 82 women in the U.S. got Ph.D.s in sociology . . . not a lot of role models.

My focus in medical sociology related to public issues, and my advisor became a leader in applied sociology, but neither he nor I took my work very seriously.

Plus, learning to teach was overwhelming: I never had been in front of a classroom in my whole two years of graduate coursework. In fact, I never spoke up as a student. The times were changing, too. As I started teaching, we had students who were not like us, not like the students we were in graduate school, and we were trying to teach them in different ways from how we had been taught.

As we all do, though, I approached my work as a scholar. Like all new faculty starting out then, I analyzed teaching and the workplace, talked, read, and built relationships. We all created and learned from periodicals and groups outside academia: we read Radical Teacher and, in my field, Science for the People and HealthPAC. In fact, I was pretty disengaged from the discipline of sociology; what I could see of sociology nationally really did represent values and approaches at odds with what my friends and I were trying to do.

I was in a radical faculty group that had a column in the student paper. I was terrified, since my colleagues were all very articulate, but I drafted one on why tenure quotas are a bad thing. I put my scholarly and creative energy into course development and created one of the first women and health courses in the country.

Oh, and also I was sick. In my last two years in that first job I had three surgeries (that didn't clear up the constant fever and pain); plus, by then, I had two toddlers and a husband who commuted from Boston to New York City.

So I lost that job, but found something to say. I wrote a pamphlet on hysterectomy that my "colleagues" at Our Bodies, Ourselves (the Boston Women's Health Book Collective) printed, and from that I got a contract for a trade book. I approached it as a medical sociologist and a public sociologist. There weren't any resources for the public that analyzed the politics of the hysterectomy rates plus the complexities of women's experiences, plus the contradictions in current media messages. We in the women's health network had strong networks of activist-scholars and we supported one another's work.

My seven years of exile in Los Angeles were a struggle. I still didn't connect in sociology and was not at all sure I'd land a full time academic job again. I saw the Ithaca College ad in the American Journal of Public Health. They wanted ME! They wanted a

teacher and an activist! To this day I am grateful for my good fortune.

I came to Ithaca College in 1983 as if I was entering an organization I would be part of, not as an individual scholar. I am seeing this orientation among our newer faculty now, and the newer folks don't have to renounce their disciplines to be engaged in multiple ways.

I led and supported programs with the Counseling Center and Residential Life, and engaged in the lively scholarship in diversity, sexuality, and AIDS education. In those days, the late 80s, I went to student affairs conferences, which were way more fun than sociology ones! I organized (with an undergrad who became a professor) a student AIDS prevention group. I would promote their programs to faculty by sending (on paper) a quiz to all faculty, then the next week the same quiz with the answers.

Of course I was always a sociologist. Linda McMillan, provost of Susquehanna University, captured how I see our roles when she said faculty have four identities: 1) we are always most deeply rooted in our disciplines, 2) as teachers, 3) as institutional citizens, and 4) as professionals in the wider field of higher education. I can't not be a sociologist, and my first sabbatical was definitely sociological; I explored the relative characteristics of student peer education programs that are designed and organized by students in contrast to those with a staff leader.

To the extent that we think of scholarship as making our work public, I was active in those early years, in both the local community and in student affairs conferences. Not sociology, although it was indeed becoming more welcoming.

Writing was harder; it was when others took the lead that I published things. What got in the way? The lit review and citations! I'd never really learned how to do them in grad school, and it took a persistence and precision that I just couldn't locate at the end of the teaching day. Oh, and I was sick a lot too.

But teaching was of course my primary focus, and my second sabbatical was about using data in the classroom. As a scholarly teacher, I went to an NSF-sponsored summer workshop to learn to make data-analysis modules in non-data related courses. We used software that was easy (for the time) and I had my students in medical sociology and aging courses do hands-on, collaborative activities, to learn the demographic information that can be boring to read.

By then it was the mid-90s and I was the coordinator of the First Year Seminar program in the college's liberal arts school. I linked with Student Affairs and Campus Life to do little projects on AIDS awareness and behaviors that were precursors to the Perceived Norms approach. The idea is that you ask people to estimate responses to data questions about the campus and then surprise them with the answers. I used this approach with students, especially in the First Year Seminars, and also with seminar faculty.

Was I seeing myself as a scholar by then? No, but it was great to be back in sociology! By the late 1990s, I realized that the Teaching Sociology section was a vibrant part of the American Sociological Association and happily started presenting at meetings again.

Around the turn of the century, I applied for the Coordinator of Faculty Development Activities position and instantly learned there was another whole field of scholarship and practice, founded around the time I started teaching by people just like me-people who tried to advance student learning by working with their institutions and their colleagues, and who shared what they learned in person and in print. Today, these faculty development professionals take collaboration and relationships for granted; the organization is the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education. And they function as sociologists (even though their disciplines are math or geography or music or physical therapy). The middle of the name is Organizational Development.

Here was a location for me to be a scholar again. The journals and books are interesting and relevant, and I have something to say. Then along came online databases from our library and EndNote, and colleagues with similar interests, colleagues who often knew more and would take me under their wing and support me in some small scholarly projects.

So what is my voice as a scholar now? Just like 35 years ago, I'm taking ideas from one discipline and helping people use them in their own lives. Back then, it was using ideas from medicine and social science to help women make good decisions; now it is using ideas from the higher education field to help faculty members make good decisions. Always with the principle that we learn most from listening to one another and that our networks of relationships change the world. I think these are principles that are very deep in my generation.

In particular, I'm exploring the concept of social capital, the metaphor of an economy based on reciprocal relationships. The concept is used in analysis and practice in many fields, but not yet in faculty development. And it can be valuable in guiding and assessing programs and interven- tions. So, again, I'm taking a set of ideas from my discipline and helping faculty development professionals use them to make good decisions.

And I can't tell you how thrilled I am to anticipate spending as much time on writing as I want! Tracking down sources is fun again! I'm going to continue to figure out what I have to say and who to say it with. Whatever our generational and our personal experiences, we are all scholars in much more of our work than we realize, and, if my experience is an example of anything, it is that we can help each other find our multiple voices.


Susanne Morgan, Ph.D. Supporting Faculty Excellence PO Box 635 Ithaca NY 14851-0635

Email: Web: T elephone: (607) 227-9063