Faculty Commons opens to mixed reactions

Patrick Higgins

Posted on October 07, 2013 in News
By jensmith

Two weeks ago the Faculty Commons made its debut, a $30,000 project funded by donations and reallocated faculty development funds.
According to Judith Spross, one of the faculty members spearheading this endeavor, Provost Michael Stevenson went back to old documents pointing to faculty interest in a space for shared ideas and cooperation—as the Faculty Commons is intended to provide.

“The administration was aware of the need for professors to build community outside of their departments and for ongoing faculty development,” said Spross.

Associate Professor of philosophy Jason Read said in a statement to the Free Press, “I think a true commons would be a useful aspect of this university and something worth spending money on. It is not clear to me that this is what the university is developing.”

In a letter addressed to the faculty last spring, Stevenson wrote, “In my review of documents about faculty work, the most common theme was the need for venues for faculty to come together,” he said. “I agree that creating such opportunities is critical—a thriving faculty benefits students and will enable USM to meet the challenges we face in a changing environment. Critical, if modest, investments in this work are essential.”

According to Judie O’Malley, assistant director of Public Affairs, Stevenson and Executive Director of Public Affairs Robert Caswell were not available for comment on Friday afternoon because they were attending a Faculty Senate meeting.

O’Malley gave a breakdown of the approximate funds allocated to the Faculty Commons: $6,000 was contributed by the Davis Foundation; and David Nutty the Director of Libraries contributed $8,000, which was spent on painting, cleaning carpets and reorganizing offices. O’Malley told the Free Press she did not have access to the exact figure that the provost allocated to the commons project.

“The provost reallocated money that had been used for receptions, which will no longer be held, and faculty development. Total funding, including money from other sources, is roughly $30,000. However, Nutty said that number is high,” said O’Malley.

Stevenson wrote that the purpose of the Faculty Commons is “an inclusive physical and virtual space in which faculty across disciplines can learn from each other about how to become even stronger.”

Spross described the Faculty Commons as a way of helping faculty share resources, and said that one of the ways to make sure the project succeeds is simply by ensuring that the faculty know the commons is there.

Spross’s letter sent to the faculty last spring said, “Let’s face it. USM, because of our institutional culture and physical layout, has offered few opportunities to create a sense of community within and among disciplines.”

Furthermore, Spross said, “We have excellent faculty, committed to teaching, who are, as one colleague said, often ‘better known outside USM than within.’”

In the first two weeks after its opening, the general consensus about the Faculty Commons has been positive, said Spross in a statement to the Free Press.

“Most people tell me it is one positive thing [in the current campus climate]. ‘Really glad you’re doing it’ is another type of comment,” Spross said.

Spross also said that while the Faculty Commons space is on the third floor of the Glickman Family Library, different Faculty Commons events will take place in different spaces based on group size and activity.

“USM is in desperate need of a place where faculty can connect and talk. The different campuses, the isolated houses, all work against this. I am not sure if the commons is going to work as a solution to this problem, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Read.