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Murray’s Experiences Created Roadmap for New Educators

Published: September 15, 2009

When John Murray of Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling began his career in higher education at an Ohio community college, he couldn’t figure out what it took to be successful.

But after 21 years in Ohio, 10 at Texas Tech and two at CSULB, Murray has developed insights and used that experience to write “New Faculty Members’ Perceptions of the Academic Work Life” for the anthology Faculty Stress, edited by D.R. Buckholdt and G.E. Miller from Routledge.

Murray interviewed 17 faculty members to draw a road map for new educators looking to make their way in academia. His conclusions range from the importance of mentoring to the dangers of over-preparation.

“New professors tend to over-prepare their class work,” said Murray. “They would do just as well if they limited the amount of time they spent to the old rule of studying that said you put in two hours for every one hour in class. Because new faculty commit so much time to that part of their careers, they tend to neglect other parts as well as their personal lives.”

Murray recalls interviewing a faculty member about the dangers of perfectionism. “This faculty member observed that, once she totaled up the hours she spent preparing for class, she saw she would make more money working at Kmart,” he said. “Time is precious to the new faculty member. I remember one who told me that first he gave up church to devote more time to his job and then he gave up going to Little League practice with his son. Eventually, his wife informed him that he’d be giving up more than that if he didn’t re-order his priorities.”

One key to better faculty performance is a reduction in teaching load, but in the wake of recent budget cuts, that seems less and less possible. “Service opportunities are good but an eye must be kept on time,” Murray said. “New faculty members ought to start at the department level, then move on to the college, then university levels.”

If new faculty members struggle, they struggle with scholarship. “One key to faculty survival is research,” Murray said. “It may not be popular, but it is true. I have served on many tenure committees and they ask for research over and over. Teaching certainly matters and I have seen tenure denied to good scholars because their teaching lagged. But tenure committees look askance at a career with little research.” Murray is the author of more than 80 publications appearing in journals varying in circulation from 1,000 to 17,000.

The key to research productivity is time management, but it works both ways. “I had a time management problem when I mentored 21 doctoral candidates at Texas Tech,” he recalled. “My research dropped off to nothing. In my years there, I produced lots of scholarship but in my ninth year, I oversaw those doctoral candidates and I didn’t receive as much of a merit raise as I thought I deserved. Research is that important.”

One key to success for the new faculty member is a mentoring relationship with senior faculty. “There’s more to mentoring than inviting a new faculty member to stop by sometime,” he said. “I remember a disappointing mentoring relationship where the only opportunity I was ever offered was when my mentor asked me, `You want to talk?’”

John Murray
Photo by Victoria Sanchez
John Murray

New faculty members need to fight isolation and writing groups are one way to do that. “The advantage to joining a writing group is the editing. Participants can read each others’ writing and say what makes sense and what doesn’t. Most young faculty members are treated like kids who learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. If they emerge, they get tenure. Budget cuts are only going to make that worse.”

In his 21 years at an Ohio community college, Murray served as a professor of philosophy, department chair and coordinator of faculty development. He earned his B.A. in philosophy from the State University of New York at Potsdam, his M.A. in 1971 in philosophy from Arizona State University, his Ed.S. from Ohio’s Wright State University, and his doctorate in 1990 from Ohio State University at Columbus. His most recent book is the 2007 Rural Community Colleges: Teaching Learning and Leading in the Heartland: New Directions in Community Colleges from the San Francisco-based publisher Jossey-Bass.

Murray adds that little things can loom large when it comes to success. “For instance, I like how Dr. Alexander sends notes to acknowledge scholarship,” he said. “It’s appreciated.” Another key to productivity is consistency. “I write every day and the secret seems to be writing about what interests me,” he said. “Always have more than one project. Ask someone to edit your writing. Keep a hierarchy of publications. If publication number one rejects an article, submit it immediately to publication two.”

–Richard Manly