Thursday, March 25, 2010

Differences in Disciplines

I work at a relatively small college that has grown rather quickly in the last few years with the addition of four-year programs and the influx of unemployed mill workers (the bulk of whom probably won't stick around when the mill reopen--sorry for the cynicism, but we have many students who sign up just to get the initial Pell check and then stop coming. They of course ruin their chances of ever getting any more scholarship money, but they waste a chunk of my taxes in the process, thank you very much.)

Because of the size of the college, we have the opportunity to speak and socialize and collaborate across disciplines. It's a service-oriented college, so we often work on committees, in the Advising Center, that kind of thing. So, the historians can work with the nursing faculty who can work with the computer science faculty. It's quite nice. I am working on a project with a Social Work faculty member, for example.

I would not like to work in a college where I could only work and associate with other speech or English professors. However, working with those in other disciplines allows us to see "how it's done" in other disciplines--how they approach teaching, data, problem-solving, students, and, for my purposes, communication.

On top of that, I teach English and communication. On the surface, one might say, "what's the big deal, aren't they really the same?" But they aren't. For one, the communication field uses APA documentation, not MLA. When I announced in an English meeting that the communication field uses APA, one professor acted appalled. "Why?" Because it's considered more of a social science, I said. Now, to an nonacademic it might seem like the difference between where to put some commas and periods, but it's really a difference of how to interpret data and what's important in research.

When I go to speech meetings, we have a good time. It's a bunch of fun-loving extroverts. We meet, get the business over with, and talk. When I go to English meetings, we probe ideas. Slowly. We analyze. It takes . . . time. And the ideas are of minimal importance in the long run, but they mean a lot at the time to the people involved.

The most recent example of this difference in disciplines was in a meeting yesterday. The combined departments put on a "this is what you can do with a liberal arts major" kind of program. When the English profs talked, it was, well,long-winded, narrative, and about them. I know they believe they were sharing, but after a couple of them it had relatively little value. When the communication profs talked, it was boom, boom, boom, to the point, short, and audience-centered. the program went on two hours, although I had left early, thankfully.

Now, I don't like to talk about my past and my journey to where I am, especially not in front of students. I used to be involved in a fundamentalistic group and don't want people to judge me now based on what I was twenty years ago. Odd, perhaps for a novelist. Anyway, I was a little surprised by the self-focused but well-meaning rambling of my colleagues. Ironically, my job was to get students to take my course in learning to communicate in the business world--boom, boom, to the point, short, and audience-centered.

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