New Faculty Guilt: Transitioning from Practitioner to Professor

Faculty of student affairs preparation programs represent a unique path to the professoriate in that most, if not all, have worked full-time as practitioners in various student affairs roles prior to moving into full-time faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).   In other fields, such as English or History, it may be acceptable to progress through graduate school directly into faculty roles without gaining professional work experience outside the classroom.   Student affairs professionals collaborate daily across various functional areas on campus and do not work in isolation.   They help countless students every day.  Their work is intense, essential, and working from home is not usually a realistic option.  To become a faculty member in higher education, an individual must have a doctoral degree, teaching and research experience, and solid understanding and experience in student affairs functional areas.  However, going from practitioner to professor holds both expected and unexpected transitions.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is defined by Merriam-Websters Dictionary as “feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy.”  Survivor’s guilt was first observed among Holocaust survivors from those who survived while others perished.  Since then, survivor’s guilt has been attributed to other situations, though usually to less horrific circumstances.  In the employment world, survivor’s guilt can be understood to mean “a guilt that results from one’s awareness that so many qualified individuals are experiencing working conditions so much worse than one’s own” (Austen, 2011).  There is scant literature on employee guilt in higher education.  However, Faflak (2006) described the concept of academic guilt, which can be the feelings experienced when a professor in a department earns tenure while others in the same department are denied tenure.  Though less academic, doctoral students or those who have left academia have written blogs relating to academic guilt. One example of this was when a newly minted doctoral student was offered a tenure track position at the debatable expense of former cohort members (J.J., 2012).

Though little is known concerning faculty or staff guilt in higher education, guilt may impact students in certain ways.  For example, first-generation students can experience the guilt of leaving their families behind as they pursue education.  Guilt may also present itself when these students struggle to live simultaneously in two worlds (the academic and family of origin), not quite feeling at home in either (Lubrano, 2004; Navarrete, 1993; Rendón, 1996; Rodriguez, 1974).  First-generation students who eventually move into faculty roles (Rodriguez, 1974) or white collar positions (Lubrano, 2004) may continue to struggle with the guilt the gift of education has bestowed upon them—a belief that others express, including family members and friends back home, who may see them as haughty, self-important, and having abandoned their roots.

New Faculty Literature

Developments, in Volume 7, sponsored a five-part series to help new faculty learn more about their roles.  Two of the series’ contributions (Marshall, 2009; Owen, 2009) are particularly helpful in informing this article, but unfortunately, as a student affairs practitioner considering a faculty role, I was unfamiliar with Developments.  More literature is needed to assist student affairs practitioners who aspire to move into faculty roles (McCluskey-Titus & Cawthon, 2004).  As Marshall (2009) aptly stated, “there is no ‘guidebook’ for making the transition and those who want to do so often have limited information.”

An internet search for “administrator to faculty” assumed I erred and recommended, “Did you mean faculty to administrator?” Curiously, more has been written about faculty moving into administrative roles, including a volume of New Directions for Higher Education (Henry, 2006).  These articles and books are often written by senior level administrators who began in faculty roles, and are replete with advice and cautions as to what one should expect in the transition.  New faculty books (Boice, 2000; Menges, 1999) offer useful advice on how faculty might establish themselves in terms of teaching, scholarship, and service in addition to the very important and practical skill of learning an institution’s culture.  Boice (2000) also cautioned new faculty members regarding negative thinking and self-doubt.  However, these publications do not address feelings of guilt.

My Experience

Prior to my current position I had worked the better part of a decade in different student services capacities, Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M.  to 5:00 P.M..  Problem solving, helping students, working with parents, understanding and interpreting campus policies, and collaborating with departments across campus, among other things, were both expectations and daily occurrences.  As a faculty member, the expectations changed considerably to where my physical presence was only required for classes, meetings, and office hours.  I am certain my jaw dropped when I was told I only needed to be present for 10 office hours per week.  It seemed as though there were no rules on campus.  I was unleashed to a new world of ideas, autonomy, and independence.  I was, as Jacobe (2013), also a faculty member, so fittingly stated, “free to go about my business as I saw fit.”

Guilt manifested itself in four ways.  First, I felt guilty for leaving former colleagues with increased burden, stress, and workloads just before the new semester began.  My overworked colleagues at my last institution were still scrambling to help students adjust their schedules well into the second week of the semester with hardly a lunch break, while undoubtedly cursing Admissions for continuing to admit new students when there so few classes available.  Hardly established at my new position, my knowledge and talent were not nearly as worthwhile as they had been a short time ago.  Meanwhile, I might have had one student email in my inbox.  Sometimes I would email myself to make sure it still worked.

Second, guilt became apparent at my new institution when I worked with our department secretary.  I could come and go as I pleased, but she could not, and walking by her as I left before 5:00 P. M.  was a constant reminder.  There was one day when I was in the office for two hours due to child care issues and a doctor’s appointment.  It ate me up inside when I explained my day to our department secretary, both of us knowing that I did not need to worry or bother completing any sick or vacation leave sheets for the day’s cameo appearance.  It is disappointing that our administrative staff members work so hard and are so committed, but what is their reward? Are they recognized enough? Some work harder than faculty, but with abysmal wages and without the possibility of a lifetime appointment.  More guilt set in when I spent the winter break at home with my children when I knew other coworkers had to remain in the office.

Thirdly, realizing much of my work could be done from anywhere with an internet connection and that no one was keeping track of where I was, more guilt set in.  I felt I had to let everyone know I was still working, so I might announce my schedule, such as, “I’ll be in the library a couple of hours before going home,” in case my work ethic was questioned.  I worried rumors would spread.  I wondered if I appeared to be working enough.  Do they think I am working if I am not there? Sure I had other things I could do, but once my class preparations were in order, nothing was ‘due.’ I felt guilty that I should be doing more.  Focusing more on teaching and service (over scholarship) come naturally to new student affairs faculty (Owen, 2009).  The mindset that became ingrained by working for years from 8:00 A. M. to 5:00 P. M. and being required to let others know my whereabouts on my Outlook calendar was suddenly interrupted.  “What do you mean I don’t have to be here right now?” was the constant voice in my head.  I thought I knew what less structure for faculty (Owen, 2009; Underwood & Cawthon, 1999) meant, but I was mistaken.  “What if I am caught buying groceries at 2:00 P. M. ?” was another perpetual thought.  Faculty life was slower (Griffith, 2006).  Guilt intensified.  Impostor syndrome and self-doubt (Roche, 2013) also set in.  Did I deserve to be a professor?

A fourth way that guilt became unmistakable was when I completed a workshop for our residential life staff.  As student affairs practitioners, that is just a typical part of what we do.  But faculty have a special name for it: service. Things I normally did a semester before, like collaborating with other offices on campus, serving on search committees, speaking to student groups, or presenting at conferences gives me points now.  Seasoned colleagues instruct, “Add that to your portfolio!” I felt like a student who was trying too hard to pad his résumé.

Transitioning

Now that I have completed my second year, I no longer feel the same degree of guilt as I have adjusted better into my new role.  These issues were mostly temporary.  Some of my research interests continue in the same functional area that I worked in before becoming a faculty member.  I have kept in touch with the friends I left at my old institution and that has helped through my transition.  New collaborative efforts on my new campus continue to help establish my role, in addition to developing more courses and having more students to advise.  I work odd hours and weekends but feel fine that no one is keeping track and that no one really cares how I go about my work; I just need to do it well.  My experience with guilt may not apply to all new faculty, but hearing multiple perspectives on new faculty adjustment should be reassuring.

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced guilt after beginning a new position?
  2. How do you think others perceive your work?
  3. What are some things you can do now to facilitate forming realistic expectations for your next career transition?

References

Austen, V. J. (2011). Haven’t we heard this all before? Contingent faculty and the unchanging times. English studies in Canada, 37(1), 13-16.

Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Faflak, J. (2006). Whose guilt? English studies in Canada, 32(1), 1-10.

Griffith, J. G. (2006). Transition from faculty to administrator and transition back to the faculty. In R. J. Henry (Ed.) Transitions between faculty and administrative careers (pp. 67-77).  (New Directions for Higher Education, No. 134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Henry, R. J. (Ed.) (2006). Transitions between faculty and administrative careers.  (New Directions for Higher Education, No.134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

J. J. (2012, July 31). On guilt, self-blame, or magical thinking in academia [Web log comment].Retrieved from http://leavingacademia.blogspot.com/2012/07/on-guilt-self-blame-andmagical_31.html

Jacobe, M. F. (2013, April 12). Think like an administrator. Inside Higher Ed.  Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/04/12/essay-what-its-faculty-member-become-administrator

Lubrano, A. (2004). Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. New York, NY: Wiley.

Marshall, S. M. (2009, Spring). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on the transition. Developments, 7(1). Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-transition

McCluskey-Titus, P. , & Cawthon, T. W. (2004). The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence: Making a transition from student affairs administrator to full-time faculty. NASPA Journal, 41, 317-335.

Menges, R. J. (Ed.) (1999). Faculty in new jobs. San Francisco, CA. Jossey Bass.

Navarrette, R. (1993). A darker shade of crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Owen, J. E. (2009, Fall). Student affairs pathways to the professoriate: Perspectives on teaching. Developments, 7(3), Retrieved from http://www.acpa.nche.edu/article/student-affairs-pathways-professoriate-perspectives-teaching

Rendón, L. I. (1996, November/December). Life on the border. About Campus, 1, 14-19.

Roche, J. (2013).The empress has no clothes: Conquering self-doubt to embrace success. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Rodriguez, R. (1974). Going home again: The new American scholarship boy. American Scholar, 44, 15-28.

Underwood, S. J., & Cawthon, T. W. (1999). Moving from administrator to faculty member: Look before you leap. College Student Affairs Journal, 19, 88-96.

About the Author

Rene Couture is an Assistant Professor of College Student Personnel at Arkansas Tech University.  His research interests include first-generation college students, academic advising issues, and transfer students.

Please e-mail inquiries to Rene Couture.

Disclaimer

The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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