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Component One: Creating a Sense of Intellectual Community

Why intellectual community matters

  • A sense of intellectual community is of vital importance as a way of preserving academic traditions and the advancement of knowledge. Of the utmost importance is the willingness to share with colleagues and students the wealth of knowledge present and past without concern for competitive advantage.
  • Rich intellectual discourse in a department is a sign of excellence. A sense of intellectual community broadens this discourse, encourages intellectual discipline in the department, and reveals possibilities for academic scholarship. These possibilities should be open to all and teamwork and joint projects encouraged.
  • “Communities…must be nurtured and conscientiously maintained, and often the smallest gestures - including simply placing intellectual community on the agenda! - can yield results.”
    Victoria Rosner, Department of English, Texas A&M
  • A sense of intellectual community has less to do with laboratory and office space than with relationships, opportunities for personal expression, and climates conducive to collegiality, mutual appreciation, encouragement, assistance, and sharing of ideas, an open mind, helping hand, and generous heart.

What our survey data tell us about intellectual community

  • 45% of Virginia Tech pre-tenure faculty members are very or somewhat satisfied with the intellectual vitality of the senior faculty members in their department; 34% were somewhat or very dissatisfied (COACHE 2007).
  • Opportunities to collaborate with colleagues were an important contributor to faculty satisfaction in the 2005 Faculty Work/Life Survey. 88% of men and 78% of women (difference is significant at <.01 level) strongly or somewhat agree that they have the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues in their department who share their interests. Non-Caucasian respondents were less likely to agree to this statement (Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005).
  • Opportunities for collaboration with senior faculty members were also addressed in the COACHE Survey. 53% of pre-tenure faculty respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with opportunities to collaborate with senior faculty members, while 31% were dissatisfied (COACHE 2007).
  • According to the director of the Harvard COACHE project, sense of “fit,” or belonging, was the most important factor in predicting global satisfaction of pre-tenure faculty. Men were more likely to feel they “fit” at Virginia Tech than women (80% compared to 66%, difference is significant at <.01 level) and whites were more likely to feel they fit in compared to non-whites (77% compared to 55%, difference significant at the <.05 level) (Faculty Work/Life Survey 2005).

Points to consider about creating a sense of intellectual community

  • A strong intellectual community is a product of purposeful action, the result of constant stimulation, nourishment, and conscientious maintenance. A sense of intellectual community does not emerge as a result of faculty in-fighting and sub-grouping.
  • A sense of intellectual community evokes feelings of belonging and connectedness sometimes at odds with the organizational and institutional life of the college and university.
  • “Faculty members in my department adopted a set of core values designed to help us assess and improve our department climate and culture. This was not an easy task, and it requires continued focus over time to reinforce these shared values. The department today is in a better place to promote the success of faculty, students, and staff.”
    Eileen Van Aken, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and AdvanceVT College Liaison
  • Departments characterized by genuine and respectful collegiality are more likely to foster strong, resourceful, and successful intellectual communities.
  • The intellectual community is based not just on common scholarly interests, but also on personal connections and interactions. Faculty often value quality relationships within a department more than the compensation package it offers.
  • Scholarly exchange between different departmental sub-groups intensifies intellectual discourse and fosters intellectual development and engagement.
  • Intensifying intellectual engagement within a department must be done within an atmosphere of mutual respect for scholarship and for the individual and joint efforts of all members of the department. Criticism should be directed toward ideas, not toward individuals.