This has been sitting around as a draft for months, and is probably the worst-kept secret ever. I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a position at Quinnipiac University, as Assistant Professor of Interactive Communication. I was lucky enough to interview with a few really great universities, but Quinnipiac offered, and I was happy to accept. I’ve had a bunch of reactions to this, depending on where people are coming from. I talked to a writer with a well-known magazine who asked tentatively “And… are you good with that?” In answer, yes, I am happy with my decision. And I’ll tell you why in a second.
If, like me, you are from outside the northeastern US, you probably have not heard of Quinnipiac–and if you are from the region, you probably still cannot spell it. If you have heard of Quinnipiac, it is probably due to their Polling Institute, or their athletics (especially hockey and basketball). It is not a comprehensive university, and there is a nice mix of professional studies and liberal arts. The Law School and Business School, while they remain in the third tier, have gained in reputation lately. The School of Communication already has a good reputation for training communication professionals, and like elsewhere on the campus, there is a move to improve quickly.
I am joining the faculty at QU as much for what I hope it will become as what it is now. They have taken a pretty aggressive stance in improving the national and global reputation of the university. While every university talks about “excellence,” this one is putting serious financial resources behind it, investing in new faculty and building out an already stunning campus. Everyone seems to have the same experience I have: not knowing much about the school, but being very impressed once they visit. The hope is that impressiveness can be better communicated to the world at large.
There is a great deal of risk involved in such a choice. I talked to some schools here in Manhattan that are better known, but also have a very clear idea of what they are and are not interested in changing that. While there are some schools I would be willing to work with under such conditions (NYU didn’t interview me, but I would have leapt at the opportunity to teach there), I do like the idea of being able to put my own stamp on things at QU.
That said, I had hoped for the same thing at the University at Buffalo. I haven’t yet published my “bridge-burning” blog entries, but it was very frustrating to see the School of Informatics, which started the year I came to Buffalo, stagnate during the time I was there. It was clear to me that it wasn’t moving after two or three years, but for various reasons, I was kind of stuck there until last year. I should have bailed much earlier. I wish them the best, but at this point I am certain that whatever direction it takes, it will be very different from the one I want to go.
So, in deciding whether to take the position at QU, I lined up some positive and negatives. They end up pulling toward the positives, but we’ll see what things look like in a year or two.
On the negative side: it isn’t a “Research I” school–it is very much a teaching school. That means an increase in teaching load. Though I’ll be teaching four courses the first year, I expect that to increase a bit over time. In practice, though, last semester was the first in which I got to teach less than two courses at UB, and at times I taught more. In addition to the increased teaching load, there is the reputational issue. Folks have laughed when I’ve mentioned this–as SUNY Buffalo doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation. Nonetheless, there is a divide among the teaching and research schools, and there are plenty of people in R1 schools who look down on anyone not at an R1.
QU is not particularly diverse. Not only is it very white, it seems to draw from a fairly consistent socio-economic group, and from a limited region. I’ve been told that students are not always passionate about their education, and difficult to engage in discussions. I suspect, though, that everyone says this about their own students.
It’s really far away. I’m going to stay in New York and do the commute, but it’s a couple of hours each way on the train. I’m not sure how this will work–my hope is that the train time will be productive for me, but this was the farthest school I applied to, and I almost turned down their invitation to come when I realized how far away it was.
On the positive side: it’s a teaching university. I was pretty sick with the way we treated teaching at Buffalo. Not everyone: there were some really solid teachers. But both the attitude toward students and the resources put into teaching were abysmal. Although I won’t be teaching undergrad courses at first, when I do, they will be the size of our graduate courses at Buffalo. So the whole “not an R1 school” is really a double-edged sword. I have always considered my research to be a part of my teaching, and not the other way around, and that seems in line with QU.
Ironically, I will have more flexibility in my research, I think. This was one of the things that attracted me to Buffalo, but they really only valued research that fit a particular frame of reference. I should have detected that before I went, and had I been more disciplined, I think I could have worked against that. But in the end, expectations about the kind of research that was valued, and the absolute necessity that such research be funded, meant that I wasn’t supported in doing the kind of good work I wanted to. This is among the reasons that two other pre-tenure folks left at the same time I did. I won’t say that QU will provide more support for my “unique” approaches to research, but at least they won’t stand in my way. Heck, my new boss is even a fellow blogger.
The resources at Quinnipiac are there, at least in certain areas. While I’ll need to rely on a broader set of personal networks for some things, I get the impression that worrying about how to pay for toner or whether I’ll be able to go to a conference is not as acute. We’ll see how this plays out once I arrive. I still plan on seeking external funding, but that’s a lot easier to do when you aren’t being pulled in six different directions just to keep a program afloat. The school is in even tighter physical space for now, smooshed in with Business while the renovations are starting, but there is at least some light at the end of that tunnel.
In terms of production resources, QU is out of this world. They have their own HDTV studio, for example, and more equipment than you can throw two sticks at. It will be nice to have access to such a broad range of toys and tools.
I do hope to see if there are informal ways I can make ties to folks at Columbia, down the street from my apartment, and at Yale, down the street from Quinnipiac. I’m not a particularly social person, but there are some outstanding folks at both universities that I am hoping to bug for coffee and a chat at some point. I’m also looking forward to shedding some of the administrative responsibilities I took on at UB.
My teaching is also going to be much more in the direction of my own interests. I liked teaching Communication Theory, but despite pleading–after five years–to be let out of teaching the course, I was stuck in it. My courses this year at Quinnipiac couldn’t be closer to my own interests, and given that I will be teaching in the MS in Interactive Communication, I’m hoping that the students will be equally interested in these areas. In the first semester, I am teaching the core seminar in Interactive Communication and a seminar entitled “Communications, Media & Society,” both of which are pretty broadly conceived courses, but I think I’ll be able to have some fun with.
Many moons ago, we had one of what would be several “visioning” sessions with overpaid consultants at UB. We drew pictures of what we thought the School of Informatics should be. I drew us as a small province far away from Paris. What that meant was that we had the freedom to be innovative and to be daring. That didn’t really mesh with the way the rest of the faculty saw the program. They thought–and think–it is the best quantitative communication program in the US.
I am going to try to avoid taking on more administrative work than I need to at QU, but I think the best way I can help my new program is to make sure the work that I am doing, the work I am doing in partnership with my students, is too bleeding edge and innovative to ignore. That’s my mission over the next couple of years.
I have mentioned the possibility of teaching collaborations before, but I am really hoping to push this forward. I have a feeling that this will be a little easier, since I will be moving to a school that has more of a media studies, production, and journalism bent. Some of you will be getting nudges to see if you are interested in articulating our classes a bit.
And I don’t know if any of my readers are Hamden or New Haven denizens, but if so, I hope you will clue me in on the secrets of the area over a beer.