Date of this Version
Honors in Practice, Volume 8.
In the early twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson introduced the concept of “preceptors” at Princeton University (Office of the Dean of the College). At the University of Maine a century later, we have adapted Wilson’s concept by hiring faculty members who lead small-group discussions in our interdisciplinary, two-year, four-course core Civilizations sequence, which is a requirement for all first- and second-year honors students. Like Wilson, we hope to “import into the great university the methods and personal contact between teacher and pupil which are characteristic of the small college, and so gain the advantages of both” (Leitch). During the 2010–2011 academic year, the University of Maine Honors College tripled its number of salaried preceptors, expanding from two to six. With that expansion came new challenges: an innovative, albeit periodically strained, collaboration with the UMaine College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and four of its departments; an experimental and precarious foray into non-tenure-track interdisciplinary academia with fresh consideration for undergraduate research; and an evolving sense of what it means to be honors faculty members—or, more broadly, academics—at a twenty-first-century university rife with change. Various perspectives illustrate the difficulties and possibilities endemic to this faculty formation and collectively belie the assumption that faculty members necessarily best cohere around a single discipline and familiar professional constructs. We suggest that a university today, as it has done in the past, can and should coalesce around and be invigorated by untried models and pioneering colleges whose faculty members are willing and eager to take risks.
Administrators and search committees at other institutions, as well as prospective honors faculty members, may be able to learn from our experience at the University of Maine. To this end, we share multiple perspectives on our new preceptor positions by the dean of the UMaine Honors College (Charlie Slavin); two honors faculty members (Mark Haggerty & Mimi Killinger) who served on the search committees; and the four new hires (Rob Glover, Sarah Harlan-Haughey, Jordan LaBouff, and Justin Martin). Our seven personal narratives each engage thematically with several central issues: newness and institutional resistance, identity formation, interdisciplinarity, and faculty retention. We try to be as honest as possible as we present our individual assessments of the initiative so far. We believe that a discussion of such thorny issues as nontenure- track appointments and the creation ex nihilo of a new kind of position will enable other institutions to make informed decisions as they consider implementing such a model.