From the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor: What happened at the Faculty Forum

From the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor: What happened at the Faculty Forum

The first Faculty Forum of 2013-14 was held in the Jessop West Exhibition Space on 28 November 2013. As many of you know, one of my key aims in this academic year is to build and consolidate our Faculty identity: who we are as a group, what we value, what we want to do, where we want to go.

We do so much great work and not nearly enough people, either within the University of across the sector, know about it. It’s very easy to use terms like ‘world-leading’ with nothing to show for it: our position is, at the moment, almost the opposite, with lots to show but as yet no terms with which to showcase it.

The Forum took some of the first steps towards creating a new narrative drawing on a mutual understanding of our strengths and our priorities. Each table was a mix of colleagues from different departments and areas of the Faculty so that different points of view might emerge. A quartet of questions were posed: in teaching, what are we good at? What do we want to be known for? In research, what are we good at? What do we want to be known for?

An interesting picture emerged, not unrelated to a very keen insight related at a recent Sheffield Leader 3 presentation I attended, where several participants from the same department led a case study of how that department presents itself in its web materials. For that case study, it was found that the website highlighted information that was obvious to external readers – for instance, that the department taught the subject it was named for, and left out the information that was obvious to its colleagues – e.g. the real research strengths demonstrated and teaching innovations undertaken.

So, participants knew we are good at teaching and research, and that we do sterling work in areas like external engagement and digital humanities. But it was harder to articulate details, and to focus on what we want to be known for. Still, during discussion we began to tie things together, and we found some consensus around these main messages:

We are good at diversity, collaboration, experimentation and engagement in its broader sense. We are interested in breaking away from tradition while not losing our disciplinary heritage: hence our students are invited to experience a variety of approaches, thematics, theoretics, and modes of thinking and study. We sometimes feel threatened by a discourse that uses income as shorthand for quality, and we want to maintain our disciplinary integrities in the face of external pressures. And yet we also recognise that there can be benefits to integrating different, even odd ways of thinking, teaching and researching: after all, we value diversity.

Above all, we are not adverse to words like ‘excellence’, ‘global’, ‘international’, ‘world-leading’, but we also need to, and want to, and above all can put substance behind the gloss. And we should do this because enhancing our reputation and understanding our strengths means that we can reap the benefits of teaching the best students and working alongside the best colleagues.

There are clear next steps. The University is building a new approach to internal and external communications and wants to highlight strengths across all five Faculties. In order to take full advantage of this, we as a Faculty need to be able to put into words what we’re good at. The Forum has made a great start to this process and I look forward to working with you all to develop and substantiate our narrative.

Jackie Labbe

Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor