For several years the American Academy of Religion has been the home for a group of public university department chairs, meeting annually to discuss shared challenges. But the 90 minute lunch meeting (such as last November’s) just isn’t enough time to discuss anything in any real detail.
So, thanks to funding from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, with assistance from the Office of the Provost, here at the University of Alabama, a small group of chairs from public universities’ Religious Studies departments are coming to Tuscaloosa for a full day workshop this Friday (April 29). Flying in on Thursday and departing Saturday, the 8 person group represents the full spectrum of departments — from two major Ph.D.-granting units to a department that has just had a BA major in religious studies approved for implementation this coming year. On the agenda are a variety of topics that, whatever their department’s size, they all share: from recruiting students and concerns over the job market for graduates (regardless the degree earned) to curriculum, faculty mentoring, fundraising, state & federal education and assessment policies, and even social media and PR. Everyone is getting themselves to Alabama but the University of Alabama is housing participants and there’s bound to be a meal or two on us. (Maybe some BBQ?)
It’s reasonable to say that the hope is likely for this full day workshop to continue in the future, and to grow in the number of participants able to attend and contribute — perhaps hosted at a different school each year — but one step at a time.
In the meantime, some chairs are already using our email distribution list as a resource for feedback from those who may have already successfully addressed issues their departments are now facing. So if you’re a public university Religious Studies chair who is interested in this resource but not already on the email list then please contact Russell McCutcheon. As for this Fall’s upcoming meeting at the AAR conference, keep the Sunday lunch hour open; that agenda will likely grow from this coming week’s workshop, so stay tuned.