What have you done for your school's faculty members lately? This athletic director has recently revised his department's educator appreciation night.
By Dr. Kevin Hatcher
Kevin Hatcher, EdD, is the Director of Athletics at California State University-San Bernardino. He is a former Senior Associate Athletic Director at Colgate University and Associate Athletic Director at the University of Texas-El Paso. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
During my 16 years as an athletic administrator, I have been around all types of faculty. I have seen professors who can be a little too enthusiastic when it comes to athletics and those who feel sports have no place within the overall vision of the university.
But most faculty seem to fall somewhere in between. They believe athletics is an important part of campus life and that student-athletes should be treated like any other students on campus. How do we honor these faculty members, who are quietly helping us advance our mission?
At California State University-San Bernardino, we show our appreciation for faculty members with an awards ceremony during halftime of a men's basketball game. While this is not a unique idea, we have recently changed our format, which has forced me to more closely examine how to make this type of event a success.
Know Your Objectives
There are several different ways to honor faculty members at an athletic event. That's why it's important to know what you are trying to accomplish before you begin.
One objective is to formally appreciate faculty who are already involved in your program. This is a fairly easy and standard event, whereby you recognize those who are helping you in concrete ways, such as your faculty athletics rep and team faculty liaisons.
Another approach is to honor professors who are not connected to athletics but have the potential to be ambassadors for your department. In this case, you want to seek out those who carry weight on campus and are respected by their peers, such as faculty senate members or those who serve on important university-wide committees.
With this objective, it can be advantageous to get deans from each college involved in the selection process to ensure broad-based participation. I learned this lesson the hard way. During a previous campus appreciation event, I carefully chose faculty who I felt would be great ambassadors for my athletic department, but about a week before the actual event, I realized they represented only three of the five colleges on campus. I didn't think it was a big deal and figured the faculty wouldn't notice. I was wrong. While the event went well, there were a couple phone calls afterward persuading me to be more inclusive in my next event.
A third option is to celebrate faculty members who may not be well known, but are going the extra mile to be great teachers and mentors to student-athletes. The goal here is simply to show faculty members that the athletic department appreciates all they do and foster an athletic-academic connection. This is what we now do at Cal State-San Bernardino, and it has proven very successful.
To make this idea happen, we ask team captains and SAAC members to nominate teachers and explain how the faculty member is contributing to their college experience. This has been a great way to educate our student-athletes on the importance of honoring those who teach them.
During the actual event, we give each faculty member a small gift pack (donated by a sponsor), but the best presents are the stories from the students about why they chose to recognize those individuals. Most of those honored are surprised and touched by the speeches. We also have our student-athletes escort the faculty member on the court to receive the gift and recognition.
Link to Academics
Regardless of who you honor and why, this type of event is a great opportunity to link athletics with academics, and you can accomplish this through a few additional steps. The first is to involve your President and/or Provost in the festivities. This will prove your commitment to academics and they will enjoy an opportunity to thank the faculty first hand.
For our most recent event, I asked our President and Provost, as well as the Chair of our Faculty Senate, to accompany me at half court during the ceremony. The President and Provost handed out the gifts, while the Faculty Senate Chair and I shook hands with the honorees. The faculty members said it was special to receive their gifts from the top administrators at the school.
It is also important to invite all faculty to the game for the special ceremony. We promote the event widely and offer free admission to all faculty and their family members and friends. We also make sure to have some give-aways for fans at the game.
Once you have faculty in your arena, do not miss out on the opportunity to educate them about the successes of your student-athletes. Before the event, you can have a faculty reception where you talk about some of the ways your student-athletes and your department contribute to the academic and social aspects of the university. During the game, your PA announcer can slip in positive information about things like athlete graduation rates, academic All-Americans, and community service projects.
There is no doubt that most athletic departments can benefit from more positive interactions with faculty. It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations that go into running our programs and fail to realize that faculty are the cornerstone of any college or university. As athletics administrators, it is our job to reach out to our faculty in a meaningful way.