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Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus
Advice for New Faculty Members: Nihil Nimus, by Robert Boice. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000. 319 pp. $28.00 (paper)
Although Robert Boice's 1992 book, The New Faculty Member, was written for faculty development professionals, it proved to be of interest to novice professors as well. Because of this, and because of the spate of research on the new faculty member during the past decade, Boice decided to write a practical guide directed at the new faculty member. The information included in Advice for the New Faculty Member: Nihil Nimus has been the basis for the many workshops and seminars given by Boice during his years in faculty development. Will readers benefit from the book as much as if they had attended Boice's workshops on teaching or writing? Probably not, but discerning new faculty members could learn enough to increase their chances of winning tenure and promotion. Why discerning? Because some of the principles and advice proposed by Boice seem vague and unhelpful; others are clearly useful and on target.
The book includes three sections. In the first, "Moderate Work at Teaching," Boice discusses "proven ways of easing the surprisingly hard work of teaching." It includes eight rules or principles, many of which are similar to the rules in Section 2 of the book, "Write in Mindful Ways." Section 3, "Socialize and Serve with Compassion," discusses not only the typical service activities of faculty members, but also the importance (according to Boice) of socializing and getting along with colleagues.
Throughout the book, the theme of nihil nimus (i.e., nothing in excess) is discussed and applied; Boice further defines nihil nimus as "looking for simple, [End Page 186] effective strategies that allow new faculty to work efficiently amid a seeming overload of demands for their time and energy." He also refers to this theme as "moderation in working," which, it seems to me, could be easily misinterpreted by a young faculty member. Few of the major accomplishments have been attained by men or women working only in moderation.
In the section on teaching Boice elaborates on his eight rules of moderation (p. 99):
1. Wait, reflect, and learn--rather than rush, impatiently and impulsively.
2. Begin early at truly important tasks, before feeling fully ready.
3. Work in brief, economical sessions.
4. Stop in timely fashion, before diminishing returns set in.
5. Moderate over attachments to what you prepare, present--and overreactions to criticism.
6. Moderate negative thoughts and excessive emotions.
7. Let others, even critics, do some of the work.
8. Teach with compassion, communicate with immediacy and comprehension, and thus decrease student (and faculty) incivilities.
Some of these principles seem to me to be more important than others. In particular, rules 5 through 8 seem more easily understood and useful to novice teachers. Take number 7, for example. Boice states that newcomers often believe that letting others do some of the work is tantamount to self-weakness and, moreover, relinquishes a teacher's autonomy. To counter these misconceptions, he points out that effective teachers are known to delegate responsibilities and actually enjoy sharing the credit for collaboration and assistance in their teaching. He then discusses some exercises the new teacher might use to increase collaboration, such as looking for potential co-teachers/guest speakers. He also lists strategies for learning from colleague classroom visits.
In the second section, Boice discusses the same eight rules (plus two others) as they apply to writing. Several deal with overcoming anxiety or writing blocks. Boice has done some solid research on this topic, and his journal articles, along with this section of the book, may well be the most helpful to beginning faculty members. In fact, seasoned faculty members may also find Boice's advice useful for getting "unstuck." Of course, the hardest part of writing is having something worth saying. This section assumes that the faculty member has gathered valid information that deals with a worthy issue...