Hello world!

My name is Steven McLean.  I have been teaching at a liberal arts college since graduation with an MFA in Design and Technical Theatre from The Pennsylvania State University in 1986.   My first position was as Technical Director and Lighting Designer for an active theatre program at a small Catholic-affiliated college in College Station PA, Just south of Allentown.  The institution was at the time called Allentown College of St. Francis De Sales.  It is now known as De Sales University.  I taught theatre and served in this capacity through the summer of 1991.  During late summer 1991 I relocated with my family to Indianola Iowa, just south of Des Moines, Iowa to take a position as Designer and Technical Director at Simpson College.  Simpson is also a liberal arts college.  I have taught there ever since.  I joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor.  Twenty years later, I serve in the same capacity (but at the rank of Professor).

One of the perks available to those of us in academia is an institution known as sabbatical leave.  Each school has their own procedure for and expectations of a faculty member while on sabbatical leave.  Simpson College is pretty traditional in this respect.  Once a faculty member has achieved “tenure” (another institution peculiar to education and a few other industries) a faculty member at Simpson College is eligible to apply for and be granted sabbatical leave every 7 years.   The sabbatical leave typically consists of a one-semester hiatus in which the faculty member is relieved of teaching and other responsibilities to the school during which time the faculty member continues to receive their full salary.

While it is popular among academics and non-academics alike to characterize a sabbatical leave as a vacation, it is not my experience that a sabbatical is awarded for a superficial purpose such as this.  While on leave, my administration and faculty colleagues expect the faculty member to engage in meaningful activity.  Research, additional training, professional work in the faculty member’s industry, the opportunity to publish are all considered legitimate activities for sabbatical leave.

Not every faculty member who is eligible in a given year might be granted such a leave; a lot rests on the quality of the proposal.  I am grateful that my colleagues who served on the Faculty Personnel Committee (committees and committee service being yet another institution peculiar to educational organizations) that they recognized the legitimacy of my proposal.

This blog was born out of feedback that the committee passed along to me through the Academic Dean when he informed me that my sabbatical had been granted.  My proposal revolved around my need to become much more familiar with the use, function and application of moving-light and related next-generation lighting technologies.  One of the disadvantages of teaching design and technical theatre in a small liberal arts program is that because of the relentless progression of classes, designs, supervision of student designs and performing technical direction functions for productions, and other non-curricular expectations of the college, there is precious little opportunity for individual research or professional development not directly related to courses taught or productions staged.  The weakest aspect of my proposal in the view of the committee was the lack of an articulated “contribution to the field” and “demonstration of interaction with peers in my discipline”.  One of the recommendations of the committee was that I take steps to find a mechanism for sharing any findings with some constituency.

I have never blogged before.  Therefore, although the eventual purpose of this blog once my sabbatical is in process will be to act as a journal to record my experiences, I need to work out the logistics of maintaining a blog.    I realize that I am not proposing to undertake any industry-shaking innovation.  There are  many in our industry who are far more qualified than I to explain cutting-edge lighting technology to like-minded professionals than I am (or am likely to be even after the completion of this research). I also recognize that I have peers in similar positions in similar liberal arts institutions who I imagine find themselves with similar constraints toward professional development.  My sabbatical is scheduled for spring of 1012.  Consequently, I propose to spend the intervening 13 months exploring issues related to designers and technicians who chose to teach in liberal arts educational institutions.

That’s all for now.

SJM

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