A Letter (and a Recipe) from Ames on Faculty Engagement and Communication

Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Development Ames Hawkins. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08

Dear Columbia College Chicago Faculty, 

I hope you all had a fantastic winter break and that the semester has gotten off to a lovely start! 

I write to you as the newly appointed Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Development. Here’s the simplest version of what this means: It is my responsibility to create, direct, coordinate and manage a comprehensive Faculty Development Portfolio for the college, one that includes programming, awards, and on-demand resources (both one-on-one and online) intended to support all faculty members in the areas in which they are evaluated: scholarly and creative endeavor, teaching, and service. 

There are many areas of faculty development that need attention, many ways I could open this conversation. But in this first letter, there is one place I want to begin: Morale. 

In both face-to-face conversations with you all and the survey conducted this past fall (60% of you participated! Thank you!), faculty repeatedly stated two ways to improve morale. 

First, you told me you wanted an opportunity to present your work and see the work of your colleagues. 

From now until May 2020, I will create, organize and manage a suite of offerings that reflect your interests and professional development needs as they coincide with faculty development research and best practices. The first larger-scale event is Publication Celebration: an opportunity to present, engage and highlight faculty work and achievements. Here are the details:

Deadline to submit: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2017

Publication Celebration  
Wednesday, February 22
5–6:30 p.m.
600 S. Michigan Ave., 8th Floor

The Publication Celebration is but ONE event of a larger initiative called Faculty Works, a program that includes a range of annual events created in order to feature new creative and scholarly work. I invite you to join us in an effort to resist the winter doldrums, congratulate your colleagues and take a look at their work.

This brings me to the second item faculty repeatedly cited as connected to morale: Better communication. 

You’ve already received a number of emails from Academic Affairs that present you with information about the Publication Celebration and other new opportunities such as the Diversity and Inclusion in the Classroom Series. They are a form of communication. But I also know that many folks on the survey were talking about communication not only in terms of announcements, but about the need for administrative transparency. 

That’s why I am writing in the form of a letter. I am not looking to revolutionize email-reading patterns. But I do know that folks read more often, and more attentively when information and ideas are presented in a more interesting and in accessible form. They also read when they believe something is in it for them. In writing a letter, I have an opportunity to tell you the why’s and how’s of a program, series; to explore the relevance of a faculty development issue. The letter affords me the ability to provide you important information as though I were speaking not to a mass of people, but to an audience of one: directly to you.

Here’s what I’m working on: A regular communication for you, titled simply, Letter from Ames, that I hope will be worth five to seven minutes of your time. In these email letters, I will remind you of upcoming important deadlines and provide information regarding new and continuing faculty development opportunities. I’ll highlight deadlines and dates so that if you need to skim, you can. 

But I also want to do what I can to frame the programming in terms of conversations that are relevant to our identity as an institution of higher education. I will do my best to explain why we are starting where we are, how the programming is being developed, who is involved, how we’ll assess the work, and what, as faculty development research and best practices suggest, may be at stake. 

Both of these improvements are based on the meetings I had with more than one hundred faculty members, both full- and part-time, across all cohorts and ranks during my time as Faculty Administrative Fellow for Faculty Development Initiatives. Academic Managers accepted my invitation to listen to their ideas about faculty development in departments and programs. I had meetings with all three Dean’s Councils and leaders in Academic Services, Assessment and Accreditation, Digital Learning, Information Technology, the Library and Student Affairs. In December, I presented the result of the Faculty Development Survey at a Faculty Senate Meeting, and answered questions and heard feedback there. 

In other words, I believe this work depends upon conscious practice of collaboration. And it also means that, above all, I am here for you. People have warned me against saying this—they want to protect my time, make sure I’m not inundated with requests for meetings, that sort of thing. I really appreciate this sentiment, but here’s the thing: That’s the idea. One part of this job is to be available to faculty for individual appointments and to provide one-on-one support. 

So, how else do we improve morale beyond better communication and showcasing the work you do? 

Food. There are quite a number of budding chefs and foodies in our midst. That’s why I thought I might conclude each letter—as a post script—with a recipe. If you’ve got a good one to share, please let me know!

with appreciation,


Best Vegan (if you want) Lentil Soup

Six years ago, when my daughter returned from France, she gave me a box of du Puy lentils, those fancy green lentils used in the classic dish cassoulet. I have no real idea why it took me so long to use them. Probably because I didn’t want to make cassoulet. Four weeks ago, I pulled them off the shelf and after Googling “do lentils go bad” to make sure I wouldn’t poison friends and family, I made my best-ever batch of lentil soup. I am sure you can use regular lentils if you don’t have/can’t find/don’t want to bother looking for the fancy green French ones—but don’t use red. They would turn to mush. I made my batch with bacon, but I present the recipe in vegan form because I can. I just ate the last of it last night. Aged well in the freezer. Winter has been fairly gentle so far, but this kind of comfort food would be welcome at any dinner table in Chicago from now through April. 

1 large (I use sweet) onion 
1 lb. carrots—regular or fancy multicolored if you want variety
1 large-ish parsnip
6 or so celery ribs
4-6 garlic cloves
1 lb. French green lentils (I had a half kilo box, but this is about the same) 
2 32 oz. boxes vegetarian broth (make 1 beef if you’ve gone with the bacon)
[½ lb. bacon cut into one inch pieces—the meat-eater’s version]

1 TBS fresh or 2 tsp dried thyme
2 shakes of Adobo
cracked pepper to taste

Begin by dicing the onion and mincing the garlic. I only peel the carrots if they look old and sad, otherwise there’s no real need. Cut them into about ½ inch pieces. Peel parsnips, unless farm fresh, and cut smaller than carrots—usually 1 cm cubes. Chop the celery into smaller pieces than the carrots, maybe more like the size of the diced onion. Note: I always triple or quadruple the amount of vegetables found in a usual soup recipe. You can dial this back if you like, but I think when it comes to vegetables in soup, more is better. 

In a soup pot or Dutch oven, if you’re going with bacon, start there. Heat the pot and then put in the bacon and cook until crisp. Spoon off most of the fat and then add the olive oil. 

If you are going vegan, you’ll start with the olive oil. Now we’re all on the same page.

Heat the oil and then add the onion and garlic. Over medium heat, cook until the onion is translucent. Make sure you’re stirring to keep the onion and garlic from sticking to the bottom and sides. Add the carrots and celery and cook/stir 3-5 more minutes until the veggies brighten. Add thyme, Adobo and pepper and stir one minute more before dumping in two boxes of broth and the pound of lentils. Bring the whole thing to a boil and turn down to simmer. Check in 45 minutes. Cook until lentils are cooked through. I happen to like thicker soups and stews—true one pot/bowl meals. If it looks thicker than you’d like, just add water to your desired consistency. I usually end up adding somewhere between ½-1 cup of water near the end. Be sure to taste at this point and if you think it needs more seasoning, add it. 

My advice for large pots of food is always this: If you can’t eat it all in the next two days, rather than waiting for you to get sick of it and then freezing late or pitching it out, freeze at least a meal’s worth up front. I immediately divided my pot of soup into four containers. Gave one away and ate the other (each served two) the next three weeks in a row. 

Serve with drop cheese biscuits or crusty French bread. Suggested beverage: a nice IPA or Lead Feather Dark Ale by Half Acre. If you’re going non-alcoholic, rooibos tea is a delightful compliment.