I am in Dwinelle Hall this morning interviewing one of our esteemed faculty members – Munis Faruqui. Munis is a historian and Associate Professor in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies. In 2014, Dr. Faruqui was one of three recipients of UC-Berkeley’s most prestigious honor for teaching, the Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Faruqui also is the co-chair of two campus initiatives: Berkeley Urdu Initiative and Berkeley Pakistan Initiative.
Dr Faruqui, thank you for agreeing to share some of what it’s like to be a faculty member at Cal with our staff on the Wisdom Cafe’. As we begin a new school year, we thought it would be interesting for our staff to think about what this means from a faculty perspective. So, tell me please, what does “Back to School” represent to you?
The job is like oscillating between being a monk and a monkey.
It’s about new beginnings for students, faculty and staff, about adventures in learning and teaching, getting to know people, introducing the institution to people, having a good laugh. I often say the job is like oscillating between being a monk and a monkey; a monk is quiet and hermetic – that’s like research and writing time; the monkey is the performative element – teaching, asking for money, meetings. These require using different parts of your brain and constantly switching between them.
What is a typical day or week like for you during the semester?
30% time is admin work. Everyday brings new challenges. It depends on your teaching schedule. I am juggling classes, office hours, faculty meetings, email – I never eat, never have time for lunch. I close my door in the morning to try and get some writing done.
How have you found staff most helpful?
I have a real appreciation for the folks on this campus who keep things running.
I work with staff in 2 areas: personal – I especially need help with getting reimbursed. My department staff are extremely helpful and solicitous with this. The second is in terms of students – the advisors. They do unacknowledged work that happens behind the scenes that we never hear about as faculty. I have a real appreciation for the folks on this campus who keep things running. Staff want to do the best job they can do. They work in very tough conditions sometimes and faculty don’t always get it. It is structurally difficult to work in a massive institution like Berkeley.
You have said that students have to feel comfortable, invested, and that they have to trust you. Do you think the same is true for the staff you work with? How do you try to make that happen?
Yes. The terms that you work with staff are very different than the terms that you work with students. In the classroom, I control the flow of conversation and what gets talked about. I have learned over the years to be mindful that staff have perspectives I don’t have of the institution and strong opinions of how the institution should work. I try to solicit their opinions. I have to have a certain kind of demeanor, not ordering, trying to work with staff that I hope allows for good working relationships.
What do you wish staff understood about faculty?
We’re not all the same. We have different personalities and different ways of operating. Most faculty are extraordinarily busy. We have research agendas, teaching agendas and enormous administrative responsibilities. We always have deadlines. We have to step up to the plate intellectually. That’s a pressure – Are we good enough? Are we smart enough? Do our grad students respect us?
You’ve already won the Distinguished Teaching Award. How do you maintain that standard of excellence?
The best thing I’ve done for my teaching is to…tap into the zeitgeist of my students.
Knowing what works and continuing that model as a foundation. Tweaking lectures and Powerpoints. I constantly offer new classes to keep myself fresh and interested in new things. It forces me to change my jokes! The best thing I’ve done for my teaching is to read pop culture like Gawker and current news – tap into the zeitgeist of my students and bring that into my classrooms.
What’s your favorite thing about Cal?
The fact that it’s a public institution. The diversity in terms of ethnicities and class. It doesn’t smack of privilege. It brings people from all over the world but also encapsulates California. The school spirit and attachment to the institution.
Where’s your favorite place to hang out on campus?
My office! (in Dwinelle facing Wheeler) I have a great view. It gives me access to Sproul Plaza. I see all the various groups of students congregating on the benches. All the activity. You see it all.
Anything else you’d like to share with our staff?
We all have to be constant gardeners. We have to tend our little part of the plot.
People really want to maintain Berkeley’s title as the greatest public university in the world. That requires nurturing. We all have to be constant gardeners. We all have to tend our little part of the plot because if we don’t, weeds will spread.