On departing, sweet sorrow

The University Studies program is doing well, but it is falling short of its original blueprint.

That describes the assessment of Mark Trowbridge, long-time teacher and enthusiast for University Studies. At the end of summer, after some 15 years of living year-to-year as an adjunct professor at Portland State, Trowbridge will depart for a job with a future. He will become an associate professor and art historian at Marymount College in Arlington, VA. Marymount is a small liberal arts college of 3,400 students in the Washington, D.C. area.

“I don’t have anything bad to say about University Studies,” declared Trowbridge. “I absolutely believe in the program. It is not only good for the students, it is good for the faculty to participate.”

It is in faculty participation that Trowbridge sees the program falling short of its ideals.

“If there’s any one thing that needs improvement, it is departmental participation,” he said. “That’s how the program was designed and that’s not how it has worked.”

He said when the faculty senate approved University Studies, it was specified that the academic departments would assign teachers to the program. But this has not been the case, he said.

“Instead, the core University Studies faculty are like me: adjuncts, the majority on one or two year contracts.”

All the present University Studies faculty members are dedicated teachers, Trowbridge said. If the departments would chip in some of their faculty, it might mean some of these adjuncts would become superfluous. Trowbridge would consider that regrettable but still beneficial to both students and departmental faculty.

He has seen a continuing decline in departmental participation in University Studies. On the other hand, he believes the administration of the program is excellent.

“There were more departmental faculty involved at the freshman level when I started University Studies,” Trowbridge said. “Certain departments have agreements to teach in Universities Studies. Departmental participation can take many forms, in the capstone, in sophomore inquiry.”

Trowbridge sees teaching in University Studies a benefit for both departmental professors as much as students.

“It’s incredibly difficult teaching. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done.” he said. University Studies operates more on a discussion level than a lecture pattern, challenging teachers to reach outside their customary academic areas. Trowbridge sees this as a changing and emerging pattern in many universities nation-wide.

“In University Studies I get to teach things I’m interested in outside my main field of studies,” he said. “No subject turns out to be just a fly in the amber.”

His typical class is not concentrated in his particular field of expertise, which is early northern European art.

“It’s made me a better teacher and a better scholar,” he said. “It has also made me a better candidate for other positions.” Meaning, perhaps, higher-level academic or administrative appointments.

The typical departmental lecture class may have 80 students, with the teacher getting to know few if any of them personally. By contrast, in the University Studies pattern, the teacher gets to know the students as individuals. He sees this not only as beneficial to learning but more inspiring to students to continue their university education and earn degrees.

Trowbridge himself was not always in University Studies. A 1985 Portland State graduate, he taught his first class here in art history in winter term 1989. After various academic meanderings, he taught medieval art history beginning pretty much full-time in summer 1993. He began teaching in University Studies part-time in 1995 and went full-time there in 1997. He recessed temporarily in 2002 for post-doctoral fellowship studies in Europe. Twice he applied here for tenure but was rebuffed.

Trowbridge is enthusiastic about his new job. It will put him on tenure track, something he was never able to gain at PSU and he will do what he loves best, teach art history classes. He will have time to work on his book in progress, free of some of the coordinating duties he took on voluntarily from time to time in University Studies.

Trowbridge will gain access to D.C.’s research opportunities, such as the National Gallery. His assignment will include summer study in Europe. Trowbridge finds himself reaching a position close to hog heaven after decades of precarious fixed-contract existence on the Portland campus.

At the same time, he concedes that Portland State has tough budgetary uncertainties. PSU is never sure what the state legislature will dole out in the support that makes it budgetarily safe to add more tenured faculty.