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Tony Preus, distinguished teaching professor of philosophy, said he has gotten to know students with a range of academic interests as faculty master of CIW.
Meet the faculty masters: Tony Preus
October 12, 2011Tweet
Tony Preus, distinguished teaching professor of philosophy, has served as faculty master at College-in-the-Woods since 2000. He is one of six faculty masters at the University. For more on the history of the University’s faculty masters, go to http://www2.binghamton.edu/academics/provost/undergrad/faculty-masters/history.html.
Question: How long have you been at Binghamton, and what assignments have you held on campus?
Answer: I came to Binghamton University in 1964. I have served as chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and chair of the Department of Philosophy. I am an academic advisor for the Department of Philosophy and PPL majors. I was chair of the Personal Safety Advisory Committee for a number of years. Outside the University, I am secretary of the Society of Ancient Greek Philosophy.
Q: How do you think faculty masters help students academically? Why is that important?
A: Faculty masters try to bring academic life into the residential environment, which helps the student maintain an integral life as a whole person. Specifically, we organize academic advising within the community, we sponsor activities within the colleges that involve faculty fellows, we encourage events that have an academic focus, and we organize learning communities within the colleges. All of these activities and more are important for maximizing student success in academic programs and student satisfaction with their college experience.
Q: What is your favorite thing about being faculty master?
A: I enjoy working with students and with the Residential Life staff. I think the teamwork aspect of Res Life is refreshing.
Q: What have you learned as a faculty master about the University’s residential communities that surprised you?
A: The rigidly hierarchical organization of Residential Life is somewhat alien to academics, who tend to break down or ignore hierarchical distinctions. The rapid turnover of Res Life professionals is also somewhat disconcerting. On the academic side of things one can generally assume that your colleagues will be more or less the same people 20 or more years from now, while in Res Life, you can have an entirely new group of colleagues, at least on the college level, within the space of two or three years.
Q: What about being a faculty master would surprise your faculty colleagues?
A: It would be the extent and ways in which faculty masters get to know students. For example, I can get to know an RA quite well and not have a clue about what subject he or she is majoring in. On the academic side of things, that’s usually the first thing you know about a student, since you’re mainly concerned whether he or she is “one of yours” or a “tourist” (taking your course just for the fun of it). As master, I more often know what their social interests and extra-curricular activities are, which other students they associate with, where they went for vacation, maybe even what they like to eat, before I find out what they are studying.
Q: So you have a different relationship with students as a faculty master vs. those you have in the classroom?
A: In the classroom situation, one’s acquaintance with students is normally limited to things directly related to the course. Faculty members know that students have a life outside this course, but in general they don’t want to know anything about that life if possible. But as master, we’re more or less in contact with the rest of the student’s life. The relationship is such that we are there, in the middle of the environment in which the student is living the rest of his or her life, so that the student recognizes a different sort of relationship with the master than with the professor. In CIW, I am “Tony;” in the classroom I am “Professor Preus,” even to the same individuals.
Q:How has your involvement as a faculty master been meaningful to you in ways that wouldn’t have happened if you’d remained solely in the classroom?
A: Probably the main thing is getting to know students who have the whole range of academic interests in the University, not just philosophy or PPL majors. Some of my favorite students have been in SOM or Watson, for example. I would never have met them at all in my classroom! My relationship with the other people in the faculty masters group has also been very meaningful. The faculty masters as a group are the best of the best, since they are some of the faculty members MOST committed to working with students. It definitely makes your life better when you are working with people who love what they are doing. This is not radically different from my situation in philosophy, since my colleagues there are excellent, too, but we don’t have the same degree of cooperative projects on the academic side as we do in the masters group.
Q: You’ve been a faculty master for several years. What do you believe are the long-term benefits you’ve gained from this role?
A: Getting to know a lot of great people I would never have met otherwise.
Actually improving my teaching, through getting to know students much better.
Paying college tuition for my two younger children from my extra-service payments.
Q: How has being a faculty master changed you?
A: I’m not sure whether it’s being master, or just aging, but I think I have mellowed a bit. I’ve become more forgiving toward student problems and a little less sarcastic perhaps.
Q: So, would you recommend being a faculty master to a colleague?
A: The basic answer would be: If you are embarked on a major scholarly research project, then better hold off on applying for a master position because the time constraints will interfere. If you became an academic in order to have your summers off, forget it, because you will be busy in July and August (July for Orientation, August for training new RDs and RAs). But if you became a professor because you wanted to be able to make a difference in the lives of students, and you’re not able to do that as much as you would like in the classroom situation, then here’s the job for you. I have come to love the job, and wouldn’t want to do anything else at this point in my life.
Q: Let’s change gears now: What’s your favorite CIW tradition and why?
A: It’s hard to choose! Woods Olympics is a great way to start the year, building a sense of identity in the buildings. Woods Jam and Woodstock have, I think, become better and more congenial from my perspective over the years I have been master. I enjoy both of them quite a lot. Our graduation ceremony is also an intensely bittersweet experience. I’m particularly proud of the student-faculty dinners I have organized; those have taken on some of the characteristics of a “tradition.”