CAP recommends four professors for tenure

The Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) has recommended that the Board of Trustees grant tenure to four assistant professors at their January meeting.

The CAP named Assistant Professor of Russian Julie Cassiday, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Andrea Danyluk, Assistant Professor of Physics Protik Majumder and Assistant Professor of Political Science Cheryl Shanks for tenure. The committee did not recommend Assistant Professor of History Eduardo Pagán for tenure.

Professors granted tenure are guaranteed employment for life, and can only be removed from their jobs in extraordinary circumstances. Dean of the Faculty and Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of English David L. Smith explained that tenure protects academic freedom. “There was a concern, based on the reactionary political climate in this country, that professors might be forced to suppress honest opinions in order to protect their jobs. The guarantee of lifetime employment was intended to protect the intellectual integrity of universities and hence of scholarship against political and other forms of intimidation,” he said.

Tenure recommendations are made by the CAP, a six-person committee chaired by the Dean of the Faculty. The committee also comprises the President, Provost and three senior faculty members, one from each of the three divisions who are elected by the faculty to three-year terms.

The CAP considers many different factors when reaching a decision about tenure recommendations. Smith explained that each candidate’s department submits a report to the CAP, outlining the department’s evaluation of the candidate’s scholarship, teaching and service to the College.

“Each untenured faculty member is evaluated annually by his or her department based on their performance in these three areas. These reports are submitted to the CAP each year, and the faculty receive a letter summarizing the contents of the report. At tenure time, all of the previous annual reports are included, and the department makes an evaluation based on all of this information,” Smith said. The Faculty Handbook calls for “exceptional strength” in both teaching and scholarship.

The evaluation of scholarship is conducted by members of the department and by four or more outside experts in the field. The student course survey (SCS) forms, student interviews and class visits from members of the department are the basis for the evaluation of teaching. Other sources of input include letters from students and service to the College, which consists of work on departmental and College committees.

The department compiles and analyzes all these factors and submits its report to the CAP along with a recommendation. “The CAP makes its recommendation to the President, who, in turn makes recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The conferral of tenure is voted by the trustees,” Smith said.

Associate Dean of the Faculty and Associate Professor of Philosophy Steven Gerrard explained that although CAP’s recommendations are not made official until January, the board’s approval is basically a rubber stamp.

The CAP’s deliberations and the candidate’s tenure packets are all confidential. “It feels like you’re applying into the void,” Pagán said. “All you can do is the best you can do and hopefully your department agrees with you, and if they don’t agree, then they can’t pass on a strong recommendation to the CAP.” Pagán said that the political climate of each department changes from year to year, as senior faculty members leave or go on sabbatical. “The standards change and the players change,” he said.

Pagán said he was surprised that no one could tell him why the CAP had decided not to recommend him for tenure.

“They don’t tell you anything,” Shanks agreed. “It’s all confidential, it stays confidential. You have no idea if you squeaked by or if you made it by a mile.” Shanks called the process a “guessing game,” but one that makes sense and is fair within its own context. “You know the criteria, but they won’t do the addition for you,” she said.

Julie Cassiday

Julie Cassiday said she was “extremely pleased” by the CAP’s recommendation. “I truly enjoy teaching at Williams and am grateful that they have recommended me for tenure here,” she said.

Cassiday’s research focuses on Russian drama and theater. She has published several articles on the subject since coming to Williams, and has recently completed a book, which should be published in the coming year, about the relationship between drama in the Soviet Union and the show trials of the Stalin era.

In the Russian department, Cassiday has taught a wide variety of courses, including “Tolstoy and his Age,” “The Golden Age of Russian Literature” and “1000 years of Russian Culture.”

“Ideally, one’s teaching and scholarship should support each other,” Cassidy said. “Given the array of courses I teach in any given year here at Williams, I only have the chance to apply my research directly to my teaching on an occasional basis. Nonetheless, I find that my research gives me a fresh perspective on material I teach regularly and conversely, that my teaching helps me to approach scholarly research from a new angle,” Cassiday said.

Andrea Danyluk

Andrea Danyluk specializes in Artificial Intelligence, specifically Machine Learning. “I am interested in algorithms that can be applied to large databases in order to extrapolate/discover interesting patterns in the data,” she explained. “Most recently I have been interested in the question of how such algorithms perform when the data to which they are applied contain systematic errors.”

Among the courses Danyluk has taught are “Data Structures and Advanced Programming,” “Artificial Intelligence: Image and Reality,” and “Theory of Computation.”

Danyluk explained that while research and teaching are “absolutely linked,” the ways in which scholarship enhances teaching can vary from discipline to discipline. In computer science, “it means being able to provide our students with examples of problems that motivate the need to learn the core material we present in early courses. Later, in electives, research can be a source of new and exciting projects. For our honors students, it means having the opportunity to work on a piece of a larger research project.”

Protik Majumder

Protik Majumder was “thrilled” to learn of the CAP’s recommendation. “It is very exciting to know that I’ll be able to continue teaching Williams students, and at the same time working collaboratively with them to pursue my atomic physics research for many years to come,” he said.

Majumder’s research in atomic physics uses lasers and atoms to study questions about physical theories, he explained. “We study the interaction of laser light with atoms in very fine detail to try and uncover information which is well beyond the realm of atoms, and more typically the subject of high-energy physics experiments,” he said. His work has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Majumder has taught courses at Williams on “Particles and Waves,” “Thermal and Statistical Physics” and “Physics Today.” He has also collaborated with a number of students on research in atomic physics. “Providing these students with their first research experience is an educational activity that has been very rewarding for me, and at the same time has produced concrete research results in the form of jointly published articles and conference presentations,” he said.

Although these collaborations are the most obvious instances of the overlap between his teaching and his scholarship, Majumder said that his research informed and enlivened all of his classes.

“I firmly believe that active, engaged research brings the excitement of this activity to their teaching. When one is constantly being challenged by research questions, it tends to encourage the kind of careful listening and creative thinking that are equally essential for good teaching,” he said.

Cheryl Shanks

Cheryl Shanks teaches International Relations in the Political Science Department. “International Relations generally looks at the way that global anarchy, the lack of a world government, shapes the way that problems are framed and conflicts get resolved,” she explained. She is interested in how this anarchy affects the achievement of human values, like justice, equality, security and freedom. “My class notes have titles like ‘genocide,’ ‘famine,’ ‘world government,’ ‘sweatshops,’ ‘Eurodisney’ and ‘crimes against humanity,’ all topics that scare my colleagues, especially one in Chemistry,” Shanks said.

Among the courses Shanks has taught are “Cultural Imperialism,” “Refugees and Global Crises” and “Research Design and Methods.” On the importance of her research, Shanks explained that not only is it essential for professors to keep up with the latest developments in their field, they must be engaged in research if they hope to teach these materials properly. “If you don’t do research, you won’t be able to see how the ideas and articles you teach are put together. You’ll be either critical and perfectionist, or uncritical and intellectually subservient. You also won’t be able to teach students how to do research, how to learn to create and evaluate knowledge on their own,” she said.

Eduardo Pagán

Eduardo Pagán said he was “surprised and not surprised” when he learned of the CAP’s decision not to recommend him for tenure. “There’s been a history of difficulty with this position in Latino Studies so in that way I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “The way that I was surprised is that I, like everyone who goes into this process, think I have a strong case to make.”

Pagán specializes in Latino history. His courses at Williams include “US History since Reconstruction,” “The History of Chicano Nationalism” and “An Intellectual History of Southwestern Indians.” He has recently been working with PBS on an episode of American Experience.

Pagán has not yet decided if he will appeal the decision or not. “I’m exploring my options, as they say, about the appeal process,” he said.

Pagán’s position in the history department was created amidst some controversy on campus over Latino studies. Brown Professor of History and Chair of the department William Wagner explained the circumstances that led to the creation of the position in Latino history in the early 1990s.

“The College was trying to fill a position in Latino studies in one of four or five departments, the idea being that we would get a team together and take the best candidate who came along,” Wagner said. In the second year of the search, a group of students organized protests and issued a list of demands, including the creation of a position specifically in Latino history. In the end, two professors were hired to tenure track positions, one in history and one in English.

Pagán suggested that the history department’s priorities might be in a different direction than Latino studies. “I think my department wants to turn my position into another position, and it’s within the rights of the department to do that,” he said. “Of course, I would disagree with that for personal reasons and also political reasons.”

Wagner said Latino studies were important to the History department. “From a department perspective, this is an area that we think is important and have identified as being important.” Although the department has not yet discussed its hiring priorities, Wagner said he would be “utterly surprised and stunned” if they did not attempt to hire a professor in Latino studies.

Professors Cassiday, Danyluk, Majumder and Shanks will be officially granted tenure by the Board of Trustees at their January meeting, and will become associate professors at the end of the school year in July of 2001.

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