Nine faculty positions filled for 2009-2010

Amidst the hiring freeze declared by President Schapiro in October, in which only the most essential position searches remained open, the College has recently added to its faculty nine new tenure-track professors in nine different academic departments. According to Bill Wagner, dean of the Faculty, the College hired 13 tenure-track professors last year.

According Wagner, the Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) reviewed the previously authorized faculty searches at the time of the hiring freeze. The CAP considered the degree to which any given position was essential for allowing students to progress normally through a major or concentration and to fulfill the College’s requirements.

“Given our current economic situation, we’re asking every department to look at what’s really necessary and see if they can cover positions with current faculty members,” said Mike Reed, vice president for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity.

“This year presented both challenge and opportunity for hiring. On the one hand, the market was weaker, [due to] fewer colleges and universities seeking to hire faculty, so we interviewed and pursued candidates that in other years we might not have had a chance of hiring,” said Stephan Sheppard, chair of economics. “On the other hand we knew that with the present financial constraints on the College we would need to identify some really good candidates to present to CAP for appointment to the faculty.”

Nine tenure-track position searches were authorized by the CAP for continuation. Visiting professors Sara Dubow ’91 in history, David Morris in theater, and Mea Cook in geosciences were hired as assistant department professors. Additionally, new professors Oyinda Oyelaran in chemistry, Justin Crowe ’03 in political science and Nate Kornell in psychology were hired. Elizabeth Beasley was hired as an assistant math professor, but will begin teaching for the 2010-2011 academic year. The classics department has yet to confirm the hiring of its new faculty member, and the economics department has tentatively agreed to hire Quamrul Ashraf.

“My impression this year is that all the finalist pools were exceptionally strong, and we hired our top candidate in nearly every search,” Wagner said.
In addition to the hires authorized by the CAP, five searches were postponed for economics, history, biology, art history and environmental studies department. “We still expect the five searches to go forward next year,” Wagner said.

“There were many colleges and universities that canceled all of their searches this year,” Sheppard said. “I think it was really smart of Williams to allow some of its searches to go forward. It is precisely at times like this that the College can make some really strong additions to the faculty.”

Diversity in hiring

In filling the positions, the College attracted a diverse group. “Of the nine new tenure-track faculty hired, four are women, two are Asian American and one is African American,” Wagner said. “We have made some progress toward our goal of creating a diverse and inclusive faculty, although we still need to continue to work hard at this.”

According to Reed, creating a diverse faculty is a conscious ambition, involving both advertising and direct recruiting. “All colleges and universities are making concerted efforts to increase diversity, at the faculty/staff level and at the student level,” he said. “Although there has been an increase in the numbers of minorities earning PhDs, it’s still a very competitive process to hire them.”

Last year, Reed traveled with colleagues to Berkeley University, which has a higher number of minority students than many universities, where he spoke to over 170 PhD candidates about “the merits of teaching at a liberal arts college.” “Despite the fact that we are well-known by some populations, a large number of candidates we met [at Berkeley] were not familiar with Williams,” he said. Additionally, he noted that the College often loses candidates to larger universities, which may offer a lighter teaching load, a larger salary, more money for research and teaching opportunities for spouses or partners.

The size of a candidate pool for a particular position can range from hundreds to a handful of potential professors. After several steps in the selection process, some candidates visit the College. On these visits, the College hosts informational breakfast and lunch meetings that are unrelated to the interview process, intended to “show what makes us unique: the community, that [Williamstown] is a good place to raise children,” Reed said. “We let the candidates have the opportunity to experience our community, and hope it’s a good fit, then offer a package that’s reasonably competitive.”

Due to the competitive nature of the process, forming a diverse faculty takes time. “In many institutions, [faculty] diversity is a result of a department making an effort over a period of years,” Reed said. “You can’t develop a diverse pool of candidates overnight.”