College grants tenure to professors Cohen, Ephraim, Knibbs, Mitchell

Last month, the Board of Trustees Executive Committee approved the Committee on Appointment’s vote to grant tenure to four College professors: Phoebe Cohen, Laura Ephraim, Eric Knibbs and Gregory Mitchell.

Cohen, a professor of geosciences, researches the fossils of extinct organisms. Currently, she is investigating a mass extinction that took place at the end of the Devonian Period. She is also researching the oldest fossilized evidence of organisms that made hard body parts using minerals, perhaps as a means of defense.

“I’m interested in how life and environments have co-evolved throughout [earth’s] history, with a focus on life before the evolution of animals,” Cohen said.

Cohen enjoys both introducing students to earth sciences in lower-level courses and diving into more in-depth topics in upper-level seminars. Working with research students, she said, has been one of her favorite parts of teaching at the College.

“I really enjoy getting to know my research students and then keeping in touch with them after they leave Williams,” Cohen said. “It’s such a privilege to be able to become a part of someone’s life and to help them grow as thinkers and as people.”

Now that she has tenure, Cohen is looking forward to having more freedom in her teaching and research.

“I really enjoy my job here at Williams, and it was gratifying to know that my colleagues value the effort that I put into my work both in teaching and research,” Cohen said. “I’m looking forward to experimenting more in my teaching and to digging into some more long-term research projects that might not work out or might take a while to come to fruition. I’ve also always wanted to write a popular science book, so maybe that will happen at some point too.”

Ephraim, a professor of political science, researches the political theory of environmental studies, science and technology and democratic and feminist theory. She wrote Who Speaks for Nature? On the Politics of Science and co-edited Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural Through Politics. Ephraim is also looking forward to the added freedom that tenure will give her in teaching and research. “My dominant feelings [upon receiving tenure] were relief, joy and gratitude,” she said. “I’m most looking forward to using the greater level of autonomy that comes with the security of tenure to discover new challenges in the work I have always loved.”

Knibbs is a legal historian and professor of history. He focuses his research on the early medieval forgeries associated with Pseudo-Isidore. As the medieval European historian in the history department, he teaches courses on the Middle Ages and European history immediately after the collapse of the western Roman Empire. He particularly enjoys his seminar on witchcraft, which “covers the history of magic and sorcery from the ancient to the medieval worlds as a lead-up to the notorious witch persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries,” he said.

Knibbs first heard he was granted tenure after a late dinner at a conference in Germany. “At that point, I was distracted enough and had drunk enough beer to basically forget that I was waiting on news of tenure in the first place,” he said. “But I was happy to hear of it.”

Knibbs values the history department community and is looking forward to the additional freedom that he will gain in his teaching as a tenured professor.

“I’ve come to enjoy enormously the collegiality and the company of my colleagues in the history department,” he said. “As a tenured professor, I’m looking forward to thinking with a little more chronological breadth about my future at the College and the courses I’d like to teach. I am a little sad to have given up on my dreams of moving to Munich, finding work in a sport shop and becoming a running bum, but the grass is always greener.”

Mitchell, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, worked in Brazil for 12 years researching questions related to sex work and public policy. His book Tourist Attractions: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil’s Sexual Economy was published in 2015, and he has a new book in the works.

“My next book is tentatively titled ‘40,000 Missing Girls: Moral Panics, Sporting Events and the Spectacle of Sex Trafficking,’” Mitchell said. “It examines police violence against female sex workers during periods preceding mega-events like the World Cup and the Olympics and the ways in which well-meaning but misguided foreign groups such as evangelical missionaries, anti-prostitution feminist groups and business developers actually contribute to a lot of violence in the run-up to these events as they pressure authorities to ‘clean up’ red light areas.”

Mitchell teaches a seminar on sexual economies, which relates directly to his research, and also enjoys teaching the popular “Performing Masculinity in Global Popular Culture” course. He is excited about the honor of receiving tenure and the flexibility it will give him to try a new, ambitious course idea.

“Receiving tenure is a major milestone in an academic’s career,” Mitchell said. “Now that I’m tenured, I’ll be putting a lot of time into a new class for spring of next year called ‘Race, Gender and Sexuality in Brazil.’ It provides resources for all of the enrolled students to come Rio de Janeiro with me over Spring Break to do their own exploratory fieldwork projects related to social justice issues.  It will be a lot of work, and it could be a spectacular failure, but it’s the kind of ‘high risk, high reward’ thing I feel like tenure allows me to attempt.”

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