Trends show high levels of faculty retirement, increased faculty searches

Every year, the College welcomes a variety of new faculty to campus. Over the next few years, however, the College will see an increase in the number of new faculty members on campus. This change is not the result of any plans to increase the amount of faculty at the College or due to an abnormal number of faculty leaving for other institutions or opportunities. Rather, this shift is largely due to current age distributions and a resulting increase in the number of faculty members who will soon be retiring.

Dean of the Faculty Lee Park explained the current trend. “Williams (like many institutions nationwide) is in the midst of a generational turnover of faculty,” she said. “This isn’t unexpected given the age distribution of our faculty, and we’ve been preparing for it for a number of years. With large numbers of faculty retiring, it follows that we’re doing a lot of hiring these days as well.”

This year, more than 15 different academic departments were hiring, and 19 tenure track searches were conducted. Park added that the figures last year were similar and that, while the numbers will vary, she expects hiring to continue to be up in the foreseeable future. “We anticipate hiring in this way for at least a few more years,” she said.

Conducting a faculty search is no small task. While different departments run searches in varying ways, each department follows certain main steps. After writing and posting a job advertisement, the department’s search committee members review the applications received. Next, they shorten the list of potential hires and conduct a first round of interviews. After that, they narrow the candidate pool to three to four people who come to campus to meet with the department faculty and majors and present a job talk.

Many department members take leadership roles throughout the searches, working closely with the College’s administrative offices.

“All units work with and are supported by the Office of the Dean of Faculty as well as the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity throughout the search process,” Park explained.

Search committees also make efforts to include students in their work. Often, students attend talks, get meals with candidates, help conduct interviews and submit their thoughts to the departments. Chair of the Department of Economics Kenneth Kuttner emphasized student involvement in his department, which recently hired two new faculty members. “[The students] write down their comments and send them to me, and I share them with my colleagues. Personally, I really value their input,” he said. Chair of the Department of Anthropology Antonia Foias also noted the value of student input. “Their preferences are fully taken into account when we select to whom we make the offer,” she said.

Park outlined the College’s main priorities in hiring. “We’re concerned with finding the best faculty we can who can support the curricular needs of individual units, who demonstrate a clear commitment to working closely with all our students, who are engaged in rigorous scholarship and who are interested in being part of the community of a small, residential college,” she said.

Often, a department seeks to hire someone with a particular focus within the field. For example, Director of Arabic Studies Katarzyna Pieprzak noted, “We have hired a remarkable scholar and teacher who works on North Africa, a region that is missing from our curriculum in Arabic Studies.”

Similarly, Chair of the Department of American Studies Mark Reinhardt explained how the department recently sought someone who would be able to strengthen the Native American studies aspect of the curriculum.

“Our goal was to find someone who did creative, exciting and interdisciplinary work,” he said. “It was very affirming to see the dynamism of the field right now, and we feel very fortunate that we can help bring it to Williams’ curriculum.”

Beyond specific work in a given field, departments and administrators also seek more broad qualifications in future faculty members. Chair of the Department of Astronomy Karen Kwitter explained some of the department’s priorities in its search to replace two retiring faculty members.

“We were looking for people passionate about astronomy and about teaching, who can communicate at all levels and who will involve students in meaningful and exciting research projects,” she said.

While examining a few positions within a single department may seem small, the larger scope of these changes in faculty and the College’s priorities in hiring will grow over time.

“On the one hand, it’s certainly sobering to see so many long-time, much-beloved members of our faculty retire,” Park said. “But on the other hand, it’s also exciting to see how a new generation of faculty will develop and the new ideas in both teaching and scholarship they bring with them.”

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