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Groff == Garsten?

The web page that used to belong to Professor Bryan Garsten now features Professor Ruth Groff. I realize that this web technology stuff is quite confusing, but surely someone in the Political Science department can edit a file name.

On a vaguely related note, what is the deal with Political Science having 4 visiting assistant professors this year?

For those not in the academic world, a visiting assistant professor (a junior person with a one (or maybe two) year contract and not on the tenure track) is a strange beasty to have around. A place like Williams — looking for longevity and commitment — should want to have the vast majority of its junior faculty on the tenure track. Why should any of these visitors be especially committed to excellence in teaching if their time at Williams is so limited? Why should any Williams student invest in a relationship that will end in a year or two?

On rare occasions, a case can be made for hiring junior visitors — perhaps because someone got sick and a specific class needs to be taught — but these situations are few and far between. I can’t imagine why the Political Science department would have 4 junior visitors at one point. Are none of them good enough to be offered a tenure track job? Was Williams turned down by applicants who it has wanted to hire?

Most likely, there is nothing to my musings. Still, I worry. Old-timers will recall that the Political Science department was widely regarded as one of the most dysfunctional at Williams, caught up in internecine battles between an old guard of “conservatives” — read: Kerry voters — and younger “radicals”. This may have reached a head during the Reinhardt tenure battle a decade ago. In any event, the departure of folks like Cook and Jacobsohn should have healed this rift. So, is there some reason that the department still can’t get a handle on its hiring process?

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#1 Comment By (d)avid On September 9, 2004 @ 12:59 am

A couple of quick thoughts (with the caveat that I don’t know any particulars about the political science department):

1) Two professors leaving probably hurt the course schedule;

2) Students in a small department like Williams may benefit from having visiting professors come through. With only 13 full time faculty, it is impossible to provide courses in every area of political science from which students may benefit. Visiting faculty appointments can round out the courses and provide a fresh perspective for students.

3) Hiring is not easy for a school like Williams. Firstly, many people would prefer a research institution. Secondly, finding positions for spouses is difficult. Thirdly, with few full time faculty members, quality and fit is of the utmost importance. Finding the right person at the right time is not as easy in other professions. Williams should take their time in hiring and not accept anyone they view as second best.

4) Visiting professors typically have an immense incentive to teach well. One of the things that employers ask for is teacher evaluations. Letters of recommendation from Williams could also help to bolster a file.

5) While I agree that Williams benefits from having faculty members with long standing relationships with the school, it doesn’t mean that students shouldn’t form bonds with visiting faculty members. The courses I was most inspired by were taught by Jeff Weintraub, who was visiting Williams during my 4 years in the Purple Valley. He later moved onto LeHigh and we still correspond on a regular basis (as he does with many other students). I don’t mean to imply that other professors I had were in any way deficient, but the professor, material, and classmates fit perfectly for me at that point in my life. Jeff even wrote me a very strong letter of recommendation for graduate school (or, at least I think he did).

That said, four visitors is a little alarming in a department of 12. I’m sure that the department agrees with you and is lobbying Morty for more ladder faculty positions.

#2 Comment By Sam On September 9, 2004 @ 9:39 am

Trust me, there is nothing to your musings. We have four visitors because of a strange conjuncture of events. Garsten and Jacobsohn left. The normal process for replacing these positions, which may be a bit slow, has unfolded exactly as we expected: we have been authorized to search for full-time, tenure-track replacements. We have also been authorized to search for a new, full-time, tenure-track position in comparative politics. We will do two of the searches this year and one next (having three Assistant Professors all on the same tenure clock is not a good idea). Lehman is filling in for Darel Paul, who is on his Assistant Professor leave, and Lee is here as a part of a special Korean Studies Initiative. It may be odd to have four visitors in one year but you should certainly not take it as a trend. Let me also endorse (d)avid’s point that it is refreshing to have visitors here. They do a great job.