Concerned, like the Record, with the crush of students in economics, the increased class size and decreased tutorial offerings? No worries. The Department is hiring.

ECONOMICS (Ralph Bradburd; Dec. 2) One tenure-track position in economics for entry level or advanced assistant professor level, fields open.

Why does the Department only have permission for one hire? Well, the College has other priorites.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN STUDIES (Joy James; Sept. 15, 2005) Two tenure-track positions in African-American and Africana Diasporo Studies.

I believe that “Diasporo” in the job notice is a misprint for “Diaspora” and not some trendy new academic jargon, but I have been wrong before.

No doubt these new positions are driven by increased student interest in courses offered in AAS. Consider enrollments from fall 2005.

African-American Studies
AAS 165   Racial Justice 20th Cent  Amer  19
AAS 206   African American Social Mvmnts  15
AAS 211   Topics African-Amer Performnce  11
AAS 229   Tchngs Black Sacred Rhetoric     7
AAS 235   Cult. Pol. in the Caribbean     23
AAS 236   Witnessing:Slavery & Aftermath  19
AAS 281   African-Amer History 1619-1865  15
AAS 372   African-Am Lit Thought Culture  13
AAS 383   Black Women in Am:Slvry-Presnt   6

Hmmm. Why does Williams need more professors in this area if virtually every course already offered has fewer than 20 students enrolled?

As always, this is not the complaint made by stupid critics of the academy. There is nothing intrinsically more interesting about, say, the Iliad then there is in a course like Teaching Black Sacred Rhetoric. To each her own. I am glad these classes are offered at Williams. I am pleased to see students taking them and professors teaching them.

But resources are limited. There are an average of 14 students per class in AAS. Unless and until more student interest arises, Williams should concentrated its hiring in other areas. Consider Political Science.

Political Science
PSCI 100   Asia and the World              60   POI
PSCI 120   America & the World After 9-11  50   POI

I have no doubt that the Professors Crane and McAllister did great jobs in these classes, given their enrollment. But there is simply no way a mostly-lecture class with 50 students can be as good as a discussion class with 15. Indeed, it is against every principal that makes a Williams education special. Fifteen students can sit, albeit a bit crowded, on the proverbial log. Fifty can not. Moreover, this does not even take account of the students who wanted to enroll in these classes and were turned away. How many were?

Williams needs to decide if it is going to teach important classes that its students want to take in a manner consistent with its best ideals. This question goes directly to the heart of what Williams should be. It is a shame that the Diversity Initiatives did not confront this question, did not wrestle with the limited resources that confront even a school with Williams’ wealth.

Yet the whole situation is even worse than it appears at first blush. The Diversity Initiatives pretend, and KC Johnson reasonably assumes, that no decision has been made about the Hu-DeHart recommendations that Williams be reorganized. Currently, Williams has virtually all of the professors who teach AAS classes (like Chakkalakal, Long and Bean) located in traditional departments (like English, History and Theatre). This is commonsense. Williams is too small a college to support tiny departments. It should offer as many classes as its students want to take in Africana Diaspora Studies (or any other topic) but the professors who teach those courses should be located in large traditional departments. This strikes me as obvious, but is perhaps worth a longer discussion.

Yet the that discussion is probably besides the point. Williams has already decided to go the Hu-DeHart route, to make some hires in AAS instead of new hires in economics or political science. These new hires will report within AAS to, presumably, Professor Joy James; they will teach AAS classes and be focused on AAS students. They will be evaluated by AAS criteria.

Now this may be a good idea. It may be a bad one. But there was never much of a public discussion about it. The College acts like it hasn’t decided whether or not to go in this direction, but it has already taken the first few steps. In fact, I’ll wager that it took those steps when it hired James, that it guaranteed her the budget and authority to make these hires. But that is a story for another day.

Side note: It is nice to see that Williams is a leading location for the study of the Africana Diaspora, at least if you believe Google.

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