The “Catch Mr. Bernard Moore” scandal has provided EphBlog with occasion to consider the procedures by which Williams selects and reappoints visiting faculty. Many have expressed surprise and dismay over this description from an anonymous Williams professor.

In my department, standard operating procedure for hiring a visitor would vary depending on the origin of the position. If, say, Professor X went on leave and the college gave us the go-ahead to replace his slot, it would usually be wholly in the hands of the chair to find a suitable replacement and to vet his or her credentials. This procedure could well be as insular as the chair calling up some friends at graduate programs that have a strong scholarly presence in what Professor X does, and then bringing on an ABD grad student. This person’s CV might be circulated among the senior faculty of the department for them to sign off on it, but, basically, it’s a low commitment/low stress process. It won’t surprise you to hear that it’s also a process that is basically at chance in securing someone with any talent in teaching. National searches with interviews and job talks and all that stuff, however, is thought to be just too much of a pain to do for a one year visitor.

An anonymous professor from an unknown institution agrees. Williams Professor Peter Just writes in response:

I (obviously) don’t know what department’s procedures for hiring visitors was described by my anonymous colleague. But I can assure readers that they are unlike the procedures used by my department (Anthropology & Sociology) over the past twenty years. When practicable, we run a national search, interview candidates, bring finalists to campus where they present papers, are interviewed by students and all of the department faculty, etc. Even so, we sometimes get visitors who don’t work out, but I’d say that my department’s procedures are more typical than those described by my anonymous colleague.

Are these descriptions really in dispute? It is always helpful to focus on specific cases. Over the last few years, the Anthropology & Sociology Department has had these visitors.

2008-2009: Visiting Assistant Professor: HAUGH
2007–2008: Visiting Assistant Professors: HAUGH, RULIKOVA. Bolin Fellow: MULLA.
2006–2007: Visiting Professors: DOWNEY, PRAZAK. Visiting Assistant Professor: BESSETT
2005–2006: Visiting Assistant Professor: STANCZAK. Bolin Fellow: CASTOR
2004-2005: Distinguished Visiting Professor: ERIKSON. Visiting Assistant Professor: STANCZAK

So, over 5 years, Anthropology & Sociology has hosted 9 visitors in various categories. It would be great to get more detail from Professor Just, or anyone else, about the exact procedure by which these professors came to Williams. (My understanding is that the department would have had little, if any, role in the selection of the Bolin Fellows.) Was a “national search” run for each of the other 7 visitors? Where were job advertisements placed? How many applications were received? How many candidates were interviewed for each position? How many were brought to campus to give talks, meet with students and so on?

Consider:

New faces in 2007-2008 . . . and some that we’ve seen before. Prof. Kai Erikson will return to ANSO as Visiting Distinguished Professor of Sociology in Fall 2007. Some of you will remember Kai from his two previous visiting stints in the department. A return of a different sort will be made by Wendi S. Haugh ’91, who will be Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology in 2007-2008, having completed her PhD at Penn and a year as a visiting professor at Oberlin.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt that a “national search” was done to decide who the visiting professor would be in 2004-2005 if Prof. Kai Erikson had already visited Williams once. (I don’t know why he didn’t end up visiting in 2007-2008.) I also expect (and applaud!) that Wendi Haugh ’91 might have had a bit of the insider track for her position.

Also:

Some of you may remember Prof. Troy Duster (right), who taught in the department as a Bernhard Professor more than a decade ago. He returned to Williams in February 2006 to participate in a panel discussion on the subject of genomic research and changing concepts of race.

New faces in 2006-2007. Next fall, the department will be joined by two visiting sociologists. Danielle Bessett, a student of Troy Duster’s who is completing her doctorate at NYU, will offer courses on gender, family, and medical sociology, among other things.

Something tells me that the graduate student of a former member of the department might have had an advantage in the process. How many other candidates did the department bring to campus to compete with Bessett?

Obviously, none of this is to doubt the accuracy of Professor Just’s description or the conduct of the Anthropology & Sociology Department. Peter Just is one of the great professors at Williams and ANSO is a wonderful department. But I bet that, once we get into the details, the procedures used in ANSO will not prove to be that different from the ones described by Just’s anonymous colleague, at least in some of these specific cases.

We have several faculty readers. How do things work in your department?

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