An interesting comment from CHenry.

On the hiring practice of the History Department:

I was a History major at Williams and found most of the classes extremely engaging and worthwhile. Quality professors throughout the department (Wood, Dew, Dalzell to name some stalwarts). This was in large part due to the excellent hiring & vetting process adopted by the department.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to participate in the Junior and Senior Advisory Groups, which were effectively the student arm of the department’s hiring committee. Each year as Chairman Chris Waters issued new mandates for professors, the department fielded hundreds of CVs and applications for each opening (whether tenure track, visiting, etc.). After selecting a number of attractive candidates to interview at conferences, about 4-5 individuals per position would be invited to campus for more rigorous evaluation. After meeting various administrative officers (deans and the like) and senior/junior department members, a candidate would present a 45min lecture on their expertise to the department and the student committee, followed by a 90min+ dinner with those students. Again, this was standard procedure whether the department was looking to hire a tenure-track prof or a visiting prof.

We would present our findings to Professor Waters and perhaps one other professor. While we certainly weren’t given the final word on hirings, our opinions did matter (dinner can be surprisingly insightful) and on at least one occasion, the student response towards one candidate was so overwhelmingly positive that it swayed the balance in that individual’s favor.

In one case, there was a temporary position available which a Williams professor who was visiting re-applied to. After meeting with the candidate, we decided that it would probably be better to steer the department in another direction.

I am confident that this process of rigorously examining the new hires by administrators, professors and students gave the College the information needed to hire the best candidate (from various perspectives).

1) Good stuff. It would be wonderful to get details like this about other departments. Can any current faculty/students describe how things work?

2) Keep in mind that the key distinction is the one between tenure-track and visiting hires. Every department is required, by College policy, to perform a thorough search for tenure-track professors, including bringing multiple candidates to campus. But, as best I can tell, those rules do not apply for visiting positions. (Nor should they.)

3) I would love CHenry to provide some more details and to clarify how he knows for sure that the (exact?) same procedures applied to visitors as to tenure-track. In particular, I would be surprised if every visitor candidate was “meeting various administrative officers (deans and the like).” (Again, I don’t mean to challenge CHenry’s truthfulness. I just want to understand his testimony as clearly as possible.)

Keep in mind that this would make History very different from most other departments. Just think of the math! There are over 20 visiting professors each year. If every position had “4-5” candidates that came to campus, then this would make for 80-100 people for the Dean of the Faculty to meet each year. Unlikely! (He may have time to meet all the candidates for tenure-track positions.)

My guess would be that Chenry has provided an accurate description of how things worked for tenure-track faculty. I would be surprised if the exact same procedure applied for visitors. But, if so, kudos to them! The more that students are involved in things like selecting visiting professors, the better.

4) Is the History Department still operating like this with regard to visitors? Here (pdf) is the collection of folks who might be considered visitors in the History Department this year.

Stanley Kaplan Visiting Professor: WOODS. Visiting Assistant Professor: REVILL. Stanley Kaplan Post-Doctoral Fellow: CHAMBERLIN. Research Associates: GUNDERSHEIMER, STARENKO.

My assumption would be that students played no role in the selection of “Research Associates.” (By the way, what do these folks do?) My guess would be that they also played no role in choosing the “Stanley Kaplan Post-Doctoral Fellow” and the “Stanley Kaplan Visiting Professor.” (Again, I am happy to be corrected.) The key test case is visiting Assistant Professor Revill. Were there “4-5” candidates for that position who came to Williams last year, gave talks, met with students and so on?

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