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Professor Waters on History Department Hiring

Thanks to Professor Chris Waters for providing this detailed summary of hiring in the History Department.

Dear Dave,

Thanks for your note and the link to the debates, which I have just perused. Cameron Henry was a wonderful member of our Junior and Senior Advisory Groups, which we rely on to solicit student input on those occasions when we are making an important appointment in the Department.

I must limit myself to talking generally, rather than about specific individuals, although it is obviously the case that the more long-term the appointment is (ie a full-time, tenure-track position), the more extensive the review of the candidates by various bodies at Williams. For a tenure-track position, all members of the Department read the files of those candidates brought to their attention by the search committee appointed by the chair. Collectively they decide which candidates (say 8-12) are interviewed at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. The three finalists brought to campus then meet the faculty members in the Department, senior administrators, and, as Cameron said, students on our advisory groups. The decision about who to hire is made by the Department, after a thorough consideration of the opinions voiced by other bodies involved in the process as well, including the students.

Visiting appointments come in several different forms and shapes. For a two- or three-year appointment, we, like other departments, may indeed bring candidates to campus as well, although maybe only two, rather than three or possibly four. For a one-year replacement, or a postdoctoral teaching fellowship, candidates may also be brought to campus (as Paul Chamberlin was), although sometimes only one is (with a second candidate brought to campus if the first one obviously does not live up to expectations). When candidates are brought to campus, even for visiting or postdoctoral appointments, our students meet them. Appointments of very eminent, senior scholars who come to Williams for just a semester or a maximum of a year (like the Stanley Kaplan professorships or the Boskey professorships) are usually made by a body of faculty and do not normally entail a campus interview.

I hope this helps. Obviously, the type of procedure we follow depends on the type of position, with the most extensive consideration by the broadest number of people occurring when contemplating a long-term hire.

Thanks to Professor Waters for taking the time to explain the details to us. We now have testimony from an unnamed department, Anthropology/Sociology and History.

Conclusion: The testimony provided by the anonymous professor is holding up quite well and the criticisms made of it by Professor Peter Just and Cam Henry ’09 are seeming less and less justified.

Keep in mind that we all agree that the procedures for tenure track professors are as Professor Waters describes them, with the key feature being visits to campus by multiple candidates. The debate has been over the claim, by the anonymous professor, that the process for visiting spots is much less serious. Recall what she wrote:

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.

According to all the evidence we have gathered so far, this is a fair description of the process, not just in this one department, but throughout Williams. For a one year visitor, Williams does not, typically, conduct a national job search, review hundreds of applicants, invite multiple candidates to campus and so on.

Why were Peter Just and Cam Henry so quick to disagree with the anonymous professor? I think the main issue is that they misread his description as applying to all hires (which it does not) rather than to just a “one year visitor.” And, obviously, Bernard Moore is the reason that we are interested in this topic today since he was appointed twice to (different) one year visiting positions.

For those who care, my e-mail to Waters is below the break.

Professor Waters,

Hope all is well. We are having an interesting (?) discussion at EphBlog about the hiring process for visiting professors in the History Department, much informed by helpful comments from Cam Henry ’09 (cc’d above).

http://www.ephblog.com/2009/11/17/hiring-practices-in-the-history-department/

I realize that you probably have better things to do then to read all that, but could you clarify one point?

How many candidates for the position that Professor Revill now holds visited Williams, gave a talk, met with students and so on? Cam is unsure on the exact number.

Also, how many candidates for the positions that Professor Woods and Chamberlin now hold? Although I might be misreading Cam on this, it appears that students played no role in their selection (which I think is perfectly defensible). I just want a sense of how many candidates paid a visit to campus as part of the selection process for these Stanley Kaplan positions.

Thanks for your time,

Dave Kane ’88

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#1 Comment By rory On November 19, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

first, CHenry might not want his full name published here…he was semi-anonymous as a commenter.

how do you any confirmation of this:”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.”

from this: “For a one-year replacement, or a postdoctoral teaching fellowship, candidates may also be brought to campus (as Paul Chamberlin was), although sometimes only one is (with a second candidate brought to campus if the first one obviously does not live up to expectations). When candidates are brought to campus, even for visiting or postdoctoral appointments, our students meet them”

i mean, the second one specifically states that one-year visiting positions DO entail “interviews and job talks and all that stuff” at least sometimes.did we read different emails?

#2 Comment By midprof On November 19, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

I’m with Rory. If anything, the anonymous post is the outlier in its characterization of the search processes.

#3 Comment By jeffz On November 19, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

Professor Waters taught my first ever class in my first semester at Williams (Modern European History). Glad to see he’s still an Eph!

#4 Comment By Vicarious’83 On November 19, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

David,
Now that facts have come in on this topic from a variety of sources, and there has been some time to consider both the facts and the sources, I think it is appropriate for you answer for a few things regarding the anonymous Williams professor you have quoted.

1) The source begins his/her message to you with the sentence: “Here’s stuff you probably already know.” It appears that the source is addressing you, David Kane, personally, and not the readership of EphBlog as a whole. Do I have that right?
– If so, why would this person assume that you already know what s/he is about to relate? Was this person known to you prior to the emergence of this issue? If so, how long have you known this person?

2) When (date & time) did you receive this writing? Did this person initiate contact with you on this subject or did you contact him/her first?
– If you made the first contact, would you be willing to share how you contacted this person (email, phone call, etc) and how you phrased your question(s)? This could easily be done without compromising the prof’s anonymity.

3) The prof describes the “process” like this:

This procedure could well be as insular as the chair calling up some friends at graduate programs

“Could well be?” This is senior faculty member. Has s/he ever actually observed this to have occurred or not? Do you know?
– The prof then says that the candidate’s CV “might be circulated.” This person has couched every bit of his/her description of “the process in my department” in purely hypothetical terms. Nohere does this person describe a single specific instance of an actual hire. Nor does this person ever claim to have been directly involved in any specific hiring decision. The closest that the source comes to claiming first-hand experience with hiring is:

I and the other senior members of the department would get to see his CV. That would be the extent of the vetting.

If you care about the credibility of your source’s statements, you should go back and get specifics like those volunteered by CHenry, and Professors Water, Just and Brown.

4) The real gas on this fire comes from this:

Chair: “We need to decide whether to recommend reappointment of X”
Member of the department: “How were his scores?”
Chair: “Fine, middlin’ in one class, okay in another.”
Member of the department: “I heard from some student that he is not very good, is disorganized, can’t lead a discussion, gives everyone A’s, etc.”
Chair: “Yeah, me too. But it’s only for another year and his overall scores are fine.”
Members of the department: “Fine, let’s move on.”

The tone of this hypothetical conversation paints a picture academic departments just sort of “mailing it in” regarding the process of reappointment. Again, why would a senior faculty member phrase this so carefully in hypotheticals rather than simply recount specific examples? That level of specificity could easily be achieved without identifying him/herself or his/her department.

As a parent and alum, I care about the classroom environment above all else. Williams, to me, really is Mark Hopkins and the Log, the tutorial program, and the Student Honor Code. The TONE of your source’s comments constitute a direct frontal assault on a place I truly love. If s/he can back these hypotheticals up with specific accounts of personal experience, bring it on, but if s/he can’t or won’t, then you need to decide whether you want to be associated more with this kind of inflamatory, but ultimately unsubstantiated rhetoric, or with the kind of hard, relevant facts you have delivered in other posts.

The credibility of your source, is hanging by the thinnest of threads in this parent’s opinion. Can you strengthen that thread, or is it time to cut the anon prof in our consideration of these issues?

#5 Comment By David On November 19, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

Q&A:

It appears that the source is addressing you, David Kane, personally, and not the readership of EphBlog as a whole. Do I have that right?

Yes. But then I got permission to share it with EphBlog.

– If so, why would this person assume that you already know what s/he is about to relate?

Because most of it is obvious to anyone who knows Williams as well as I do.

Was this person known to you prior to the emergence of this issue? If so, how long have you known this person?

Yes. Years.

When (date & time) did you receive this writing? Did this person initiate contact with you on this subject or did you contact him/her first?
– If you made the first contact, would you be willing to share how you contacted this person (email, phone call, etc) and how you phrased your question(s)?

I love transparency! My e-mail to my source:

from David Kane
to xxxxx
date Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 12:41 AM
subject hiring committee

Any clues for me on who re-appointed Moore?

Dave

He/she replied that morning, claiming that he/she had no details about the Moore case specifically.

The context, of course, is the we still don’t know the insider details. I know (and knew) how the process works. But I want to know who was on the committee that selected Moore for the second year of his gig.

Back to your Q&A:

“Could well be?” This is senior faculty member. Has s/he ever actually observed this to have occurred or not? Do you know?

I don’t recall making any claims about how “senior” the faculty member is. She has definitely observed this process first hand. The “could” is speculation about Moore. She (and I) could point to specific cases. Again, read Professor Waters carefully. Note that there are no claims made about a nation-wide search being standard for one year visitors. If there is not such a search, how do you think it goes? Friends call friends.

If you care about the credibility of your source’s statements, you should go back and get specifics like those volunteered by CHenry, and Professors Water, Just and Brown.

Well, I am not sure that I care that much about my source’s “credibility” in your eyes. I know the truth. She knows the truth. Nothing that Henry, Waters, Just or Brown says about the hiring process for one-year visitors directly contradicts that truth. (And, in fact, Henry has backed off the claims that he made about the process in history now that I have pushed him on it.)

Not only that but Professors Just and Brown have refused to tell us how many of the 6 visitors (beyond the 3 that we have already figured out) had competitors for their positions who visited campus. Why do you think that they don’t want to dive into the details?

Again, how clearly to a I need to spell this out? ANSO hired Professor Bessett for a one year position in 2006-2007. That hire occurred, obviously, sometime before September 2006. How many other candidates came to campus and competed for that spot by giving a talk, visiting with students and so on. Odds are: Zero. Don’t believe me? Ask Professors Just and Brown.

#6 Comment By David On November 19, 2009 @ 5:17 pm

More Q&A:

The tone of this hypothetical conversation paints a picture academic departments just sort of “mailing it in” regarding the process of reappointment. Again, why would a senior faculty member phrase this so carefully in hypotheticals rather than simply recount specific examples?

Because she does not want her colleagues to know that she thinks they are lazy. Is that so hard to understand? Ultimately this professor does not care enough that you believe her. Don’t want to believe her? Fine! It is no skin off her nose. He (switching genders) knows how the process works. He has been at the table.

And, if you are smart, and you read closely what Just/Waters/Henry/Brown are saying, you will see that there is little, if any, contradiction. But, since this is an important point, I will devote a new post to it.

As a parent and alum, I care about the classroom environment above all else. Williams, to me, really is Mark Hopkins and the Log, the tutorial program, and the Student Honor Code. The TONE of your source’s comments constitute a direct frontal assault on a place I truly love.

Wake up and smell the coffee!

You care X about the quality of the teaching in the classroom and Y about the research that faculty (both permanent and visiting) perform. The faculty, the folks that run Williams, care X/10 about teaching and Y*100 about research. Now, since neither X nor Y are zero, you and they both care about research and teaching, but you are wrong if you think that their preferences match yours. They don’t.

ultimately unsubstantiated rhetoric

Please pay attention! Everyone now admits that Moore had “horrific” teaching evaluations — quoting Peter Just. And yet Williams still re-appointed him. That should clue you in as to how teaching is much less important than you think it ought to be.

Another concrete example is Bolin Fellows. They teach one class per year. How much does teaching ability factor into their selection? (Almost) zero.

The credibility of your source, is hanging by the thinnest of threads in this parent’s opinion. Can you strengthen that thread, or is it time to cut the anon prof in our consideration of these issues?

This must be my fault. I will write a new post which explains clearly why, if anything, you should have much more faith in anon profs testimony now then you did in the past.

#7 Comment By Vicarious’83 On November 19, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

David,
I appreciate your responses to my questions. New ones may arise. Need to head out for a while, but will return.

#8 Comment By midprof On November 19, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

I don’t get the connection between Bolin Fellows teaching one course a year and your assertion that their teaching ability is irrelevant. One could argue just the opposite: since their teaching is limited to one course per year (so that they may develop teaching alongside other professional activities) the College’s investment in that course is huge.

Likewise, your casual use of the measure of “how many candidates visit campus” as a sign of the rigor used in the search. That’s clearly flawed, for reasons that have been repeatedly made clear.

Look, is there really an argument here? The Anon. Williams Prof could be accurately describing things in his/her department. If so, I’m sorry that such a weird, cavalier attitude exists there. It’s what I might expect to hear at a middling state university, never a liberal arts college. Professors who have described significantly more careful and multifaceted processes, though, are still in the majority here.

#9 Comment By David On November 19, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

I don’t get the connection between Bolin Fellows teaching one course a year and your assertion that their teaching ability is irrelevant.

Teaching ability is considered (essentially) irrelevant by Williams when it selects Bolin Fellows despite the fact that they do teach a class. This is just another example of how Williams does not consider teaching ability as much as Vicarious thinks it ought to.

Likewise, your casual use of the measure of “how many candidates visit campus” as a sign of the rigor used in the search. That’s clearly flawed, for reasons that have been repeatedly made clear.

By whom? There are N dimensions on which search process A differs from search process B, whether A and B are both within the same department, in different departments at the same school or in different schools. If we are going to have a sensible conversation, we need to select a subset of the most important dimensions to focus on. Ideally, those dimensions should be publicly observable, otherwise it is hard to know what is going on. I suggest:

1) How many candidates visited Williams?
2) Did they give a job talk and/or submit a writing sample?
3) Did they meet with students?

These are not the worlds only measures but they seem good enough for our use. You have measures that are significantly better?

Look, is there really an argument here? The Anon. Williams Prof could be accurately describing things in his/her department.

Yes. Anon is describing things at Williams in general and not just at her department. Is that not fairly obvious to you? Multiple candidates rarely (if ever) compete for one year visiting positions via campus talks, meeting with students, et cetera, after a nation wide search. The process is much closer to how Anon described it than how a naive reading of Just/Brown/Henry would lead you to believe.

#10 Comment By Derek On November 19, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

1) How one can read the named folks as saying the same thing as the anonymous person is beyond my grasp. They quite clearly do not. Meanwhile, you suddenly get snippy and hide behind “I know my source is valid, she knows she’s valid, therefore we don’t care what you people think” despite the fact that you posted them explicitly to be read by us. Your friend is a gutless troglodyte.

2) And so why are we placing these three on an equal pedestal again?

3) With each passing person, and especially faculty member, with a real name who weighs in on this with substance, doesn’t it make the anonymous prof all the more pathetic? The rationale is pretty pathetic: “But I want to be able to slur my colleagues and if I stay anonymous, I surely cannot do that.”

4) Professor Waters is describing the process for the history department almost exactly as I described it the other day, down to the numbers invited to the AHA and the numbers invited to campus. This is because Williams is using the nearly universal standard. No surprise — there is little need to reinvent that particular wheel. Which is surely why Chris Waters was willing to use his own name. Well, that and he has a modicum of intellectual courage to stand behind his own ideas.

dcat

#11 Comment By midprof On November 19, 2009 @ 8:53 pm

well, now that you assert it in boldface, it makes all the sense in the world. Anon Williams prof is describing how things work all over campus? Since when? (not to mention uh, how?) You are determined to believe the process works one way, and you are now to the point of simply ignoring anything that says it doesn’t.

By your unbelievably simplistic reckoning (I’m sorry, but that’s what it is, above), a search is more rigorous if I invite 4 candidates to campus and they all meet students and give job talks. Never mind whether the pool was 5 candidates or 200. But if the pool is 200 and the department invites only 1 to campus, that was a crappy search. Because we’re only measuring the ‘publicly observable’ aspects of the search. No amount of careful, descriptive writing by people who’ve actually conducted or participated in searches means as much to you as the anonymous post which supports the conclusions you had prior to this whole debacle.

#12 Comment By midprof On November 19, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

AND, if what the Anonymous Williams Prof describes *is* true, then he/she is as lazy as his/her colleagues: where on earth is his/her courage? Stand up and tell your colleagues that this you won’t participate in such a pathetic excuse for a search, that students deserve better.

…as I understood your answer to my Bolin Fellows point, the College does not care about teaching because…you say so?

#13 Comment By wslack On November 19, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

@David:

Please pay attention! Everyone now admits that Moore had “horrific” teaching evaluations — quoting Peter Just. And yet Williams still re-appointed him. That should clue you in as to how teaching is much less important than you think it ought to be.

Time to throw my own sources right back at you. The college did NOT reappoint Moore knowing the stories about his teaching that it does now. They simply were unaware. There are two conclusions: first, I think might have been a worse prof in his second semester, espeically after he secured a re-appointment. Second, the department may not have investigated his teaching enough.

Though, as other sources of mine have asserted, Moore’s SES scores were polarized, such that some people who cared more about his connections gave him very high scores to counter the low ones, then it’s possible that his scores were not so low as to appear out of the ordinary!

Get it?

#14 Comment By Sam On November 19, 2009 @ 9:20 pm

midprof,
Welcome to the rabbit hole that is Kaneblog. Best to disengage while you’re still sane…

#15 Comment By David On November 19, 2009 @ 9:27 pm

The college did NOT reappoint Moore knowing the stories about his teaching that it does now. They simply were unaware.

Without revealing your sources, can you provide more detail on this claim?

1) I would assume that Moore was re-appointed after December 31, 2008. That is, the College would have had his first semester teaching scores available.

2) I would assume that, if this time line is correct, that the committee that appointed him would have known and considered those scores.

I think that both these must be true since we know that, at the same time, Moore had applied for, and was rejected from, a tenure track position. All of that would have taken time. I bet that he wasn’t appointed to the Schumann position until the spring of 2009. If your sources claim different, please tell us.

Assuming that the above is true, we get to the question of just what Moore’s scores looked like. You write:

Though, as other sources of mine have asserted, Moore’s SES scores were polarized, such that some people who cared more about his connections gave him very high scores to counter the low ones, then it’s possible that his scores were not so low as to appear out of the ordinary!

I have no trouble believing that Moore’s scores were “polarized.” Lots of students gave him horrible ratings. I could imagine that a handful, like R. Hill, gave him excellent ratings. So, if that is all your source said (and the number of people with access to the scores is low), then I believe him. But did your source say directly that “his scores were not so low as to appear out of the ordinary” or did he (slyly?) want you to conclude that without fibbing to you? What does “possible” mean in your sentence?

I have no first hand knowledge of Moore’s scores. But, given the student testimony we have read, I would bet that his average scores were worse than any other member of the Department. If that is so, than “horrific” would be a fair description. All I know for certain is that Professor Peter Just wrote:

From what I understand, and to no one’s surprise, the statistical data regarding student opinions of Mr. Moore’s teaching was also horrific as well as statistically significant, but I haven’t actually seen it.

I suspect that your source is misleading you about who knew what when.

#16 Comment By David On November 19, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

as I understood your answer to my Bolin Fellows point, the College does not care about teaching because…you say so?

I am just describing what the standards for the Bolin are, at least as described to me. (This is very different than the standards for tenure-track appointments at Williams. For those, teaching skill is a key concern.)

Here is the Bolin application process. See anything in there about teaching ability? I love the phrase “teaching just one course.” Don’t like teaching much? The Bolin is for you! (Apologies for the snark.)

As best I can tell (corrections from Sam Crane are welcome!), Bolin applicants to not give a public lecture/class, nor are they asked to provide any evidence about their teaching ability/talent/desire.

#17 Comment By wslack On November 19, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

@David:

1) I would assume that Moore was re-appointed after December 31, 2008. That is, the College would have had his first semester teaching scores available.

2) I would assume that, if this time line is correct, that the committee that appointed him would have known and considered those scores.

Yes to both.

A few other things. First, I have heard from multiple people about this, though I’m also recalling some conversations from last spring that I may not remember with complete accuracy. You’re also attributing things the wrong way, but I frankly don’t care enough to correct you in that regard. I should also point out that Moore talked openly in class to many people I know (including me personally) about his relationship to the college, and that access to information about his scores might have been wider than you think. The nice thing about talking to you instead of being a reporter is that I don’t have to obey the same rules of attribution, so you can take or drop my analysis, which is partially based on hearsay.

I also dispute that having the lowest average score counts for “horrific,” but that’s semantics. I would say that it’s been indicated to me that he was a worse prof in the second semester, which might have caused the scores Just was talking about, and that the people involved in the reappointment, I’ve heard, were not seriously alarmed about his teaching until AFTER his reappointment. Actions were taken after that point, but he had already been named.

The question of whether more proactive steps should have been taken to evaluate his teaching is probably a wiser one.

#18 Comment By midprof On November 19, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

@David, who said “See anything in there about teaching ability? I love the phrase “teaching just one course.” Don’t like teaching much? The Bolin is for you!”

Yes, I see on the bottom of the page the boilerplate about outstanding teaching. I also see that teaching interests are the first point of inquiry.

Why on earth would you assume that teaching one course is aimed at people who don’t like teaching much? Those kind of people are not the ones who come to SLACs for postdocs. They go to R1s, where they won’t need to teach much *ever.* This fellowship, by acknowledging that the poor sod is WRITING A DISSERTATION in the first year and developing professional work the second, is *wisely* limiting teaching to one course. That augurs well for a good course. It allows the person (who presumably lacks gobs and gobs of teaching experience) to actually work on his/her pedagogy. These kind of postdoc plums typically go to extremely strong scholars who are interested in teaching, not just in being extremely strong scholars. In this way the postdoc starts to develop a roster of strong, well prepared classes, as well as a professional reputation, making him/her a stronger candidate for the next TT market.

By the way, I’m not denying that there’s some godawful teaching going on in SLACs. But it has little if anything to do with all the places you’re looking.

#19 Comment By Vicarious ’83 On November 20, 2009 @ 3:27 am

@David in #5:

Well, I am not sure that I care that much about my source’s “credibility” in your eyes. I know the truth. She knows the truth

Cut! David, your line here is: “But YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH, Vicarious!” Let’s take it again from “I am not sure. . .”

Again, how clearly to a I need to spell this out? ANSO . . .

You keep saying this . . . but I do not think this spells what you think it spells. ;-)

#20 Comment By Vicarious ’83 On November 20, 2009 @ 6:52 am

@David in #6:

Wake up and smell the coffee!

I’m tryin’, bro – don’t give up on me yet! It’s actually appropriate that you would use the phrase “wake up.” After graduating, I didn’t follow the goings-on of the college at all closely, but when my son decided to come to Williams, my interest in such things was reawakened. I’ve described this experience several times to friends and family as being like Rip Van Winkle waking up somewhere near the Haystack Monument. So please be gentle with me – there is much new to learn, and I am still a bit groggy.

Back to business. David, I meant it when I said I appreciated your detailed defense of the Anon Prof’s comments, and I would like to continue the conversation, but first, since I am rarely the sharpest knife in the gunfight, here’s a summary of my understanding of certain key facts:

1) The Anon Prof’s comments came in response to your request for specific information pertaining to who approved Moore’s reappointment. S/he had no such specific information, but then gave a summary of how the hiring and reappointment processes are typically handled.

2) The Anon Prof thinks many of his/her colleagues are lazy with respect to the amount of time and attention they give to the business of hiring, evaluating, and reappointing visiting profs. From this, I conclude that the impression one got from the tome of the prof’s comments (namely that his/her colleagues are lazy about hiring/reappointing visiting profs) was intended.

3) You agree with the Anon Prof, and your opinions have been known to each other for quite some time.

4) Anon Prof indicates that it is common for one-year visiting profs to be hired without a national search, campus visits with presentations, writing samples and interviews.

5) The “Named Professors” (NPs) have also indicated that one-year visiting profs are commonly hired without going through all of these steps, although, there are also cases where some or all of these procedures are followed in the hiring of visiting profs.

So given the above, let’s get to it: Your claim is that the Anon Prof and the NPs are describing fact patterns that are in many aspects the same. Some lusty “iterating” has “flowed” (as Swart has hilariously shown) from your attempts to get the NPs to stipulate to your claim that their descriptions of the processes are basically similar to the Anon Prof’s description. So let’s assume that you keep iterating until you all achieve a simultaneous organic agreement on the essential fact patterns. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the iterations of others as much as the next guy, but after a while it just gets repetitive and boring, and I get impatient to move on to some deeper, more meaningful analysis. Are we ready to take that next step yet? I think we are.)

But seriously, let’s just say that lots of times visiting profs are hired without the national search, etc. The essence of the Anon Prof’s contribution here is that (a)this constitutes real laziness on the part of his/her colleagues; (b)this laziness is widespread – the norm, really; and (c)that this laziness is caused by a general apathy about teaching undergraduates.

It seems widely held among EhpBlog readers that you also hold these views, and have for some time.

The essence of the NPs comments seems to be that while it’s acknowledged that national searches are not always conducted for visiting, it’s flat-out wrong to attribute this to laziness and/or apathy. They do not agree at all with Anon Prof’s conclusions about the facts (even if all were to agree basically as to what the facts are.) They also have given a number of reasons why it is often impractical to try to conduct a national search and interview process. Anon Prof actually seems to agree that these externals commonly make full searches impractical.

So where exactly is the laziness? What does Anon Prof say the process would/should look like if it were conducted by people who were not lazy and/or apathetic about teaching. Wait….Do you hear that? It’s the sound of all of us parents, who are new to this stuff, leaning forward to hear the answer. . . .

A few weeks ago, my wife and I made it out for Families Weekend. Our son literally wouldn’t shut up about what was going on in his classes, and top on his list of “must-do” events was Prof. Burger’s talk monkeys & typewriters. It was literally standing room only. One of his other professors was there, and he couldn’t wait to introduce that prof to us. He has since updated us several times on what’s going on in his classes. There has not been even the slightest hint of laziness or apathy toward the teaching of undergrads from any of his four profs. Four PhDs, each one an accomplished contributor to his/her field, has been fully engaged in class, and wonderfully available between classes. I realize that for many in academia, teaching undergrads is not the exciting or rewarding part of the job. For many, it’s the research. I understood this back during my undergraduate days as well. But it was clear to me then, and it seems just as evident today, that the college is delivering an outstanding classroom experience. This is why the Anon Prof’s comments were so shocking. It doesn’t “fit” that a place where undergraduate education is still considered Job #1 would be lazy and apathetic about its visiting profs.

#21 Comment By rory On November 20, 2009 @ 8:54 am

vicarious–

some of the disconnect you may be seeing between your experiences + the writings of the NPs vs. the AP (anonymous prof) is that only a specific subset of professors are likely to give their opinions that are so negative towards williams to David.

For example, I know plenty of professors who, were I to contact them, would probably anonymously have some complaints about williams undervaluing diversity. But that’s not on ephblog because I’m lazy and don’t want to stir the pot (even though I agreed when I was there, I do believe Williams is trying to get it right, if not ideally). That I’m not a curmudgeon like that on the issue means I don’t get said complaints. but i could if i tried.

David, for better or worse, is a curmudgeon about williams’ visiting professors and his broad brush strokes towards them is an axe he’s grinded before (just search “visiting professor” on ephblog). It should come as less of a surprise, then, that David’s anonymous contact agrees with him that the process is broken.

Whether they are right or wrong is a different story…the details as to why that one department is potentially an anomaly is also a different story (might they have incompetent administrative leadership? Academics aren’t bureaucrats/managers by training, for one possible explanation), perhaps that one professor is frozen out of discussions because colleagues aren’t friends with him/her (something I’ve seen happen at other institutions–why wouldn’t it happen at williams?)?

in conclusion, i’m sure there are some shitty searches, i’m sure there are (more) decent searches. David’s parsing of the words of people who don’t agree with him is laughable because he trusts the one hypothetical story over the stories describing actual searches. I know from experience that a job talk doesn’t prove that someone is a good teacher, also.

in conclusion, david’s bringing of the bolin fellows into yet another unrelated discussion is proof this is yet another attempt for him to take an individual screw up and push to make a much larger change than is warranted to a program that was completely unrelated to the individual screw up. It’s tired baiting and i’m glad it didn’t fly. what a stupid tangent.

#22 Comment By kthomas On November 20, 2009 @ 9:42 am

epbBlog: an endless recurring dream…

#23 Comment By Vicarious’83 On November 20, 2009 @ 10:03 am

Rory,
Thank you very much for the background. The post about the students’ comments on WSO was what first started pushing my “parent buttons” so I wanted to know more about the process. From my occasional experience in hiring (not related at all to teaching) no amount of effort at the hiring end of things is a guarantee of satisfactory performance, and I’ve never met anyone who would say otherwise.

The things I learned that surprised me involved what happens after the hire, such as the fact that students’ comments never get to the department – even for visiting profs, and that their classes are not observed – even for visiting profs scheduled for multiple-year assignments.

The apearance of the AP’s comments definately turned the tone of the discussion to one of accusation, and it also directed it more toward the hiring process than the issue of what goes on to evaluate and support the teaching efforts of visiting profs.

#24 Comment By rory On November 20, 2009 @ 10:14 am

@Vicarious’83: I can understand why the written comments aren’t given to the department–there’s a level of honesty a professor can receive when a student knows no one else will see the comment and it won’t affect professional advancement.

Further, it’s quite possible to have that one great lesson prepped for when your class is observed and be a crap professor in other sessions. While the game is manipulable, it would be good to have such things, but it can be awkward with visiting professors who are there for one, maybe two years.

The general principle of “small college = no secrets” is an apt one for teaching quality. That is, students easily get social networks large enough to find out how good different professors are. Those networks eventually (once it reaches juniors and seniors) include faculty. People know around a campus if a professor is reputed to be a good or bad teacher relatively quickly…within a year, i’d bet. That’s not helpful for frosh (thank god for JAs!), and it won’t work with visiting professors till their second or third terms. That’s why so many alums and upperclassmen warn away from visiting professors–they’re the only unknowns in the pool of teachers.

Personally, I’ve always thought an interview for a professorship should include taking over a (intro, or maybe an upperclass seminar for majors) class for at least 30 minutes, especially at a SLAC. But they don’t. And that can be practiced around, but williams students are smart and can smell an over-prepped teacher vs. a gifted teacher, i’d bet. That interviews don’t (at any school I know) is a relic of colleges following the university model. and in the university model, teaching just doesn’t matter.

#25 Comment By Derek On November 20, 2009 @ 10:21 am

I’m telling you, barring other evidence, I believe that Dave’s anonymous professor is a sock puppet, one of the many who appears at just the right time whenever Dave needs a convenient argument on his behalf. And the glory: He can prove or disprove this no more than he can prove that this person actually exists without blowing the cover of anonymity.

And let’s keep in mind that this person, whom Dave alleges to have known personally for more than 20 years, and so who must have some seniority at Williams, is apparently part of a program that has conversations about not caring about teaching, yet this person does not speak up against it.

I’m going with “Dave made this person up.” No real person could possibly be as much of a douche as the person Dave’s imagination has concocted. Remember: this is a person whose justification for anonymity was that if they were not anonymous they could not say shitty things about their colleagues. You can’t spell “classless” without “ass” I guess.

dcat

#26 Comment By Derek On November 20, 2009 @ 10:24 am

Rory —
I have to say, this might be disciplinary, but I’ve never had an on-campus interview where a teaching presentation of some sort wasn’t on the agenda (covering all types of schools) and at the two places I have taught, we required the candidate to teach a class.

dcat

#27 Comment By kthomas On November 20, 2009 @ 10:40 am

barring other evidence, I believe that Dave’s anonymous professor is a sock puppet, one of the many who appears at just the right time whenever Dave needs a convenient argument on his behalf.

Strong charges.

#28 Comment By rory On November 20, 2009 @ 10:41 am

@Derek: perhaps it is disciplinary. Friends from the job market in sociology rarely (one, now that I recall, did guest in a class for masters students) have to teach as part of a job interview.

#29 Comment By JeffZ On November 20, 2009 @ 10:52 am

I’ll be honest, I’ve skipped over most of the longer posts in this thread, but DCat, as much as I’ve joined the chorus of criticism of some of DK’s rhetoric, I find it difficult to imagine that he simply fabricated this anonymous person out of whole cloth. As always, I grant more credibility to folks who identify who they are than to those who don’t (as should everyone), but I seriously, seriously, seriously doubt this dude is just DK’s immaginary friend. You’re being a bit over the top with that one …

#30 Comment By Dick Swart On November 20, 2009 @ 11:39 am

#31 Comment By JeffZ On November 20, 2009 @ 11:51 am

Dick, you are on a roll today …

#32 Comment By Ronit On November 20, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

@Vicarious ’83:

A few weeks ago, my wife and I made it out for Families Weekend. Our son literally wouldn’t shut up about what was going on in his classes, and top on his list of “must-do” events was Prof. Burger’s talk monkeys & typewriters. It was literally standing room only. One of his other professors was there, and he couldn’t wait to introduce that prof to us. He has since updated us several times on what’s going on in his classes. There has not been even the slightest hint of laziness or apathy toward the teaching of undergrads from any of his four profs. Four PhDs, each one an accomplished contributor to his/her field, has been fully engaged in class, and wonderfully available between classes. I realize that for many in academia, teaching undergrads is not the exciting or rewarding part of the job. For many, it’s the research. I understood this back during my undergraduate days as well. But it was clear to me then, and it seems just as evident today, that the college is delivering an outstanding classroom experience. This is why the Anon Prof’s comments were so shocking. It doesn’t “fit” that a place where undergraduate education is still considered Job #1 would be lazy and apathetic about its visiting profs.

I simultaneously believe both of these things, based on my experience:

1. tenured and tenure-track professors at Williams are on the whole quite passionate about teaching, and departments pay close attention to the teaching performance of such professors, with regular in-class visits from senior faculty, department chairs interviewing students outside of class, etc.

2. Williams departments are generally quite apathetic and indifferent to the teaching quality of visiting professors.

As such, anon prof’s conclusions about the hiring process for visiting profs are not shocking at all to me. The problem is not that Williams doesn’t care about teaching, it’s that Williams doesn’t, on the whole, care very much about the visiting professors it hires.

#33 Comment By Derek On November 20, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

JeffZ —
Maybe. Maybe not. We can never know, can we? And Dave’s intellectual dishonesty is such a huge part of his persona that I have no reason to believe that this person is real. Especially because their self-professed reason for weighing in was a desire to be able to say things about colleagues that using their real name would have made, um, uncomfortable. And more importantly, the fact that the question can be asked should tell us all we need to know about whether this person deserves equal status in this discussion with Professors Waters, Just, and Crane.
Am I being over the top? The ability to prove me wrong is very, very, very easy. Reveal the name of this person. And then let’s see how the discussion goes, because I’m sure people in Notmadeupprofessor’s department might be very interested in how that department is being depicted.

dcat

#34 Comment By David On November 20, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

It doesn’t “fit” that a place where undergraduate education is still considered Job #1 would be lazy and apathetic about its visiting profs.

If this were true, the Nathan Saunders would have been tenured. Since he wasn’t (not enough research), we can conclude that teaching undergraduates is, at best, first among equals when Williams decides who to hire, tenure and promote.

I agree with Ronit and his 1) and 2).

Derek: As always you set the highest standards for discussion at EphBlog. My source continues to be impressed with your wit and insight. She sends her regards!

#35 Comment By kthomas On November 20, 2009 @ 1:51 pm

My source continues to be impressed with your wit and insight. She sends her regards!

What’s this yellow fluid all over the floor?

In journalism, as messy as things get, there are ways to relatively judge the value value of sources, other than the length of one’s stream. David’s source stands impugned.

I don’t really care about the amount of verbiage the parties can throw at each other. There’s only so far this can go. Either we try a different method to resolve, or the yellow pool just gets deeper.

#36 Comment By David On November 20, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

Ken,

I am always looking for constructive criticism. How would you recommend that I respond to Derek when he accuses me of lying about my sources? Ignore him? I thought that snarky mocking was a good option, but you probably have better judgment than I do in this matter.

#37 Comment By kthomas On November 20, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

D– Generally I’d like to stay away from the intersection of the streams. Replied privately. –K

#38 Comment By David On November 20, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

“whom Dave alleges to have known personally for more than 20 years”

Can you even read? I never said that I have known this person for “more than 20 years.” If you are going to accuse me of sock-puppetry, at least get the details of my relationship to the puppet correct.

By the way, if you think that I am making up this person, what do you think of the dozens of e-mails that I have published over the years from other anonymous parents, alumni, students and faculty? Just curious.

#39 Comment By Whitney Wilson '90 On November 20, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

Like Jeff, I would be stunned if in fact David simply fabricated the anonymous professor. Having known Dave for over 20 years, I just can’t see it. I would be more likely to win the lottery next week. I also take issue with the idea the Dave is “intellectually dishonest,” but that is much less of a black and white question, open to interpretation.

#40 Comment By Dick Swart On November 20, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

I can’t imagine David has created the source. I can believe the source has been manipulated, either with complicity or unknowingly, for a desired effect.

I also think that this thread is going absolutely nowhere except even further down hill. It is yet another instance of Ephblog sinking to the lowest level.

I call upon all involved to let this thread die.

Dick Swart
President
EphBlog

#41 Comment By CHenry On November 20, 2009 @ 5:21 pm

One…last…gasp…

Rory, I appreciate your concern regarding my privacy and want to say thanks for the gesture. You might not have seen some of my later posts which I signed with my name and year, thus eliminating that right to anonymity.

David (and others who care), I overstated my position in my original post in shocked response to the comment by your source “But it’s only for another year and his overall scores are fine.” Perhaps my expectations, and all of ours, are too high, but it was a bit disturbing seeing this attitude towards education coming from a professor, even if it was hypothetical. In any case, I think we can now all agree that the efforts to hire a short term professor are less thorough than those for a long term one. I’ll just leave it at that.

Thanks to Professor Waters for providing an informative response. Of all of the professors I knew at Williams, he was one who consistently handled himself with the utmost professionalism and courtesy in all matters – not an easy task in such a charged environment. Thanks for being such a stand up guy as always!