Multiple departments search for professors this fall

Over 10 departments are looking to either fill an open position or add an additional professor

Grace Mamon

Multiple professors are ready to retire, and the university is working to meet recent academic initiatives. The result of these two factors: an abundance of searches for new professors.

There are more than 10 tenure track faculty searches going on this year in the College, which includes 21 departments and excludes the Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics. 

“I think the exact number is 14, but there has been some fluctuation,” said Provost Lena Hill. 

And there are seven searches in the Williams School right now. 

These are higher numbers than usual mostly because we deferred some searches over the past year as we responded to the uncertainty of the pandemic,” Hill said. “We also have new academic initiatives like the DeLaney Center that have inspired new tenure track lines.”

Still, the most searches happen when professors retire or leave the university for other reasons, she said. 

“Although we did not freeze hiring, we are catching up as we return to a more normal approach to hiring,” Hill said. 

Philosophy, English, journalism, strategic communications, and entrepreneurship are just some of the disciplines looking for new hires. 

Nathaniel Goldberg, chair of the philosophy search committee, said the department is one professor short after Angela Smith, who taught ethics, recently retired.

Goldberg said the department has been lucky to have two postdoctoral researchers filling in to teach classes.

“Between the two of them, we have at least the number of courses that Professor Smith would’ve offered,” he said.

Fernando Zapata, a Ted DeLaney postdoc in philosophy, and Omar Quinonez, a postdoc for the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics, teach fewer classes than a hired professor, but it has been helpful nonetheless, Goldberg said.

“They came toward the very end of planning, and I don’t know what would’ve happened had they not been here,” he said.

The journalism and strategic communication departments, which have been short a professor for several years now, found a different solution.

Claudette Artwick and Doug Cumming are both ready to retire, but they have been switching off, each teaching half of the year.

But Dayo Abah, chair of the journalism search committee, said after this year, both Artwick and Cumming will retire officially.

“It’s critical at this point,” Abah said. “We absolutely must hire, or we’ll be in serious trouble.”

The journalism department also conducted a professor search last winter. The department made an offer to its first-ranked candidate, who declined, and to its second-ranked candidate, who declined. So, they had to start all over again this year, Abah said.

But journalism and strategic communications have still been able to offer the required classes, despite being a professor short.

But some of the elective courses that professors create themselves, like Professor Toni Locy’s multimedia storytelling and design class, haven’t been offered for several semesters, Abah said.

“Stuff like that is where we make the cuts,” she said. “We just focus on the required courses, and we just tell people they have to wait for the others.”

Abah herself is overloading this term, teaching more classes than she is required to, to compensate for the opening in the department.

On top of the stress of absolutely needing to hire someone, the professor search itself is an intense process.

Departments create search committees, write a job advertisement and post it, review applications that come in, flag candidates that meet the qualifications, and begin to make cuts.

There are several rounds of Zoom calls, and the search committee must whittle the group down to just a few top candidates, said Goldberg and Abah.

Those finalists, typically just a handful of people, are invited to campus to meet students, have dinners with faculty, teach a class and do a research presentation.

“I feel bad for the candidates because it’s very intense,” Goldberg said. “Ours are on campus for two nights…and other than sleeping they just have an hour here or there to themselves. It’s pretty nuts.”

Student input is useful to the search committee, though it’s not the deciding factor. But Goldberg said students and faculty are usually on the same page about candidates.

After the campus visits, departments will usually rank candidates and make an offer to their top choice.

Dean of the College Chawne Kimber makes the official job offer once departments have selected a top candidate. Kimber declined to comment on her role in this process.

 The strategic communications search, chaired by associate professor of journalism Mark Coddington, is hopefully nearing the end of the process, Abah said.

But the journalism search “is far from done,” she said. The department has just cut its group down from 12 candidates to seven.

Those seven will do another round of Zoom interviews to cut the group down to a final three, who will likely visit campus in January.

“I’m hoping that before the break in February we’ve concluded our process,” Abah said.

Several departments, like philosophy and English, used to conduct professor searches during winter term. But this year, they’ve moved the process to the fall to get a head start, Goldberg said.

“It’s very competitive to hire someone,” he said. “W&L is a very prestigious place to study and to teach. But at the same time, some of the people we interview will have multiple job offers and we wanted to get there first and leverage the calendar to our advantage.”

If all goes according to plan, Washington and Lee students can expect to see several new faces at the front of their classrooms next fall.