For professors like former Assistant Professor of Government Shelley Deane, teaching at Bowdoin might be just the beginning of their careers.
Deane departed from the College on short notice at the end of last semester to take a position in London, where she will deal hands-on with conflict resolution in the Middle East. Visiting Assistant Professor Elizabeth Austin, a recent Ph.D. graduate who studies American foreign policy in the Middle East, has been hired as her replacement.
Deane faced the difficult and unusual decision last December of leaving 50 students—who were enrolled in the two courses she was scheduled to teach—in the lurch. She was able to suggest a replacement in Austin, whom Deane already knew from Middle East-related academic conferences.
"To be able to find someone who fit so well on such short notice was very fortunate," said Government Department Chair Allen Springer. "From my perspective, it was as easy as it could have possibly been."
Deane will work as an analyst at International Alert, a conflict resolution NGO based in London that operates worldwide, seeking to facilitate dialogue between opposing political parties and reframe contentious political issues in order to improve the prospects of peace.
"My research focuses on the regulation of conflict and negotiation of peace initiatives" in the Middle East, Deane wrote in an email to the Orient. "The chance to apply what I have learned by participating in urgent peace building efforts and at a base closer to home and family proved irresistible."
Deane had been scheduled to teach two courses in the government department this semester: a 200-level course called War, Government and Politics in Iraq, and a 300-level seminar, Ending Civil Wars. Instead, Austin will now teach those courses.
Several students expressed their sadness at seeing Deane go, praising her ability in the classroom to explain complex issues clearly as well as her extensive knowledge of her field.
"I think she has an incredible amount of knowledge that comes both from the academia side of that, but also from personal experiences," said Max Staiger '13, a government major who has taken "almost all" of Deane's courses. "[She] presents it in a very straightforward and easy to understand way, and [with] a sense of humor that makes it all flow more easily."
"There's a little bit of a Shelley Deane fan club," said Isabel Nassief '12, who worked on an independent study with Deane last semester on Hezbollah and the utility of political violence. "She talks a 100 miles a minute, she's really passionate. It was really fun to work with her."
Deane played an important role in hiring her replacement: she interviewed Austin, showed her the curricula for the two courses, and recommended her to the government department.
"Shelley did all the legwork," said Springer. "She was very concerned that she was putting us in a tight spot... [But] particularly since she did this amazing job of finding this great person that fit perfectly, it was absolutely no problem from our perspective."
"It wasn't just like 'I'm leaving,'—it was carefully thought about," said Nassief. "I think it was a sudden decision, but she wouldn't have taken it if she couldn't have found a suitable replacement."
Austin, who was not available for comment, grew up in Maine and received her Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow last year. She has taught in London, Glasgow, and St Andrews, and is a Mitchell Scholar, an honor named after Bowdoin alumnus George Mitchell and awarded nationally to students to fund one year of study in Ireland.
Austin has extensive experience in fields of study similar to her predecessor, and is well-equipped to fill Deane's shoes.
Nonetheless, Austin's teaching style is sure to differ from Deane's, who worked extensively in conflict resolution in the years she was at Bowdoin. The focus in the courses she is adopting may shift more to the American policy perspective, said several students and faculty members.
"Professor Austin does more work on the U.S. foreign policy side of things," said Springer, so the course on Iraq "will have more focus on U.S. decision-making policy in Iraq, whereas Shelley would have probably focused more on the social cultural sides of Iraq itself."
Springer said that although it is unusual for professors to leave halfway through the academic year, faculty members do sometimes leave at the end of an academic year after they have already advertised their courses and students have enrolled in them.
Higher education faculty across the United States can be particularly coveted assets at political think tanks and in government positions, and professors of political science like Deane often must balance their academic careers with the plethora of policy positions open to them.
"There are people, particularly in the policy area, who are very actively engaged in formation or implementation of policy, but who also teach," said Springer.
One Bowdoin graduate who juggles the ivory tower with the professional world is Seth Jones '95, who spoke at Bowdoin last fall.
He is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a political think tank, and teaches part-time at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Although Deane participated in conferences and peace negotiations during her time at Bowdoin, her decision to work full-time as a political analyst points to the difficulty of living in Brunswick and having two careers at the same time.
Having both a policy position and teaching is "less common in small liberal arts schools set away from a place like Washington," said Springer, "because then the transition in and out is more difficult."
Deane plans to stay in contact with the students whose honors projects she is advising via email and Skype, said Taylor Tremble '12, who is writing his honors thesis on the relationship between natural resources and child soldiers.
"It's pretty unfortunate that the College will lose such a good teacher," said Tremble. "But on the other hand, she had a really good opportunity."