Last week’s installment looked at the road to tenure.
Visiting professors and post-doctoral fellows
In January, the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released “The Just-In-Time Professor,” a report describing the swelling population of nontenure-track instructors in academia. In 1970, adjunct professors made up 20 percent of higher education faculty, but today, they represent half of professors nationwide, according to the report. At Bowdoin, approximately 20 visiting professors, 11 adjunct lecturers and 15 post-doctoral fellows have joined full-time faculty for the 2014-2015 year.
These temporary instructors reap many of the same benefits as those on a tenure track, though they are hired for no more than a few years at a time.
“In my experience, the College treats visiting professors perfectly well,” said Susan Faludi, a visiting Tallman Scholar for Gender and Women’s Studies. “If there’s something I’m not getting that tenure-track professors are, I’m not aware of and I don’t miss it,” she said.
The College works to provide resources for temporary professors transitioning to life in Brunswick.
Faludi is living in a pre-furnished house that all the other Tallman Scholars have also lived in, along with her husband Russ Rymer, who is currently a visiting professor in the English Department.
“If you’re visiting, you don’t want to have to bring all your furniture and things with you,” she said.
Several professors who spoke with the Orient pointed out the challenges of teaching as a visiting faculty member.
Additionally, Departments sometimes struggle to integrate temporary professors into their faculty. Physics professor Mark Battle mentioned that departments often “don’t get really exceptional candidates” for temporary positions, since these professors are generally hired for tenure-track jobs.
According to Associate Professor of Music Vineet Shende, visiting faculty sometimes feel that their position is “just a waystation” on the path to a tenure-track job at another college, as professors hired under the designation of “visiting professor” generally do not move up to tenure track at the College. But Battle mentioned the problem of being labeled a “permanent visiting person” after taking more than one or two visiting positions, which makes it much harder to get hired as a full professor.
There are many benefits to bringing visiting faculty to a department. A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Music Mary Hunter said that the temporary appointments allowed departments to “try out a certain area” and offer classes in a specialty that isn’t normally taught. This semester, for example, Rymer is teaching “The Art of Science Writing,” a non-fiction creative writing course that caters to a class filled largely with science majors.
Associate Dean for Faculty Jennifer Scanlon is in charge of working specifically with postdoctoral fellows, or post-docs, who come to Bowdoin through grant-funded programs such as the Mellon Foundation. Bowdoin currently has 15 post-docs in a variety of subjects, who Scanlon works to prepare for their future outside the College through programs such as workshops on finding a job after Bowdoin.
According to Scanlon, working as a post-doc can act as an “introduction to an environment like Bowdoin and opportunity to figure out if this is the kind of place you want.” In a September 2012 Orient article, Judd said that post-doc fellows also allowed the College to create connections to graduate programs that many current students contemplate attending.
Along with 38 other liberal arts colleges, Bowdoin hires post-docs through the national Consortium for Faculty Diversity (CFD), which is designated for ethnic minorities. After filling out a general application, prospective post-docs can be hired by any school in the consortium.
Melissa Rosario, a CFD post-doc in anthropology, characterized the CFD experience as “an individual one.” In addition to the requirement of teaching one class per semester, CFD post-docs can also get further involved through service to the College or through mentoring students individually.
Just like visiting professors, post-docs must also balance their courses with the stress of applying to tenure-track positions at other institutions. Rosario characterized this job search as “an intense, consuming process” in the competitive waters of academia.
A final component of the post-doc experience is giving fellows teaching skills and experience, ideally through mentoring from more seasoned professors. Scalon said that the College stresses mentoring both from departments and from the Office of Academic Affairs as “a way of helping them go from here to there.”
Rosario said she wished Bowdoin had “a formal structure for mentorship.” She said that the workshops run by the Office of Academic Affairs were helpful in terms of professional development: “an important component, but it doesn’t necessarily help you to be a better instructor.” Instead, she said that “direct mentorship with a faculty member” was more beneficial in helping post-docs succeed.
Balance between teaching, research and service
An important aspect of being a faculty member at small liberal arts colleges like Bowdoin is juggling commitments to teaching, research and service.
The balance between these three responsibilities is constantly shifting throughout a faculty member’s time at the College and depends on the stage of the tenure process that they are currently going through.
After getting tenure and moving up to the level of associate professor, there are fewer expectations about one’s level of teaching.
“In a sense, teaching has already been evaluated,” said Page Herrlinger, chair of the history department. She went on to say that though there is still an expectation for high quality of teaching, the focus tends to shift to a commitment to distinguished research.
Once faculty members go up to the tenure board once more and receive the title of full professor, there are no longer any expectations or requirements regarding teaching or research.
“In terms of specific advancements as a professor, that’s it,” said Dallas Denery, an associate history professor. “That said, at that point, you’ve done two books and a bunch of articles, so chances are this is your job. Teaching is a lot of fun and researching and thinking is also a lot of fun, so you just keep doing it. Allen Wells in our department is a perfect example of what you should be like when you’re a full professor: you just keep working and you’re helpful to your subordinates.”
Professors noted that working at a liberal arts college like Bowdoin allows for different opportunities than other, larger research institutions.
“One of the things I like best about teaching here is I find it fairly possible to link those things [teaching and research],” said David Hecht, assistant professor of history. “I love bringing something I’m researching to the classroom.”
Professors are also expected to complete service to the College community, such as serving on committees. Although this aspect of a career is not generally as highly valued as a faculty member’s teaching and research, commitment to community service is still important.
“If you avoid community service, that will hurt you,” said Battle. He compared the relationship between teaching, research and service to “a three-legged stool with one leg shorter than the other.”