Current professor searches draw top candidates

By Daniel Kerwin

While many colleges have been calling off their searches for new tenure track faculty, Macalester is receiving dividends for having continued with the bulk of its searches this year. Despite postponing four proposed searches in the fall, the college has been largely successful in the remaining searches. Currently, five of the 14 vacant positions have been filled, a verbal agreement has been made in one search and a contract offered in another.

“I think the plus here is that we find ourselves in something of a buyer’s market for these 14 positions that we are searching for since so many places have cancelled their searches,” Provost Kathleen Murray said. “We have an extraordinarily strong pool, and we are landing first choices. So far, in every instance where we have made an offer, we have landed a person.”

The five completed searches have filled the Assistant/Associate Professor positions in the Anthropology, Asian Languages and Cultures, Hispanic and Latin American Studies, Music, and Religious Studies departments. The hires will help to fill gaps that existed in each department.

“This was a [tenure track] line that had needed to be replaced for several years; this completed our faculty,” Chair of Hispanic and Latin American Studies Molly Olsen said of their hire. “We serve a lot of students, as majors and minors and for the language requirement for the college, it was essential it take place. It’s important to students, to the quality of the education and for the institution that you have a tenure/tenure track position wherever possible.”The Hispanic and Latin American Studies department’s new hire, Alicia Muños, was most recently at Cornell and will teach Cultural Studies and U.S. Latino Studies.

Overall, the departments have been particularly happy with the results of their completed searches, noting that there was a strong field to choose from in each case.

“We were pleased with the depth of our applicant pool,” Chair of the Music Department Mark Mazullo said. “Many talented and qualified people applied for this position, all of whom seemed genuinely interested in working in the Music Department at a school like Macalester.”

“Some of the searches for Islamics professors were cancelled at other institutions because of economic problems, so we benefitted from that,” Chair of Religious Studies Jim Laine said. “We felt the field was stronger than it was three years ago and we hired our first choice and felt good about all the finalists.”

The Religious Studies Department’s hire is Brett Wilson, who has a PhD from Duke and is a specialist in Ottoman and modern Turkey.

Candidates are continuing to visit the campus each week in the remaining searches. This past Wednesday there was a lecture by a candidate for the History Department’s open position in African History, and Monday and Thursday two different candidates applying for open positions in the French depart’ment gave presentations.

Each year there are usually some searches that go uncompleted, but so far the remaining searches are looking promising.

“I don’t see us struggling in any of these searches at the moment,” Murray said. “It’s still possible with as many as we are running that we won’t be successful in all of these, but I wouldn’t predict that at this point.”

The searches that were postponed in the fall were for a Russian professor and a joint Economics-Political Science professor, and searches in the History and Music departments that would have taken place next year. According to Assistant Provost Lynn Hertz, if the searches had continued this year it would have been the highest number in Macalester’s history. The way it has turned out, the number of searches has been similar to those in the past five years, with roughly 13 to15 searches per year.

Although the college was able to maintain the bulk of its tenure track searches, it will have to make some concessions in lieu of the current economic climate. Murray said to anticipate a reduction in genuinely part time positions. Also, despite a relatively flat student body size, Murray said that the college added around 35 to 40 courses in the past two years and may be looking to cut back around 10-15 courses.

The college is hopeful, to not only stay strong through these tough economic times, but perhaps come through in a better position in the end.

“Institutions that have the capacity that Macalester has and that are entering this very challenging time from a position of strength, which we clearly are, if we’re careful and creative we can emerge from this whole thing a stronger institution, and I’d like to think these 14 hires could be a big part of that,” Murray said.