Visiting profs balance teaching, dissertations

By Tressa Versteeg

For visiting instructors, time management is a key to everyday life because many of them are balancing teaching courses with writing dissertations.Visiting instructors are one of many classifications of faculty at Macalester. According to the Macalester Admissions website, there are 157 full-time and 55 part-time professors teaching at Macalester. What this statistic does not account for are the various types of professors within full-time and part time.

According to Provost Diane Michelfelder, a tenure-track faculty most likely begins as an assistant professor. After tenure, the faculty member is promoted to associate professor and after five years at this title, he or she is eligible to become a professor. There are 138 total tenure-track faculty members, 40 assistant professors, 44 associate professors and 53 professors. The full-time and part-time faculty not tenured or on tenure track are dubbed “visitors.”

“Visitors” include visiting associate professors, visiting professors and visiting instructors. There are 19 visiting assistant professors, three visiting professors and seven visiting instructors. Part-time visiting faculty data was not available.

Michelfelder said the title of “visiting instructor” is reserved for someone still working on his or her dissertation. This balance of teaching while working on a dissertation has proved challenging for many faculty, especially regarding time management.

“Both teaching and the dissertation are highly demanding… Nevertheless, I do frankly think it is manageable, though at times tiring,” said Peter Vantine, a visiting French instructor who is finishing his work on 19th century French authors and brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt. For him, teaching tends to get more attention. “During the semester, I tend to privilege my teaching and find it hard not to do so, both because I enjoy teaching and because it seems nearly impossible to otherwise and still be a good, effective, dedicated teacher.”

During his year at Macalester, J.D. Bowen, a Political Science visiting instructor, finished his dissertation on “how political and economic elites in Ecuador respond to that country’s indigenous movement” and has taught five courses this year. For him, both projects benefit each other.

“My work on my dissertation affects my ability to teach, but in a good way, I think. I like to bounce ideas off my students and see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Vantine also mentioned that there are other things which strain time management.

“The larger challenge is balancing academia, dissertation and teaching and family,” he said. “But I also believe it is a crucial balance that one must constantly work to maintain.”

Henry West, retiring after 43 years as a philosophy professor at Macalester retiring this year, said his work did not suffer from the responsibilities of two children, a full-time teaching position at MIT and working on his dissertation before his time at Macalester.

“I don’t think that working on my dissertation affected my teaching, nor that my teaching affected my dissertation. They were independent of each other. And I was able to find time to do both by putting in long hours each week,” he said.

Michelfelder feels that for each faculty member, the balance is different.

“I don’t think there’s a ‘one size fits all’ answer. Some people can do it better than others-the more disciplined and self-motivated you are, the better,” she said.