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Math department looking to fill visiting professor position

After posting a one-year visiting assistant professor position in the fall, the mathematics and statistics department was inundated with highly qualified applicants. Five months later, the position remains unfilled.

“A one-year job is nobody’s dream position, usually, but the extent to which that was an issue has surprised us,” Professor of Mathematics Bob Milnikel said.

The position was posted on mathjobs.com — a national clearinghouse for academic job listings — in October, with a Dec. 1 application deadline. The faculty received approximately 250 applications, which the College’s mathematics and statistics faculty ranked on a scale of one to 10 in order to make a list of 30 candidates for preliminary screenings, which took place in January, according to Milnikel.

But when Milnikel reached out in February to invite candidates screened in January to campus for a final round of interviews, most of the candidates interviewed had already accepted other positions, according to Milnikel.

“It turns out our applicant pool — which was so incredibly rich and deep — was so outstanding that most of our candidates have gotten tenure-track jobs and two- and three-year visiting positions [somewhere else],” Milnikel said.

Of the six candidates who have come to campus to undergo a final round of interviews — which includes leading a mock class and a research presentation — none who were offered positions accepted. “The candidates told us they loved Kenyon, liked the faculty, liked the campus, but accepted multi-year or tenure-track positions because they offered more stability,” Milnikel said.

When Milnikel came to the College in 2002, the mathematics and statistics department hired one-year positions almost yearly, according to Milnikel. About seven years ago, this changed when a new permanent position was added that allowed one professor to go on sabbatical every year without necessitating a one-year hire, and increased the number of permanent faculty from seven to eight. This is the first one-year hire since the creation of this eighth professorship, and it seems the market for mathematics professors has changed, with more tenure-track and long-term visiting positions available nationwide.

Even with many candidates accepting positions at other institutions, the large number of qualified candidates means the department’s search was only prolonged. The committee reached out to 75 of the original 250 applicants who had come across as strong but for whom there was no time to perform comprehensive screening interviews, and about 20 were still available, according to Milnickel. Additionally, the committee has asked the math departments  of the College of Wooster and other colleges in Ohio to suggest potential candidates. 

Two candidates will come to campus next week, but because it is near the end of the year and professors on the committee have growing workloads, these candidates will not present research and will only teach mock classes. “It’s a compromise that we’re living with because we’ve gotten deeper in the semester than we wanted to be,” Milnikel said.

The hiring committee for this new position is comprised of all of the current tenure-track and tenured mathematics and statistics faculty who will be on campus next year. Milnikel, the chair of the math and statistics department, leads the committee. Additionally, mathematics majors Seth Colbert-Pollack ’19 and Claire O’Donnell-McCarthy ’17 work with the committee.

O’Donnell-McCarthy, who has met with every candidate so far, added that even after the committee was forced to move down its list of candidates, the applicants have not declined in quality.

“One of my favorite candidates came in the past two weeks,” O’Donnell-McCarthy said. “Kenyon has high teaching standards, and they’re not going to lower those teaching standards just because it’s getting late in the season.”