By Emma Welsh-Huggins
Visiting Assistant Professor. Associate Professor. Affiliated Scholar. Sometimes the titles of faculty seem to vary almost as much as the courses they teach.The minority of Kenyon faculty who hold short-term positions are known as visiting assistant professors, and they serve many different purposes.
On a practical level, they assist with the natural turnover of the College’s 168 tenured or tenure-track professors as these instructors embark on sabbaticals, change positions or leave Kenyon upon retirement. Most large departments have in place a permanent sabbatical replacement line to avoid the high costs of an employment search.
For example, the Department of Economics only needs six professors, but it always has seven positions filled to compensate for the seven-year cycle of sabbaticals. However, smaller, more-specific departments such as Modern Languages simply do not have the resources or structure to have a plethora of extra French or German professors on hand, which makes a short-term hire necessary when any given instructor takes leave.
Provost Joe Klesner explained that, since “there are somewhere around 25 sabbaticals in a year … that ends up meaning that we need to cover about 10 of those by hiring temporary faculty.”Visiting Assistant Professor of English Tessie Prakas acknowledged that students often have absolutely no idea what a visiting position means. “It’s something of an unknown, I imagine — unless you are actually in academia, the title is kind of mystifying,” she said.
Prakas, who is at the beginning of a two-year contract, made it clear that her workload is no different from those of the tenured or tenure-track faculty around her.
“For all intents and purposes [I am] the same as a full professor in the department for those two years,” Prakas said. This means that she will teach two courses this semester, three in the spring and, although she is not required to do so, serve on a committee — in her case, the English Senior Exercise Committee.
In her spare time, she is working on finding a balance between acquainting herself with her new hometown and continuing her research on 17th-century religious poetry, the focus of her PhD dissertation at Yale University.
Another visiting professor, Nicholas Snow, who is teaching economics, is thrilled at the chance Kenyon gives him to teach a seminar on the economics of black markets. His dissertation at George Mason University was focused on the smuggling of liquor into America during the 1920s.In his former position as a senior lecturer at Ohio State University, his required teaching load allowed him almost no time to further pursue this research.
His contract at Kenyon is only for one year but, in his words, “academia is great. You get to do things you’re interested in, talk about the things you’re interested in — I love being a professor,” Snow said. If offered a more permanent position at the end of this year, he says he would take it, but he also has aspirations to form a center on the study of free markets, potentially at Capital University, in Bexley, Ohio.
Klesner vouched for the benefits of visiting talent. “Having someone new always brings in a different perspective,” he said.
“It’s no secret that some departments are relatively older and having a young person in the midst shakes things up a bit.”