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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Staff ed: Job talks should mirror the classroom setting

Hiring and firing practices at Grinnell College have been a topic of frequent campus conversation this year. Such discussions were sparked again recently when the History Department decided not to hire a popular term professor for one of its tenure-track positions.

According to those involved with the decision, the controversial decision was attributed to the candidates’ job talk performances. While this system for evaluating professorial candidates affords students some means of input in the decision-making process, it is overly rigid and does not effectively communicate how a candidate will perform in the classroom. The format for evaluating prospective professors should be adjusted to better capture how candidates will actually teach.
Many academic departments look to their SEPCs and students at large to assess the quality of candidates. Students have the opportunity to attend lunches and formal job talks in which the candidate presents on a topic of their choice and then fields follow-up questions.

While these talks may provide a glimpse into the candidate’s academic credentials and professorial prowess, they do not necessarily reflect on the candidate’s potential classroom performance. These talks are largely directed at sitting faculty, who tend to dominate both attendance and the post-talk question period. Interaction between the lecturer and students is generally limited and, when present, impersonal.

Classes at Grinnell are rarely this formal; instead, they are often discussion-based and rely on active student participation. While excellent academic credentials are important, this College prides itself, first and foremost, on being a teaching institution and its professors should be hired accordingly.

In addition to the aforementioned job talks, departments should provide forums that more closely resemble class dynamics at Grinnell. Some departments, such as math and psychology, invite their candidates to guest teach during a class period. They sometimes even provide students with literature relevant to their topic.

This format provides students and faculty greater insight into how a candidate would fit within the classroom and the department. Candidates who may not excel at more formal lecturing may nevertheless perform better in a classroom setting.
Professors at Grinnell are expected to do more than simply talk at their students. They must be willing and excited to facilitate dialogue, while mentoring their students in an academically invigorating and emotionally nurturing environment. A mere lecture should not be the determining factor in hiring Grinnell professors.

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