Spring break offers little rest for Whitman faculty

Hadley Jolley

Jim Hanson, professor of forensics and head coach of the Whitman College debate team, has planned a busy spring break this year. He will spend the first five or six days preparing Whitman’s debate team for tournaments in Oakland, Calif. and Lubbock, Texas, that are set for the second half of break.

“We might do something in between the tournaments. The policy debaters get a day or two off, and the parliamentary debaters I think get three days off,” said Hansen.

He is not alone: for many professors, spring break is a chance to do work that’s not feasible while classes are in session.

“We don’t get a break, really. It’s just a time to get some research done,” said Nathan Lien, visiting assistant professor of chemistry.

Lien, like Hanson, will spend the first half of his break working with students on research projects in chemistry, and the second half traveling.

He is going to San Francisco for the American Chemical Society’s National Meeting and Exposition, a bi-annual chemistry conference that, according to Lien, just happens to usually occur in the last week of of Whitman’s spring break.

“It’s four days of nonstop presentations,” Lien said.

Both men agreed that summer is vacation time for faculty. However, just because they’re working doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy themselves.

“I like interacting with the students on our team. We just have a lot of fun talking. I also really like the growth and challenge that the students experience when they’re at these tournaments,” said Hanson.

One professor who is not working this spring break is Noah Leavitt, adjunct assistant professor of sociology and general studies. Leavitt plans to travel to Trenton, N.J. for the unveiling of his grandfather’s tombstone. The unveiling is the end of a year-long mourning tradition in Judaism.

“The one-year cycle is the psychological insight that Judaism offers, which is that when there’s been a death or some sort of really significant trauma in a family or in a relationship, you need to ease out of that trauma. You can’t just suddenly return to life the next week and think every thing’s fine,” said Leavitt.

However, in past years, Leavitt has also used spring break to conduct academic research. He and his wife traveled for a sociological study, interviewing couples in which one spouse was Jewish and the other Asian.

“Spring break is a time that we are able to do some of the research that liberal arts college professors are supposed to do in conjunction with teaching all of our classes,” he said.

All three professors, however, are traveling, even if not for a traditional vacation. Spring break gives professors an opportunity to travel without having to take time away from teaching.

Of course, spring break isn’t a vacation for all college students, either. The debate team will travel with Hanson, and two students plan to research with Lien over break. For these students and professors, spring break offers a chance to work together outside of Whitman classes.