Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Visiting Professors Balance Uncertainty, Passion

Among the various types of faculty on the Whitman campus, the visiting professor holds an unusual place.  Though most stay for only one year, there always seem to be plenty around.  As a result, the visiting professor presents something of a mystery to Whitman College students. Why are there so many? Where do they come from, and where do they go?  

Whitman’s abundance of visiting professors largely stems from its extensive sabbatical program. Tenure-track professors are permitted a one-year sabbatical after four years of full-time teaching, which leaves temporary positions open fairly regularly. This brings in visiting professors to all departments.

NEW  (2 of 4)
Photo by Annabelle Marcovi

Visiting positions frequently attract professors in early stages of their careers. They allow aspiring professors to gain experience and buff up their resumés without being locked into longer-term contracts. Whitman also holds workshops and other professor-education programs to help visiting professors learn the ropes of employment in academia. Visiting Assistant Professor of Astronomy Cassandra Fallscheer praised these programs extensively. She joined the Whitman faculty this year following her postdoctoral work, hoping to gain experience as a professor. 

“I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed teaching in a university setting, specifically in a liberal-arts … setting,” said Fallscheer.

Most visiting professors, Fallscheer included, stay for one year and move on. But occasionally, Whitman renews visiting positions, or visiting professors go on to work in other positions here. Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Susanne Altermann is in her second year as a visiting professor at Whitman. After leaving California Polytechnic State University, Altermann came to replace a professor on sabbatical, and at the end of the year the college offered her a renewal.  While this isn’t a typical situation, it’s far from unheard of.

NEW  (3 of 4)
Photo by Annabelle Marcovi

“I am acquainted with two other people who are in their second year [of a visiting professorship],” said Altermann.  “I don’t know of anyone on their third year.”

Professors with established careers also take on visiting professorships as transitional jobs. Visiting Professor of Classics David Lupher took a visiting professorship following his retirement from the University of Puget Sound.  He temporarily replaced Charles E. Margery B. Anderson Endowed Professor of Humanities Dana Burgess during a sabbatical. Lupher now teaches a class at Whitman as an adjunct professor, a title usually applied to professors who, like him, work part-time.

Finally, the college occasionally takes on visiting professors who have jobs elsewhere.

Visiting professors differ from tenured professors largely due to continuity. The visiting status of a professor will affect most students only when the professor leaves.

“A visiting professor who’s teaching full-time will be pretty much indistinguishable from any other professor from the standpoint of students. They’ll be teaching the way other professors do, and meeting during office hours and so forth,” said Lupher.

That one distinction, however, is significant in the life of a visiting professor. The hiring season for colleges peaks in the spring and late winter, so visiting professors inevitably find themselves searching for jobs on top of their teaching duties.

There’s also the problem of lodging.  The task of moving in and out of Walla Walla for a year can be daunting, but the college helps out.  The college provides faculty housing close to campus for new professors. Fallscheer currently lives in those accommodations.

NEW  (1 of 4)
Photo by Annabelle Marcovi

“It’s really conveniently located, and it’s nice.  It’s not furnished, [and] there are pluses and minuses of that,” she said. “We have to move all our furniture here and move it away again when we leave, but on the other hand some of us haven’t collected furniture yet that we are passionate about.”

High demand for faculty housing also poses problems for visiting professors.

“We tend to be hired later than the tenure-track professors,” said Fallscheer, “so sometimes people would like to stay in faculty housing, but they were hired late, in April or May instead of February or March, so then they might have to … do a house-hunting trip or stay in a hotel or something for a couple of days until they find something.”

Some professors escape the impermanence of a visiting position by applying to a tenure-track job at Whitman, but previous work at Whitman gains professors no special treatment from the college in the hiring process.

“Should a tenure-track position become available, and should we conduct a national search, visiting faculty members are eligible to apply. However, we do everything we can to ensure that we treat internal candidates the same way we treat all other candidates,” said Provost and Dean of the Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn in an email.

Despite all the uncertainty attached to being a visiting professor, Fallscheer appreciates the experience it provides.

“In the beginning it was a terrifying experience for me,” she said.  “Now I don’t have to focus as much on the being new to teaching, I can focus more on the next steps.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *