The academic life has its rhythms. To every activity there is a season. February is the season for hiring new faculty members. For the candidates and the search committees it is a month filled with stress. Prospective faculty members are busy putting the finishing touches on their dissertations as they anxiously await that e-mail note that will announce they are a finalist or that phone call that will provide the job offer. Search committees worry that top candidates will apply elsewhere and then they worry that those who appear to be top candidates may fall flat when they visit campus.
While others work through the stress of the hiring process, I get to enjoy all the excitement with little of the tension. Others do the hard work of searching out the best candidates and persuading them to take a look at our college. My task is to meet 20 or 25 bright applicants for the various openings at the college. These are invariably some of the most interesting, most idealistic graduates of the best educational institutions from around the world. My conversations with candidates touch on two topics. I ask them why they want to teach and they ask me what it is that makes Monmouth a special place. Both questions stimulate great conversations.
My confidence in the future is buoyed when bright young scholars explain their attraction to a job with long hours, taxing assignments and modest compensation. Because our search committees have already pre-selected those candidates who are suited for the Monmouth culture, everyone I meet is looking for an opportunity to change lives and through those lives enrich society. When we talk of changing lives, we don’t focus on converting conservatives to liberals or poor to rich. Instead, I hear from people who understand that they will have the opportunity to introduce our students to the joy of great ideas. Our job candidates look forward to helping students discover hidden talents. They talk with excitement about the rewards of listening to students articulate reasoned opinions. I enjoy knowing that a year from now our students will be learning from the very best of a group who will all become great teachers.
Most of the candidates I see will get multiple job offers, even in this environment that has many colleges freezing all hiring. So I answer carefully when they ask what makes Monmouth special. It is a careful answer, but also an easy one, and one that will resonate with the idealism of our best candidates. Ours is a college that takes very good students and makes them even better. Ours is a college that knows that it is very good and is working relentlessly to become even better. Professors who come to Monmouth, I assure them, will have the daily reward of knowing that they are helping students become better learners and ultimately better citizens.
We all know that it is hard to work with a student who doesn’t already have basic skills. But it is even harder to work with one who believes that he or she already has sufficient skills and is expecting to get a degree without working remarkably hard. Likewise, few job candidates are looking for a college that doesn’t already have some remarkable programs. But at the same time, the best candidates, I think, are those who are looking for that college that will ask its faculty to work remarkably hard to make themselves, and by extension, our college even better. That is exactly what we have to offer and why I am confident that again this year we will have one of the best classes of new faculty of any college in the country.