After informing all College department chairs over a month ago that there would be a temporary freeze on permanent hires, the administration has reinstated two of the five tenure-track faculty searches that were approved last year.
The Geology and Computer Science departments each had one search reopened while another from Computer Science and searches by the Comparative American Studies and Rhetoric and Composition departments remained frozen.
The suspension was an attempt by the College to address its financial status, according to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren.
“These searches were temporarily suspended due to budgetary considerations,” Elgren said. “The other three searches remain as approved searches and our hope is that we will reopen those searches next year.”
“There [was] a very small number of allocated faculty positions last year,” Chair of Geology Zeb Page said. “There was a decision made in the College Faculty Council, the elected hiring body of the college faculty, to grant an unusually small number of requests. We were very fortunate last year to have this position allocated, and we are very fortunate to be able to hire a new position this year.”
The Geology department faces several challenges looking into the future, as three tenured faculty members will not be on campus in the spring semester of 2019. Two tenured professors will be left to teach the core curriculum.
Page said he understands the necessity of the decisions the administration has made recently.
“I think that everyone on campus is aware that the College is making very careful choices about its finances right now,” Page said. “Because of financial shortfalls from the smaller than average expected class, that money needs to be cut.”
The CAS program was on the brink of completing an effort over ten years in the making to hire a Native American and Indigenous Studies faculty member before receiving the last-minute news from Elgren’s office. Chair of CAS and History Professor Shelley Lee said that last year CAS was approved to conduct a search for the position, but the candidate they hired accepted a position at another institution. As a result, CAS was permitted to launch a search again this fall. Lee added that CAS had been accepting applications until Oct. 13 — just days before Elgren informed Lee that the search would have to end.
“By then we had 73 applications,” Lee said. “We had a subcommittee that was reading the applications, preparing to do the first round of interviews the week after fall break. We hadn’t heard anything from the dean’s office in the meantime. But they had never actually communicated anything directly to us about the status of our search until the Tuesday of fall break … at which point I got an email from the Dean saying, ‘Your search is suspended. You need to suspend your search.’”
Lee said she met with Elgren, during which he explained why the hiring freeze was only lifted for positions in Geology and Computer Science.
“[Elgren] said that it came down to matters of curricular urgency,” Lee said. “So some departments had urgent needs about having to fill their positions in order to cover the courses that needed to be covered in their departments.”
Lee added that she disagreed with the decision — which she said was made by Elgren and President Carmen Twillie Ambar — saying that the CAS program has tried to grow. The department has four core faculty and 40 majors now.
“It’s the situation that we’re in and we would really like to grow, but we realize that we also don’t control these decisions,” Lee said. “We hope whoever’s in charge of the money stuff at Oberlin really figures it out so that departments can just get back on their feet …and grow if they need to grow. Our students will be better-served if we have a Native American and Indigenous Studies specialist teaching in CAS.”