English department not facing impending doom

Dan Holbrook

Anticipating the loss of two staff members next year, the English department is preparing to hire new professors to fill the gap.
As noted in last week’s Lawrentian (“Lawrence professors move on and out”), professors Gina Bloom and Catherine Hollis are leaving the department to pursue careers elsewhere. In addition, Professor Goldgar – whose supposedly impending retirement has been a standing rumor since this reporter matriculated – is on leave this term and will not be back until winter term, and Professor Dintenfass is taking the next two terms off and plans to retire after next year.
But does this mean the English department is imploding?
Tim Spurgin, associate professor and department chair, denied that there was any such crisis. “This is just what happens – we had some new people and some of them left to pursue other opportunities,” he said.
As detailed in a March 31 memo to English majors and minors, the department is retaining Garth Bond for another year. He’ll be teaching two classes a term, which is considered a full load. Administration also authorized the department to hire a temporary replacement for Hollis.
“I’ve contacted 20-25 top departments for applicants,” said Spurgin, “And we’ve already received a number of good responses.” Spurgin plans to complete the search by the end of this term, narrowing the field with phone interviews and inviting two or three short-listed professors to the campus sometime in May.
Ultimately, however, Spurgin is looking for more than just temporary replacements. There are currently seven tenure-track positions in the English department, and though it is common for some of them to be unfilled at any given time, Spurgin hopes to find someone to fill one of the three empty spots before the end of next year.
As the proportion of tenurable positions at liberal arts colleges continues to decline – according to the U.S. Department of Education more than half of all new full-time professors at four-year institutions are not on the tenure track – it is surprising that the English department does not use more full-time contract faculty members like Bond.
Other institutions, Duke for example, employ untenurable professors for years to save money and fill staffing gaps. Spurgin rebuffed the suggestion.
“I wouldn’t consider that,” he said. “It’s not fair to hire people into long-term non-tenured positions like that.” Spurgin also noted that the recent reorganization has not substantially affected the English department budget.
Granted, this has been a year of dramatic memos for the typical English major. But barring another late-season shocker, it seems that everything is under control. Rest easy, Lawrence literati.