Attention Environmental Studies Majors: Breathe easy. You’re not actually screwed. Southwestern University is currently in the process of hiring a full-time Environmental Studies professor. Gone will be the days of professors from other disciplines struggling to hobble some semblance of a major together. A full-time professor will alleviate strain on both professors and students. By opening a full-time position, professors will have less on their academic plates and students will feel less stressed trying to put together a degree plan that gets them out in four years.
“Students shouldn’t be taking the intro and the capstone at the same time,” said Dr. Romi Burks, associate professor of biology. All professors in related fields recognize the burden placed on students.
“The course offerings are more sporadic, because you don’t really have someone there all the time,” said Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster, professor of religion and philosophy. “We’ve known for a while that as soon as we could find the funding that we needed a member of the Environmental Studies faculty because we’ve got a lot of majors and minors now.
The university’s attempt to fill a full-time position in Environmental Studies is actually fairly cutting edge. One of the first Environmental Studies Programs to crop up in the nation was at Dartmouth in 1970. Since then, it’s been a quickly developing interest but a slowly developing major. As with the case at Southwestern, Environmental Studies Programs have been largely inter-disciplinary – teachers from other fields of science stretching themselves too thin to make it work because they recognize the need for the major.
“The Environmental Studies Program since its inception has maintained itself student interest and by the good nature of four faculty members: Laura Hobgood-Oster, Mel Johnson, Emily Neimeyer and Emily Northrop,” said Dr. Burks. “Without those four people, there would be no Environmental Studies Program.
Hiring professors is an expensive venture, and faculty began searching for grants which would support their needs. Hard work and skill paid off, leaving professors with a 1.2 million dollar grant split between the Mellon Grant and the Kendeda Foundation Grant. However, they needed a more immediate fix to some of the current degree woes. It is this difficult dynamic that forced faculty to call upon Dr. Jinelle Sperry, visiting professor of Environmental Studies.
“I was brought in as a post-doctoral fellow through the Associated Colleges of the South through the Mellon Grant,” said Dr. Sperry. “The Environmental Studies Program felt that they were a little lacking on the science aspect of it, and I’m a biologist by training. They wanted me to incorporate some biology classes into the Environmental Studies Program.
Everyone is ready for the hire, though the process of finding an individual qualified enough to meet Southwestern University’s standards has been slow.
“We’ve been interviewing people for months,” said Dr. Hobgood-Oster. “ All the applications came in of the fall – we got almost 100 applications. We narrowed that down, then we did phone interviews, then narrowed that down and got a group of four people who were here in the last couple weeks of January for interviews.”
The results? No hiring. The interview process will begin again for the Fall. While the department is desperate for a full-time professor, they’re not desperate enough to hire someone who they feel is unqualified for such a vital position in the department
“The important aspect of having this permanent person that is hired into the program, and not into a department, is stability in terms of course work that would be offered for the major,” said Dr. Burks of the hiring process. “Here is a person whose teaching obligation and responsibilities is to teach the intro class, and the capstone, and to create some mid-level course that threads students through the program more than a haphazard kind of choosing of courses because they’re available at that time. It’s simply not sustainable without having a full-time person.”
Hold tight and keep your heads up – relief is on the way.