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Posted in Op-Ed

GSST Students: Prof. Anna Ward for Tenure

By
April 16, 2012

April 12, 2012
To the Provost and the Council for Educational Policy:

As students at Swarthmore College, we are proud of the intellectual prestige, diversity, intensity, and support that shape this unique educational institution. A great asset to the intellectual strength and diversity of Swarthmore College is the interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSST) program.

We have two goals in writing this letter. First, we want to encourage the college to create a tenure track position in GSST to provide students interested in the program with the benefits of having a mentor, professor, and scholar to inspire and guide them. In addition, we ask for the reexamination of the assignment of distribution requirements to allow students to take the interdisciplinary courses that Swarthmore offers.

Professor Ward’s presence for the last year and a half has encouraged and enabled exciting intellectual exploration and reflection. We cannot stress enough the impact of GSST classes. The frameworks provided by this field have enabled a more sustained and complex analysis of the ubiquitous – but often naturalized and unrecognized – nature of gender and sexuality. Anna Ward, trained in Gender and Sexuality Studies, has been invaluable in this development of our intellectual and political selves. She is appreciated and beloved both for her classes and for the remarkable time and effort she puts into her office hours and out of class meeting and mentoring of students. Swarthmore prides itself on great faculty-student relationships. Having present, reliable, and engaging professors in a chosen student’s field is integral to the unique and special nature of the Swarthmore experience. We cannot see a program so dear to majors, minors, and other interested students become abandoned and under-enrolled due to the lack of a full-time faculty member in the program. There is currently a great deal of interest (including minors and special majors) in the GSST program, an interest which has spiked since Professor Ward’s arrival. For these students, the continuance of GSST classes, the presence of an intellectual mentor, and the survival of a strong and dependable GSST program is crucial. While we are excited and appreciative that, through the hard work of the GSST program, Professor Ward will be returning for another year in a part-time capacity, we believe that the needs of the program are not met by a part-time, temporary position.

GSST is an up-and-coming field, and it is essential for undergraduate students to be educated in fields with burgeoning significance. Many universities and colleges across the country are increasing their support for interdisciplinarity, considering its ability to intricately examine issues through varying perspectives that are not limited by the stringent guidelines of any one discipline an important asset. Swarthmore, as a leader in liberal arts education, should follow suit. An important aspect of support for interdisciplinarity occurs through the establishment of tenured positions to encourage and reward innovation in scholarship. This move would be advantageous to the faculty and to the student body Swarthmore aims to enlighten and support.

Unfortunately, the strict departmental structure of the College impedes GSST from realizing its full potential. As only full departments have access to substantial funding and tenure track positions, there are no permanent faculty members dedicating their full efforts to interdisciplinary studies. Furthermore, current interdisciplinary faculty must be accountable and attentive first to their formal department. These disparities in resource allocation and stability weaken interdisciplinary programs. As we have seen in Professor Ward’s case, a highly qualified full-time professor is an incredible and indispensible asset to facilitating the coherence, accessibility, and capacity of these programs.

The need for a GSST tenure track position further invokes the obstacles that the distributional requirements—part of the focus on independent departments—poses to developing robust interdisciplinary programs. Because interdisciplinary studies courses that are not cross-listed with another department are not counted as fulfilling students’ distribution requirements, students striving to fulfill these requirements have a disincentive to take these courses. This arrangement especially affects students whose major programs have high course requirements to satisfy, such as Engineering and many other Natural Sciences; for similar reasons of intra-departmental time, these students might especially benefit from the contact with multiple fields of study that effective interdisciplinary courses provide. Courses such as Unruly Bodies and Introduction to GSST (taught by Professor Ward) and Introduction to Cognitive Sciences and Introduction to Black Studies (taught in other programs) are just a few of the courses that satisfy no distribution requirements but nevertheless rank among the favorite courses of many students. If interdisciplinary studies remain excluded from the structural impetuses the College has put in place to ensure that its students have a well-rounded education, student education and interdisciplinary program strength will suffer. Distribution requirements decrease course enrollment, and the rigidity of the departmental structure prohibits interdisciplinary programs from increasing capacity when demand rises. In this way, the interdisciplinary studies programs remain small and marginal in the schoolwide scope of offers.

Other interdisciplinary programs in the past have surmounted these obstacles by applying for full departmental status. The Educational Studies Department has grown substantially since becoming a full department, and the Film and Media Studies program will be following suit. Meanwhile, Environmental Studies is developing a Tri-Co program. In all of these cases, greater numbers of faculty and tenure track positions have been critical to strengthening the program. To offer strong programs at Swarthmore without forsaking the values of the interdisciplinary framework, issues of cultural and structural rigidity must be addressed.

This task will require serious examination of academic structure, the creation of evaluation methods of structure, and a willingness to take action. The Strategic Plan takes several steps in recognizing the importance of interdisciplinarity in today’s global world. In particular, it discusses the need to maintain flexibility and calls for a better understanding of faculty evaluation procedures (e.g. appointment, tenure) with attention to interdisciplinary faculty not feeling caught between the gears. It specifically discusses the need for faculty positions dedicated to interdisciplinary programs. We urge the CEP, therefore, to use this timely moment as an opportunity to explore and institute changes that will institutionally embody the innovation that is so critical to a 21st century education. Alternative models such as an Interdisciplinary Studies “Department” (with professors who taught in multiple interdisciplinary programs), for example, may prove highly effective as this would streamline funding, hiring faculty in specific and overlapping fields of study, and administrative processes. Whatever model is adopted, we hope to see a change in distribution requirement allocation and greater institutional support and tenure lines for interdisciplinary programs so that programs such as GSST will be able and encouraged to apply for tenure track positions when opportunities to retain excellent faculty, like Anna Ward, arise. We await your reply.

Sincerely,

Majors, minors, and students of GSST

Ruben An ‘13
Katherine Aronoff ‘14
Lori Barkin ‘12
Paul Bierman ‘15
Sara Blanco ‘12
Rachel Branker ‘12
Petra Floyd ‘12
Rachel Giovanniello ‘14
Doree Greenfield ‘15
Abigail Henderson ‘14
Haydil Henriquez ‘14
Marjorie Herbert ‘12
Amy Jin ‘15
Hannah Jones ‘12
Brennan Klein ‘13
Daniela Kucz ‘14
Rosalie Lawrence ‘12
William Lawrence ‘13
Allison Lee ‘12
Vija Lietuvninkas ‘14
Michael Lumetta ‘15
Julia Melin ‘13
Rachell Morillo ‘14
Rose Pitkin ‘13
Naia Poyer ‘14
Max Rennebohm ‘13
Camille Robertson ‘13
Alison Roseberry-Polier ‘14
Madeline Ross ‘13
Katherine Schaffer ‘12
Diandra Schmitt ‘12
Lisa Sendrow ‘13
Peera Songkunnatham ’15
Brent Stanfield ‘14
Mariana Stavig ‘14
Vienna Tran ‘13
Tayler Tucker ‘13
Ashley Vogel ‘13
Sasha Wijeyeratne ‘12
Edward Zhang ‘13

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