While the ongoing game of academic musical chairs has left the English Department standing up alone for the past year, four recent job offers should put Penn in a better position for the future. According to Interim Department Chairman John Richetti, 19th century American Literature scholar Jonathan Arac from the University of Pittsburgh was offered a position as a senior professor. And three other offers for assistant professorships were made to newly minted Ph.Ds, bringing in younger talent to replace the senior faculty who have left the English Department in recent years. "This is an expansionist moment for the English Department," Richetti said. "We are approaching full strength." In the past 10 years, the department has lost seven standing faculty members -- including three last year -- dropping from 42 standing professors to just 36 today. But since the School of Arts and Sciences' strategic plan called to increase the number of faculty in six key departments last April, the English Department has been actively working to recruit new professors. Although SAS Dean Samuel Preston authorized the department to make just four offers, Richetti said that it is currently looking for a fourth junior professor and there is an outside chance of bringing in another senior African-American Literature professor to Penn. The department is also interviewing candidates for a senior Film Studies professor as part of a joint search being conducted with the Fine Arts, German and Romance Languages departments. That position could be housed in the English Department. According to Richetti, this year's offers were made to help the English Department rebuild traditionally strong areas that were particularly hard-hit by faculty losses as well as to strengthen its national reputation. Should Arac -- who is currently on leave from the University of Pittsburgh to write a book on Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn -- come to Penn this fall, he will replace Elisa New, an American Literature specialist who left Penn for Harvard University last year. Stanford doctoral candidate Sean Keilen -- an expert in English Renaissance literature -- was offered an assistant professorship at Penn next fall, which should soften the loss of scholar Maureen Quilligan, now the chairwoman of the Duke University English Department. Arac and Keilen will likely be joined by Marsha Fausti, a 19th century African-American scholar who is completing her doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University. As an assistant professor, she would help fill the void left by Houston Baker, another top senior professor who left for Duke last year. And with an assistant professor offer out to Joseph Clark -- a post-colonial, African and Carribean Literature specialist -- the department is bolstering its commitment to the emerging field of global English Literature. By replacing a number of senior faculty with junior professors, the offers are in line with the SAS strategic plan's recommendation to reduce Penn's high percentage of tenured faculty from 81 percent to 72 percent. "Younger people bring energy and a new perspective," Preston noted. "And to start with, their salaries are less." It is also easier to recruit younger professors than older, more settled academics. Fresh out of graduate school, recent Ph.Ds actively hunt for jobs -- especially those that provide good tenure opportunities -- and are more flexible about where they locate. "We often get our first-choice candidates because we are a friendly environment and because there is a good chance of getting tenure," Steiner said, explaining Penn's success in attracting assistant professors. The tenure requirements at Stanford and Harvard are so stringent that almost no junior faculty have been awarded the promotion, several Penn professors said. But the more difficult challenge lies ahead, as Richetti and other Penn faculty and administrators work to lure Arac, and perhaps other senior professors, away from various colleges and universities. Hiring senior professors is a much longer and more complicated process than getting their junior counterparts to sign on the dotted line. In fact, College Dean Richard Beeman said less than one out of three senior searches are successful in any given year. Penn's review process is extremely complex and time consuming for the candidate. And from the University's perspective, it is just plain difficult to attract top scholars away from comfortable positions at peer institutions. "Its hard to recruit full professors," Richetti said. "They have families and other personal obligations." Since universities often match salaries when their faculty are being lured away, other factors -- such as inter-department relations, jobs for spouses and partners, endowed professorships and the quality of facilities -- become influential. Penn has difficulty hanging on to senior faculty when other schools offer them money and resources that the University cannot match. Quilligan, for instance, now chairs Duke's English Department, and Baker said that a Duke faculty post for his wife contributed to his leaving Penn. Penn's smaller budget for SAS limits Preston's ability to award endowed professorships. In the past, only one member of the entire SAS faculty has received an endowed chair -- although Trustee Christopher Browne's recent donation will now permit the dean to name two more each year. And only recently did the University allocate funding to sponsor research by new hires. While a well-stacked library -- which Penn does have -- is at the top of any prospective English professor's list, facilities such as a faculty lounge and office space -- which Penn's English Department lacks in its current home of Bennett Hall -- are considered important extras. Beyond these tangible needs, most Penn professors say they like working in a friendly environment. "Some places are snake pits," Richetti said. "I'm not saying we don't have our eccentrics, but we are one big, happy family."Comments powered by Disqus
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