Some Social Sciences Departments Begin Faculty Searches

Although many departments have struggled with an inability to increase the size or diversity of their faculty in the years following the financial crisis, faculty searches in a few departments across the social sciences are indicators of early signs of recovery.

Most notably, the anthropology department filled three tenure-track positions this fall, its first new hires since the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith announced a freeze on searches in Nov. 2008. Department administrators are currently conducting a search for a professor with an expertise in post-Soviet Russia and plan to make a hire before the beginning of next academic year.

“We’re lucky that even in times of financial crisis, we have been able to hire,” Theodore C. Bestor, the anthropology department chair, said. “The department seems to be doing quite well.”

The ability to bring in new faculty members has constituted “a major transformation for such a small department,” Nestor said. The anthropology department currently has 22 faculty members, according to its website.

Anthropology Director of Undergraduate Studies Steven C. Caton said that, as a small department, anthropology has been “seriously understaffed” in the past few years, as older professors retired and the hiring freeze prevented replacement searches. Caton said he is currently teaching five classes and supervising the dissertations of 14 students.

“The social anthropology department in particular has been very short-handed,” Caton said. “The [FAS] dean’s office recognized this fact: there was a realization that they wouldn’t let the anthropology department wither on the vine.”

For Caton, this recent batch of hires is only the first step, as senior professors’ departures prompt new searches.

“We’re still understaffed,” Caton said. “You can’t set a magic number [of faculty hires].”

Still, many larger departments have found themselves playing catch-up after years of hiring freezes.

For example, the government department—which is the second largest undergraduate concentration—has shrunk from 50 to around 43 or 44 faculty members since the beginning of the financial crisis, government department Chair Timothy J. Colton said.

“FAS is committed to keeping things in a steady state,” Colton said. “There’s not going to be growth in FAS as a whole for a considerable period of time.”

Last year, FAS granted the government department one faculty search, but the position was not filled.

This year, the department was given three search mandates. So far, two assistant professors have accepted offers from the department, and a third offer is still pending.

But, with three senior faculty members set to retire by June 2013, government professors have said that these recent hires will not do enough to reduce the burden on the department’s faculty.

“We do have all our standing commitments to graduates and undergraduates covered, but it’s become difficult [to offer diverse course offerings],” Colton said.

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