Faculty Notes: It Won't Be Easy..It Will Be Worth It

April 10, 2008

Earning tenure at Wabash is not easy—it’s a six-year, comprehensive audition for a teaching position —but we certainly hope the process is worth it.

Tenure-track professors go through a fairly rigorous review during their second year at the College—a time when pedagogical questions are asked and answered and when teaching styles are beginning to take shape.

During the fourth year, they undergo a thorough review by department and division chairs, students, and the academic dean. Their personal scholarship is scrutinized, as well.

In the sixth year, candidates submit an portfolio encompassing course syllabi and assessments, personal scholarship, letters of recommendation, committee work, and just about anything else that may reflect a professor’s time at Wabash. Interviews with colleagues and students are conducted, and in early December the president and academic dean make the determination.

If granted tenure, a professor is promoted from assistant to associate professor, which is usually followed by a sabbatical leave that allows for more aggressive work on scholarship or the development of courses.

This year, all four professors up for tenure at Wabash were granted promotions to associate professor: Jennifer Abbott in rhetoric, Michelle Rhoades in history, William Turner in mathematics and computer science, and Rick Warner in history.

All four are excellent scholars. Better still, all are wildly popular with the students at Wabash. And at a place that values good teaching above all else, the student connection is the most important relationship that develops.

Jennifer Abbott came to Wabash after earning her Ph.D. at Penn State University and her undergraduate degree from Cal Poly. Abbott is remarkably skilled at developing a very focused, seminar-style conversation among the students.

Michelle Rhoades earned her bachelor’s degree in French from the University of Arizona and earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. She’s currently doing original research in gender and cultural history, specifically related to French prostitutes during World War I.

In the classroom, she is known as a no-nonsense history professor who constantly challenges students to hone their critical thinking skills. She seems less interested in having her students memorize dates and places and more interested in their critical analysis of history and the historians who chronicled it. Professor Rhoades asks her students to deconstruct history—to go to primary source documents—to learn at a much deeper level.

Rick Warner took a non-traditional path to the Wabash classroom. He came to Wabash in 1999 to teach Latin American history, but he’d spent time in a number of non-teaching jobs, including as a professional chef, later earning his Ph.D. from the University of California-Santa Cruz.

Professor Warner may be the poster professor for student-faculty engagement. It’s a safe bet that if there’s a football game, play, or concert involving students, Professor Warner will be there. And when he’s not working with Wabash students, he’s on the road with the Admissions Office recruiting future Wabash men.

Will Turner received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Iowa State University and his Ph.D. from North Carolina State. What makes Turner special is his keen interest in his students and the way he pushes them to max out their potential. He was also a driving force behind Wabash’s Summer Institute in Algebra, which brings to campus some of the nation’s top undergraduate mathematics students for an eight-week program.

Warner calls tenure an affirmation.

"When tenure is awarded at Wabash College, the commu-nity is expressing trust—trust that the professor will continue to bring all of her or his skills into the classroom each day, trust that we will continue to stay active in the scholarly community, but most importantly, trust that the professor will continue to be a good fit for the community. As we know from the Gentleman’s Rule, trust is precious. Tenure is precious."

Turner appreciates the accep-tance tenure represents.

"I feel as if I have finally found a home," he says. "I especially appreciate the liberal arts environment and the way students, faculty, and staff interact to discuss almost any topic at any time. I would have never considered attending a place like this as an undergraduate, and now I think that attitude was a mistake."

"It feels like a big vote of confidence," Abbott says. "I’m looking forward to many more years of teaching and researching at the College."

Sounds as though that slogan got it about right: "It won’t be easy…it will be worth it."*

—Jim Amidon ’87


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