The Three Professors Leaving the Political Science Department
At the end of this year, three young professors will be leaving Skidmore's political science department for other positions, all three of them women. In our current charged political environment, these departures have sparked speculation among political science students about whether these three professors did not feel welcome at Skidmore. The Skidmore News investigated the circumstances surrounding these departures, and found that the speculation couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Professors Mara Sutmann-Lea and Megan Turnbull are leaving at the end of this spring semester to pursue tenure-track jobs, while Professor Katie Zuber is taking a job at a New York think tank. These professors were hired on temporary contracts that are expiring at the end of this academic year.
All three professors currently hold “Visiting Assistant Professor” positions at Skidmore, which are positions with a defined end date. This is in contrast to “Assistant Professors,” who are faculty on a tenure-track line, and “Associate or Full Professors,” who are tenured. Oftentimes, visiting professors are employed to fill temporary vacancies within a department with the expectation that the position will no longer be available once the original professor returns.
Sutmann-Lea, who is filling in for Professor Ronald Seyb, is taking a tenure-track position at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Professor Seyb will not be returning to teaching next year as he is still in the Dean’s office, and another temporary professor will be hired to fill in for him. In an interview, Sutmann-Lea said that “Skidmore does a really good job of hiring diverse people for visiting professorships and giving them opportunities. Visiting assistant professorships set you up well for the job market.”
Turnbull, who is filling in for Professor Yelena Biberman, agrees: “The real story here is that three young women are getting great positions at other universities.” Professor Turnbull has accepted a tenure track position at the University of Georgia, Athens. Tenure-track positions get tens, if not hundreds, of applicants, and she is sure that being a professor at Skidmore helped boost her chances. “Now I can say that I’m teaching three classes, and I was able to update my CV and put a publication on there.”
Zuber, who is filling in for Beau Breslin, is leaving Skidmore to become the Assistant Director for Research and Policy at the Rockefeller Institute -- owing much to the encouraging environment in the political science department. “They really want to see their visiting professors succeed,” she said.
All three touched on the overwhelming support from the other faculty in the political science department, with Turnbull saying “When I was on the job market last fall, I approached Natalie [Taylor] and asked her to help me with a job talk. She rallied all the faculty and they all coached me through it.” Taylor is the chair of the political science department at Skidmore.
Taylor and the other faculty have made a point to give these visiting professors all the help that they can. When asked about the rumors of inhospitality, all three professors said that they’ve felt nothing but welcome at Skidmore. “I cannot imagine a more supportive environment,” Turnbull said. Zuber, who has taught at Union College and Vassar College told The Skidmore News that “Skidmore’s political science department was the most respectful, helpful department I’ve taught in.”
Taylor said in an interview that the department that Skidmore “seeks out diverse applicant pools and places ads in places that are more likely to draw in these applicants.” Once professors arrive at Skidmore, the department makes an effort to assist them in any way possible.
While the visiting professorships that made room for these three professors are expiring at the end of the year, they are all moving on to prestigious positions in the academic world. This is important because, as Taylor pointed out, “having women political scientists is less common and important in such a male-dominated field.” So while it may seem as though discrimination was the basis of these three professors leaving, the opposite is actually the case. The Skidmore College political science department seems to be working hard to recruit and support these professors in any way it can.