A number of academic programs face staffing challenges. Majors such as computer science, economics, global perspectives and history have felt the impact of limited faculty. The struggle to fill vacated positions stems from the fact that Principia is quite selective when it comes to hiring. Professors are not only required to be Christian Scientists, but are also expected to hold the highest degree available in their field. The location of the campus also discourages many applicants, or as economics professor Tom Davidson said, “is certainly a challenge.”
On the other hand, the appeal of pursuing a life educating students in a Christian Science atmosphere can draw in prospective professors. History professor Greg Sandford reflected on his decision to leave his well-established career in pursuit of following his lifelong dream of teaching at Principia: “At the time, I wanted to go to Principia, not anywhere else. It just felt right.”
The pressure to find new professors is apparent. This semester, both the global perspectives and history departments are spread thin in an effort to compensate for the early retirement of Faith Paul. An influential professor, as well as a past dean of students, Paul spearheaded the global perspectives major and established the oral history substudy. With her gone, a needed shuffle has taken place.
Sally Steindorf has stepped up as acting program director for global perspectives. Steindorf, also a sociology and anthropology professor, has worked hard to ensure the success of global perspectives. Her summer was dedicated to prepping classes and reconfiguring the capstone structure. The global perspectives capstone, unique to Principia, previously gave students the opportunity to explore a global issue through a case study. This year, Steindorf is emphasizing the integration of topics, while she encourages students to apply two focus areas as lenses in their capstone to build multidisciplinary knowledge.
Senior Sergio Zapata Cornejo shared his impressions on the capstone changes. “In global perspectives, you get to formulate solutions and connect classes. That’s how you practice,” he said. He noticed a few changes, although the theory is still the same with the previous global issues being discussed and focusing on the same goals as before. Currently working on his capstone, Cornejo agrees that global perspectives helps “enrich awareness of what is going on right now.”
Often a focus for global perspective majors, the history major has also experienced a shift. History teaches critical thinking, ways to understand the background of other cultures and develops strong research skills. Sandford asserts that the history major is an excellent way to prepare for life. “The question is really what can’t you do with history,” he said. “You shouldn’t go to college to train for a job; you ought to go to college for an education.”
An op-ed written by recent Principia graduate Vincent Herr in Die Zeit, a prominent weekly newspaper in Germany, delineated the importance of building a background in history. “Historical thinking in the final analysis means wanting to understand humanity better and searching for answers to the question of how we can proceed more knowledgably and if possible more intelligently in the future,” he wrote. Herr studied both history and sociology, and is currently attending graduate school in Berlin.
Tom Fuller, a computer science and math professor, was drawn to Principia when his nine-year-old daughter recognized the special atmosphere of the school. “Dad, do you feel the love of this place?” As his oldest daughter entered high school, he began teaching at the College. Twenty-six years later, Fuller continues to promote excellence in his field. Last year he was awarded with Principia’s 2014 Horace Edwin Jr. and Evelyn Wright Harper Award for Teaching Excellence. Fuller explains the major revolves around problem solving and teamwork. “It’s the marriage of precision and vision in a lifetime of learning,” he said.
Last year, computer science professor Ken Johnson retired, leaving Fuller and instructor John Broere to maintain the major. Luckily, computer science majors need not worry, as they haven’t dropped any courses yet. Fuller reports that they expect to further keep up with the courses though when a new professor is hired. Despite being short-staffed, Fuller foresees a bright future stating, “The promise and peril of computer technology has never been more ubiquitous. The moral demands it raises have never been more urgent. The major should grow commensurately in significance and value,” he said.
Many departments are hiring, but perhaps no program is more in need than economics. Tom Davidson is the lone professor of economics. The last time there was a second full-time professor was 2008. Since then, visiting faculty have been brought in to teach. After a slew of temporary teachers, Davidson decided to drop the major down to a minor. Despite the change, two determined students pursued economics as a double major.
Seniors Arthur Soemarsono and Brandon Talcott are both studying business and cited the close ties between the two fields as reason to pursue economics as a major. Talcott likes how economics “provides another perspective that explains why businesses behave the way they do.” Soemarsono explained, “[Economics] makes me think deeper about the economic situation of the world right now.”
However, the prospect to rebuild economics into a major are slim. Davidson is waiting for another full-time economics professor before expanding beyond the minor.