Sunday, August 12, 2012
Whitman College constantly renews itself in order to provide an intellectually challenging and relevant liberal arts and sciences education for students who, after spending four years in Walla Walla, will graduate into an ever-changing, complex world.
The college does so by reinvesting in itself: by recruiting students who hold the promise of becoming tomorrow’s leaders, and by recruiting new faculty to cultivate these leaders.
As the Class of 2016 arrives on campus, Whitman also will welcome some of Walla Walla’s newest residents — 12 new tenure-track professors from a variety of disciplines, who join the faculty for the 2012-13 academic year thanks in part to funding provided through Whitman’s “Now Is The Time” campaign.
They are remarkably talented teacher-scholars who come from diverse backgrounds. The group includes experts in chemistry, politics, theater, biology, art, economics, English, psychology, art history, visual culture studies and music. They hail from many of the best graduate programs in their fields, and many already have a fair amount of teaching experience.
The college conducted searches for all 12 of these positions during the course of the last year, interviewing nearly 40 candidates. In virtually every case, we were able to hire our first-choice candidates, which speaks very well of Whitman and its reputation.
And I give considerable credit to our students for the success of these searches. Without exception, candidates sing the praises of Whitman students for their intellectual vitality and their passion for this college.
But I also credit Walla Walla for the role it plays in the life of Whitman College. The college cannot and does not succeed in a vacuum. Whitman is able to hire top faculty in part because of Walla Walla. The vibrant local community helps the college attract not only extraordinary students, but also a dynamic group of professors.
New faculty members help infuse new ideas and energy into the community, and I see Walla Wallans investing in them. This healthy relationship strengthens the fabric of the whole community.
Walla Walla is as much a part of Whitman’s identity as Whitman is a part of Walla Walla’s identity.
On campus, strengthening Whitman’s faculty is important because non-governmental organizations, nonprofits and corporate leaders repeatedly say is they don’t seek undergraduates who have become too highly specialized in specific fields. The skills required today may not be the skills that will be required tomorrow.
They seek employees with a broad knowledge base and those who know how to learn and apply critical thinking. Accordingly, in a modern political economy, we need creative problem solvers, and this is what our faculty teaches our students to be.
It is not possible to teach students how to predict and react to every conceivable problem they may encounter following graduation. What Whitman College does is give students the tools and the confidence to adapt, to apply themselves, to be resourceful, to be creative, to be collaborative, to inspire and to seek real, positive reform in a world that will always present unforeseen challenges.
The kinds of intellectual and ethical aptitudes that students learn at a place like Whitman are precisely the kinds of problem-solving capacities necessary to succeed in a globalized and interconnected world.
The faculty teaches students to see beyond confines of particular disciplines and make connections among the political, the scientific, the economic, and aesthetic dimensions of the most challenging issues of our world, whether those issues are confronted here, at Whitman, and here, in Walla Walla.
In bringing these 12 new faculty members to town, Whitman is not only reinvesting in itself, its students and its mission, but also reinvesting in Walla Walla. Please join me in welcoming them to our community.
Longtime Walla Walla resident Timothy Kaufman-Osborn is provost and dean of the faculty at Whitman College, where he has been a professor of politics since 1982.