Trinity’s arduous professor-picking process


illustration by Andrea Nebhut, staff illustrator

Trinity has pretty awesome professors. Perhaps you’ve noticed this?

Professors whose novels come out on Vintage Books. Professors who are the Poet Laureate of the State of Texas. Professors spirited-off to appear on Dr. Oz, who, after they appear on national television, rush back to campus to teach their classes. Professors whose books appear on Ivy League presses. Professors who are in charge of the First-Year Experience program. Professors whose books about the Harlem Renaissance win awards. Professors who think it’s no big deal when their articles appear in the most import journals in their field.

These are some pretty awesome examples made even more awesome by the fact that these professors all come from a single department at Trinity — the department I work in: the English Department.

Of course, writing articles, publishing books and occasionally appearing on national TV make up only a fraction of the work professors do. Perhaps you’ve noticed this also?

As a staff member, I see and am often in awe of what professors are actually called upon to do at Trinity.  A brief and very incomplete list of these activities might include: teaching, counseling, writing recommendations, attending meetings, chairing committees, giving guest lectures, running book clubs, traveling to conferences, planning next semester’s courses, serving on boards, reviewing articles, evaluating the performance of other professors and on and on.

Not to mention, you know, having families, pets, putting gas in the car, planning dinner and all the other regular requirements of living.

Such efficient, good-willed, enormously smart ambassadors of the liberal arts — if you are like me, you may have asked yourself some version of this question: Where does Trinity get these people?

Recently, I found exactly where professors come from when the English Department completed a call for a professor of early modern literature.

Future professors pay attention here.

The process started out as what looked like a regular job search. There was a job description, a website to apply to, and applications came pouring in. In total, close to 150 people applied. These candidates were then vetted by HR and a committee of English and non-English faculty whittled these applicants down to 12 finalists.

Already there was great consideration in the process.

Then, during winter break — did I mention professors do more than write articles? — a small congregation of English professors from Trinity travelled to the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention to interview the 12 candidates. This year the MLA convention was held in New York and, of course, a blizzard broke out. Schedules were juggled, flights altered, coats buttoned. All the candidates were interviewed and from the 12 finalists, three were chosen to travel to Trinity and interview on campus.  

Pause here and consider the combined effort to secure these final three candidates: thousands of pages of documents were submitted in the application process, a handful of Trinity professors read through these documents (while teaching), HR conducted the appropriate checks, meetings were conducted to consider the candidates, flights and hotel rooms were booked, schedules were created, schedules scrambled due to a blizzard and, I’m sure, dozens and dozens of small contributions and considerations were made I will never know anything about.

And yet, here the final three suddenly were, on campus in January: efficient, good-willed, enormously smart ambassadors of the liberal arts. I’d seen their likes before.  

Once at Trinity, the final three maintained a tight schedule. They taught, gave a talk about their scholarly work, lunched with students, ate dinner with members of the English department faculty, received a tour of campus, visited our library and met with President Danny Anderson and Vice President Deneese Jones.

Then, after the final three left, after more meetings, after more consideration, a professor of early modern literature was chosen. Who, exactly?

As you will see this fall, somebody pretty awesome.