Author: Daphne Auza
As a part of an administrative strategy to have more permanent professors on campus, five professors have been hired with a guaranteed consideration for eventual tenure.
Since Occidental is a small school with a low student-to-faculty ratio, the addition of five new professors is a substantial number. According to Professor John Swift, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Student Issues, the college hopes that the ratio will be maintained by hiring these new tenure-track professors.
Swift said that to meet the criteria for becoming an Occidental professor, candidates must couple their interest in research with a strong passion for teaching undergraduates. They must be willing to not only develop their own research projects, but also that of the students that they teach. Dean Jorge Gonzalez shared a similar sentiment about hiring professors to teach at Occidental.
“They must have superb teaching ability,” Gonzalez said. “They must be strong scholars — we mean people who can do academic research or artistic production, people that can produce scholarship. We need them to be people we feel can contribute to the college community.”
Swift also commented on the fact that in comparison to other colleges, Occidental looks for an unusual type of instructor to join their faculty.
“They need also to be interested in sharing the results of their work with other scholars in different disciplines, with students in different disciplines,” Swift said. “We expect faculty to teach in the Core program, we expect faculty to be able to connect with students on a number of different levels and on a number of different topics outside of their main field of research.”
Both Swift and Gonzalez agree that the new professors’ research interests differ greatly from those of any other faculty. Swift said that with the amount of students majoring in Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA), the department needed more faculty to advise and accommodate students’ interests.
“They bring to DWA the sort of expertise our students have been demanding,” DWA Department Chair Anthony Chase said. “Banai works on both the politics of Iran and, more broadly, global democratic currents … Khagram brings to DWA a senior colleague with vast experience working on cutting edge issues in development and global political economy.”
According to the Economics Department Chair Woody Studenmund, the program will strengthen with the presence of Professor Andrew Jalil. Since the recession is such a current and relevant topic, Studenmund says students now have access to a professor whose expertise focuses on financial disasters and macroeconomic policy.
Last year, as an adjunct professor, Professor James Ford III taught courses on hip hop, American literature and black radicalism. He returns to the English and Comparative Literary Studies Department this year on a tenure-track contract. His field of research is African-American literature with a special focus on the black radical aesthetic and intellectual tradition.
In addition, Professor Cheryl Okumura will be joining the Biology Department as an assistant professor. Her research has spanned from plants to cancer to parasites throughout her career.
The college hired the new professors with the hopes that their research interests and passion for teaching will contribute to the Occidental community. “They’ll have a substantial effect on the curriculum and our ways of teaching,” Swift said.
Formerly a postdoctoral fellow at University of California at San Diego, Cheryl Okumura chose to come to Occidental because she felt it was an institution that would support her career in both teaching and research. She feels that Occidental students are especially engaged in their learning, something she considers one of the most rewarding things for a professor to witness. “I like to do group work and active learning exercises, something that is not traditionally done in science classes,” Okumura said.
Professor Andrew Jalil has always wanted to teach at a liberal arts college. In regards to Occidental, he was attracted to the school’s talented students and emphasis on diversity. Enthusiasm and making the material interesting are key points in his teaching philosophy. “When I teach, I strive to be an energetic lecturer and a forceful speaker,” Jalil said. ”I try to convey the sense that I am enthusiastic about the material and they should be enthusiastic too.”
Department: Diplomacy and World Affairs
”After first visiting Oxy for my interview it became immediately clear to me that the faculty, staff, students and the administration were truly exceptional compared to some of the other places I was considering,” Hussein Banai said. When teaching his students, he hopes to cultivate critical engagement with texts, other people and oneself, in and out of the classroom.
Department: Diplomacy and World Affairs
Sanjeev Khagram came to Occidental because he saw the school’s potential to become the most international liberal arts college in the world. “Oxy is committed to becoming the premiere liberal arts college in international education and global affairs and I believe I can truly help realize this vision,” Khagram said. He will be assuming the position of the John Parke Young Chair in Global Political Economy in the DWA department this year and looks forward to encouraging and empowering his students with a rigorous interdisciplinary approach.
James Ford III
Department: English and Comparative Literary Studies
After earning his Ph.D. from University of Notre Dame, Professor James Ford decided that Occidental was a campus where his research and the courses he wanted to teach on African American literature and black radicalism would have a place. ”I teach this material because It’s important to think about what ‘radicalism’ means,” Ford said. “Its definition changes according to time and place. Art, especially literature, provides a forum for exploring those questions.”
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