Initial hires

Please note: Whitman College is hiring two tenure-track faculty members in computer science, research area open, beginning in August 2016. Apply online by September 20 for full consideration.

As described in my previous post, immediately after signing my contract with Whitman I engaged with the process of proposing a minor. I also was immediately involved in hiring a visiting faculty member for next year. Soon after, I would also be drawn into searches for a technical staff position and the two tenure-track positions advertised above.

Visiting faculty, 2014-5

When I accepted the position at Whitman, there was already a visiting professor of computer science: Allen Tucker, Professor Emeritus at Bowdoin College. Allen was at Whitman for the 2014-5 academic year, during which he taught two classes: MAT 270, Data Structures, and MAT 204: ST: Open-Source Software Development. But beyond this, Allen served as a consultant and instigator. He agreed to assist in planning and preparation for the new CS program:

  • choosing a name for the program and department;
  • revising “the college web site and catalog copy so that computer science is adequately described and its courses are listed separately from the mathematics courses”;
  • identifying appropriate spaces for lab classrooms and faculty offices (the subjects of at least two future posts) ;
  • participating in the CS Working Group (as mentioned in my post on how I got here);
  • recruiting, reviewing applications, and interviewing candidates for the position I now hold.

A professor emeritus was perfect for this position. Allen brought a wealth of experience to Whitman, drawing on a full career teaching computer science at a liberal arts college. At the same time, he seems to have little ego invested in the program; he’s established his legacy in so many other ways that his contributions to Whitman will be just one rose in the icing on the cake. I’m grateful for the work Allen did in getting the program off to a good start; I’m also grateful that he’s left this ongoing leadership role to me.

Although I’ve met Allen a number of times—during the CS Symposium, during my interview, and during several visits to Whitman this spring—he had already left Walla Walla by the time I arrived. I am sure our occasional email consultations will continue over the coming year.

Visiting faculty, 2015-6

Allen and I were both involved in the search for a visiting faculty member for 2015-6. I remember first discussing this position with members of the CS Steering Committee, as well as the Provost, during my sleep-deprived, adrenaline-fueled, on-campus interview.

The argument was to offer more classes in computer science, partly so that students could complete a minor in the coming academic year, but mainly to build up apipeline starting at the introductory level. I later learned that student demand for the intro class is huge; we might have ended up searching for a contingent faculty member to meet this demand in any case. I was confident it was possible, as I had been told that funds were already committed to the program. President Bridges encouraged me to move forward.

On January 14, just after signing my contract and drafting the proposal for a CS minor, Albert Schueller emailed me:

I have to do a formal contingent faculty request and run it through proper channels before we can post an ad. I’ll get that done by the end of January maybe with an early-March deadline.

In our email discussions over the next few days:

  • We implicitly agreed on a one-year position. This may have been a tactical error; a two-year position would have likely drawn a larger candidate pool. But I had conceived of this position as a bridge to the two tenure-track positions promised for 2016-7; it had not occurred to me to stagger these two hires.
  • We agreed to seek a candidate with at least a Masters’ degree in computer science and with experience teaching at the introductory level. We would prefer candidates who could teach analysis of algorithms: Allen was confident that Whitman students are ready for such a course, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done anything in this area.
  • We agreed to advertise the position at the Assistant Professor level. I wanted to have the freedom to hire someone with more experience, but I was assured that wording of the ad did not preclude hiring at a different rank.
  • We agreed to post the ad in early February—essentially as soon as possible—with a soft deadline of March 7. This let me recruit at SIGCSE 2015 in early March (as some readers may recall). It also let the search committee conduct Skype interviews when I visited during spring break in the second half of March.

I will admit that I had my former Grinnell colleague Marge Coahran in mind for this position. But she is very happy in her current position as a research associate at the University of Toronto, and I could not persuade her to apply.

On January 19, Albert circulated a draft contingent position proposal to the CS Steering Committee. A committee member raised concerns that the position would add to my workload and possibly provoke political issues, but overall we agreed the position would support student learning and the development of the CS program.

The proposal was approved by the Committee of Division Chairs (CDC) on February 4. The ad was posted the same day, and the first applications appeared by the next morning.

Albert chaired the search committee. I served on the committee, along with three volunteers from the CS Steering Committee. I’m sure it was unprecedented for a faculty member not even (yet) employed by the college to serve on a search committee.

Both Albert and I contacted everyone we knew who we thought might be interested in the position, as well as those who might know potential candidates. During this time, I was also participating in the search at Grinnell College for my and Henry Walker’s replacements, which was quite difficult. But that is another story.

We all read all the applications. On March 10, Albert Skyped me into a search committee meeting to discuss the candidates; we agreed fairly quickly on four candidates with whom to conduct Skype interviews. These were scheduled for March 24 and 25, when I was visiting Whitman over spring break. The Skype interviews did not rule out any of the candidates.

I will leave deliberately vague how many candidates visited campus and over what period of time, only to say that the search successfully concluded when Yaping Jing accepted Whitman’s offer. She will be joining us from Illinois Wesleyan, where she has been teaching for the last year, and Iowa State, where she is completing her Ph.D. I was happy that I was able to be at Whitman for her interview, and I’m very happy she is joining us this fall.

Technical staff

During the search for a visiting faculty member, I was also involved in another search—for a full-time technical staff member to support math and computer science. During my spring break visit, Albert and I met with Dan Terrio, Whitman’s CIO, to define the position. Before and during SIGCSE, I had picked several colleagues’ brains to better understand the scope of the position and what functions it could serve. I had collected some sample position descriptions and shared them with Dan and Albert before the meeting.

It was determined that the position would be supervised by the Director of Instructional & Learning Technology. We ultimately defined the position as follows:

Math & Computer Science Technology Specialist

Working with the Math and Computer Science faculty and Technology Services staff, develop and maintain a computing environment that supports the academic goals of the Math and Computer Sciences department(s). Provide technology support to the faculty and students of the Math and Computer Science Departments/Programs. Management of three departmental computer labs consisting of 66 Linux workstations, including deployment of lab computer images, installation of software applications, hardware maintenance, and printing.

Principal Accountabilities:

  • Support the technology needs of the faculty and students in the Math and Computer Science Departments.
  • Manage the three departmental computer labs.
  • Install software as needed on departmental computers.
  • Work with faculty to assess software applications that support the curriculum.
  • Work with Technology Services staff to coordinate additional support as needed.
  • Work with Technology Services staff to integrate Math and Computer Science systems with college-wide infrastructure when appropriate.
  • Provide input into the planning and budgeting for the Math and Computer Science technology environment.
  • Supervise departmental student employees.
    Additional Job Responsibilities
  • Attend Instructional and Learning Technology Team meetings.
  • Attend Math and Computer Science Department meetings.
  • Attend Technology Infrastructure Team meetings.
  • Provide assistance to the Division III Instructional and Learning Technologist.
  • Other duties as assigned.

We had some extended discussion of what qualifications to list as “Minimum” and “Preferred”, aiming to balance between accurately describing the needs of the position and overly restricting the candidate pool. Our ideal candidate was a unicorn with experience in higher ed, Linux system administration, programming, and tools for both mathematics and software development, along with self-directed learning and excellent interpersonal skills.

The ad appeared on April 7, with a July 1 start date to coincide with the beginning of the fiscal year. The search committee was constituted mostly of members of the the Whitman Computing Technology Services department—Albert and I were included to represent the clients of the position. The ad attracted quite a range of candidates from around the US—a few more candidates, in the end, than the visiting faculty position. I participated remotely in discussions of the candidates and in Skype interviews with seven candidates; I was able to be on campus for the on-campus interviews. I am very pleased that Whitman hired Dustin Palmer, a Walla Walla native without much Linux or higher ed experience, but otherwise an excellent fit.

Tenure-track hires, Fall 2016

Meanwhile, the CS Steering Committee was also working on the two tenure-track positions slated to start in Fall 2016. These positions, like my position, the visiting positions, and the staff position, are donor-funded. They have been discussed at least since I was persuaded to apply for the job, if not since the Whitman CS Symposium last June.

During my Spring Break visit, the CS Steering Committee met to consider a strategy and timeline for the search. We discussed the need to bring a larger than normal number of candidates to campus—both because there are two positions to fill and because the CS job market was so hot in 2014-5. We discussed the desire to accommodate both candidates who were already established in other positions and candidates entering the academic market upon completing a Ph.D. A consensus formed around a two-deadline strategy: We will conduct a fall search, in which we might fill one position or both. If either position remains unfilled in December, we will readvertise the position(s) and continue the search in the spring.

The week after I arrived in Walla Walla, Albert and I met to finalize the ad, develop a search timeline, and fill out a worksheet on “Diversifying the Applicant Pool”, as required by the Office of the Provost and Dean.

The diversity worksheet was quite helpful. I was able to use the CRA’s Taulbee Survey to estimate the number of candidates we could expect belonging to underrepresented minorities. These numbers were depressingly low. I am grateful for the help that Kazi Joshua offered in identifying particular institutions to recruit from. Kazi serves as Associate Dean for Intercultural Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer—the first to hold this position at Whitman. I agreed to advertise the position on the Systers email list and at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I also suggested that the position be advertised on the SACNAS web site; the Provost’s office readily agreed to do this not only for the CS search but for other searches in the sciences.

The final question of the worksheet asks the search committee to “Work with your department to determine how the language of the job ad (courses taught or possible areas of scholarly interest) will most likely attract scholars who are representatives of under-represented groups.” Lacking a CS department at Whitman, I referred back to my experience at Grinnell. After consulting with Albert, I proposed a revision to the ad, listing a wide range of areas in which the successful candidate might conduct research. I wrote on the worksheet:

Women and minorities in CS are often attracted to research in less traditional (but still well-established) fields such as assistive technology, computational biology, CS education, and human-computer interaction. Some peer institutions do not hire in these areas. Therefore, we have added a sentence to the job ad listing a broad range of areas of interest. This approach seemed to be effective in a recent search at Grinnell College.

Developing the search timeline was not trivial, as Whitman’s process imposes a number of constraints and we aimed to schedule more on-campus interviews than the typical three. Particularly challenging: Whitman’s academic calendar includes a full week of Thanksgiving break, and no candidates are to be brought to campus between Thanksgiving break and the end of the term. (My on-campus interview was an exception—and it was not easy to schedule.) Albert and I worked out a solution, proposed it to the committee, and got it approved by the Provost.

What I had neglected to consider was my own travel schedule. GHC 2015 falls during the days originally planned for fall Skype interviews; SIGCSE 2016 falls during one of the original spring interview slots. It was embarrassing to email the Provost and the search committee about my mistake, but it was important to rectify as quickly as possible, before the position was advertised.

While I considered participating remotely in Skype interviews with candidates, various constraints meant I would also have to participate remotely in the search committee’s deliberations. Based on my experiences in Grinnell’s search last year, I was very concerned about not being physically present for committee discussions. (To be clear, deliberations at Grinnell were collegial, but they were not easy!) Moreover, the original timeline had not allowed adequate time for the CDC to read and deliberate on the search committee’s recommendations. The best solution I could find was to move up the entire timeline by about 10 days, including the application deadlines. This solution is far from ideal, and I’m very grateful for the search committee’s willingness to move ahead with this compromise timeline.

The ad was posted to Whitman College’s job site,, the Chronicle, GO HERC, the ACM, and SACNAS on Friday, July 31. We await a response from the CRA; we decided not to post to the IEEE site as the positions do not fit neatly into their categories. I spent yesterday reaching out to email lists, social media, personal contacts, and department chairs. The committee will start reading applications on September 20; I look forward to seeing who applies.


This post was a doozy. The next will be as well, addressing the difficult process of leaving Grinnell.

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