Alex Harrington ’19

window in English Department

The English Department has been bustling over the last month, as an open position for Assistant Professor of Creative Writing – Prose brought us three candidates to run through the job search mill. Because students are the most privy to the quality of professors, student input and involvement in the search process was highly encouraged; student feedback was gathered by student representatives of the English Department Search Committee, Honor Murphy ’19 and The Words’s own Zeena Fuleihan ’18.

Each candidate had numerous opportunities to present their work and teaching styles to Macalester students. To begin, the candidates toured campus with an English Department student worker. Julia Joy ’20 gave tours to two of the candidates. “It’s a really unique opportunity for the candidate to interact one-on-one with a student,” Joy said. Charlie Pham ’20, who also gave a tour,  added, “It was cold, but it felt useful to be a part of the candidate’s first impression of life at Macalester.”

After the tour, the candidates gave Job Talks at a lunch event open to the public. The talks were presentations on each candidate’s body of work and teaching values. We heard tales of extensive research for novels and meditations on truth in fiction. The Job Talks all featured a reading of the candidate’s work and concluded with a Q&A. Yujie Huang ’18, a student worker, said the Job Talks helped her “get to know the candidate better,” and that “the relationship between their work and teaching philosophy,” was really important to her. The Job Talks were the best way to really get a sense for the rigor the candidate wanted to bring to Macalester.

Later that evening, each candidate ran a mock class. The class consisted of the same selected nine students, plus two professors. Classes were an hour long, and afterwards the students were given dinner as they discussed their experiences with student representatives Fuleihan and Murphy. Fuleihan said, “it was really interesting to see how [the candidates] got to know students in the short period of time . . . and how they adapted to fit our unique blend of backgrounds and levels of writing experience.” Mock classes brought the candidates’ work to life, illuminating their teaching styles and efficacy.

The following morning, candidates were treated to breakfast with a small group of six students. Breakfasts provided an intimate place to ask questions that the candidate may not have been asked at the talks, but also a way for the candidates to get to know some Macalester students. Both of the breakfasts I attended were close but casual. We talked about classes we liked and why, as well as those we didn’t like and what went wrong. One candidate asked us what classes we had always wanted to take at Macalester but weren’t offered, which led to a discussion about multi-genre creative writing classes. We asked another what classes they had always wanted to teach, giving us insight into not only their own interests, but also their assessment of what would be useful to Macalester students. Cotter ’18 said, “What I liked most about the breakfasts was that the candidates could ask us questions. We’d been given opportunity to ask them questions, but it was cool to see what they were curious about. They were really interested in getting to know students, which is always a good sign.” Altogether, the breakfasts were an integral instance of reciprocal interest between candidates and students that gave them both a better idea of each other’s values.

Immediately after small group breakfasts, the candidates were shuffled back to the English Department where an abundance of donuts awaited them at the Donut Drop-In. Aptly named, the Donut Drop-In is a half-hour the candidate spends chatting with students and faculty as they drop in between classes. To me, the most interesting part of the these chats is seeing how the candidate interacts casually with current faculty. As important as it is to know how a potential professor will engage their students, it can be just as telling to see how they connect with their peers.

After all was said and done, students who participated in any of the search process were invited and encouraged to provide feedback on the candidates to the student representatives of the Search Committee, who carried opinions of the student body to the larger discussions. The opportunity to get to know and interact with each candidate on such a wide variety of platforms made the search feel very thorough. Meeting them both professionally and then casually helped us get a strong sense of what they could bring to both our academics and our lives as Macalester students. I definitely felt that after gaining such in-depth insights on each candidate, I had a lot to say about how they would fit in to the English department. Having reliable representatives to relay our experiences and opinions to the official hiring conversation made my role feel important and useful, sentiments I have heard echoed by other students who participated in the search.

Matt Burgess celebration poster

After such a long and rigorous process, it is with great pleasure that we at The Words offer our congratulations to the prevailing candidate. Professor Matt Burgess was officially announced and duly celebrated as the new Assistant Professor of Creative Writing – Prose on February 21. Congratulations, Matt!

Finally, a big thank you is in order for the time and energies of our student representatives, the English Department Search Committee, all the candidates, and everyone who participated in the search. From The Words, thank you.