Associate Professor Beth Salerno has received word that she has been promoted to full Professor effective Fall 2014. One Thing After Another found her grading final exams and asked a few questions.
Q: Congratulations on the promotion! What does it mean to be a full Professor?
A: Thanks! Academic titles are a bit of a hold-over from the middle ages when teaching was governed by guilds. One moves through the ranks of Instructor, Assistant Professor, Associate Professor and full Professor (though students generally call anyone teaching in a college classroom “Professor”). There isn’t any difference in terms of workload – for instance I’ll teach the same number of classes after promotion as before. But promotion is an acknowledgement that a person has made a significant contribution to their field in teaching, research and service. And there is usually a nice raise!
Q: Was it a complicated process?
A: It is not complicated, though it does take a surprisingly long time. I applied in November after making sure I had the support of the other members of the history department. Then I had to collect letters of recommendation. First, I needed three historians off-campus to write an evaluation of my scholarship and research. Then five colleagues on campus outside the history department agreed to write letters of support stressing that I had been a good campus citizen (serving on committees, mentoring younger faculty, or performing other service). Finally ten alumni agreed to write evaluations of my teaching and interactions with students.
Q: That must be a bit of a turn around – having former students write letters of recommendation?
A: I think it is one of the best parts of the process. I really enjoyed catching up with these alumni from 2006-2013. Students really count on faculty members to know them well and write letters of recommendation that are thoughtful, honest, and highlight their best characteristics and skills. The promotion process asks faculty to rely on alumni to do the same thing for us. I was really honored that the ten former students I asked stepped up. Of course I did not get to read any of the letters, but they must have done a good job!
Q: So what happens from here?
A: Critics joke that once a faculty member achieves full professor, they simply sit back and do nothing since there are no more promotion committees to go through! There are people like that, but most professors I know just keep setting goals and reaching for them. For me, the immediate goal is writing, giving and grading final exams! After the semester ends, I’ll be working on a research project that will keep me busy all next year – a biography of Mary Clark (1791-1841), a New Hampshire abolitionist and textbook writer. I will be on sabbatical, which means I’ll be away from the College on a grant that lets me focus on writing. After that, I’ll be back to teach some old favorites like New England History and some new courses for the new curriculum. I’m delighted to have been given a stamp of approval by my colleagues, the President, and Board of Trustees at the College. But in the end the excitement of making history real for a group of students or the readers of my books is what really keeps me going.