Author: Claudia Chow
Both English and Comparative Literary Studies (ECLS) Chair Michael Near and Politics Professor Larry Caldwell are retiring after this semester, taking with them unique expertise in their respective fields of medieval and European literature and international relations and security along with a combined 70 years of experience. To compensate for the loss of these two professors, both the politics and ECLS departments hope to hire full-time professors to take their place, although neither department’s proposals to do so have been approved.
Caldwell has been teaching at Occidental since 1967, although he has been partially retired since last year, scaling back to teaching only two classes this spring semester.
“I am retiring because I have reached that time in my life,” Caldwell said. “I have projects that I want to devote my full energies to completing.”
To honor Caldwell’s many years of service to Occidental, the college established the Larry Caldwell Research Fellowship, awarding $2,000 to the junior politics major with the strongest research proposal in national security, comparative politics or international relations.
Near’s coursework focuses on British and European literature in medieval times and the Renaissance. Near celebrated 25 years of teaching at Occidental this spring but has been making arrangements for his retirement for a year and a half, hoping to work on his own writing and do more traveling once he retires. According to his faculty page, Near is currently in the process of writing a book on the nature of the narrative self in St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”
ECLS Professor Raul Villa will take over the position of ECLS department chair, but the department is still hoping to hire a full-time professor with expertise in Near’s fields of medieval and European literature.
The department must submit a proposal to be approved by the Academic Planning Committee before the search for a new professor can begin. Associate Dean of the College and Academic Affairs Irene Girton said there has been a significant rise in the number of proposals submitted in recent years, amounting to 12 different proposals from various departments in 2013.
According to Near, the proposal the ECLS department submitted at the beginning of the spring semester is still under consideration. It is not known when they will get a response back from the committee, so for now an adjunct professor will be teaching Near’s field of medieval literature.
ECLS major Joseph Wei (senior) hopes that the department will be able to find a replacement for Near soon as he believes that medieval literature is a crucial field for the major.
“Medieval literature is something that gets overlooked frequently in English departments,” Wei said. “It is important to know the traditions and the origins of literature. It is important for someone to represent that particular literature tradition that is critical to understanding literary history as a whole.”
Near hopes that the Academic Planning Committee will expedite the process of finding a replacement, as he believes that students at Occidental deserve an education without adjunct professors.
“I don’t think Occidental can offer the best possible education by relying on temporary help,” Near said. “Occidental actually has to have people in permanent faculty who are invested in the institution, who have the security and the latitude to experiment with their disciplines and bring that vitality and life to the college.”
Villa also agreed that hiring adjunct professors is not an optimal solution for replacing retiring professors.
“It is not ideal, and it will put additional pressure on the regular department faculty, but we will make it work temporarily,” Villa said. “Because of the fiscal pressures on the college, the administration is not guaranteeing direct replacements for positions freed up by retirement.”
The challenges of hiring a replacement for Near are mirrored by the politics department’s attempts to replace Caldwell; the department sent a proposal this year to hire a new professor, but the proposal was not approved. The department plans to send another proposal next year and will hire a part-time adjunct professor to teach Caldwell’s classes until a full-time hire is made, according to politics department chair Caroline Heldman. Heldman recognizes that it will take some time to find another professor.
“The politics department faculty are all in favor of hiring a replacement,” Heldman said. “There is always a lag time between someone leaving and a replacement being hired because it takes years to do a hire. When new faculty are hired, it is with the assumption that they could be with the institution for decades.”
Like Heldman, Caldwell believes it will take time to find another professor, but is confident that the politics department will find a strong replacement.
“In the politics department, we have prided ourselves in hiring one of the very top people in the nation every year,” Caldwell said. “To do that, it takes time.”
Currently, Caldwell’s retirement raises the question of whether the politics department will continue to offer courses in international relations and national security or whether those will be left entirely to the Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) department.
“The politics department feels very strongly that we need to be able to offer comparative classes and international relations classes in the part of the field of political science,” Caldwell said.
Politics major Rachel Baer (senior) also believes that the politics department should keep their international relations courses. “I would really hope that they would find a replacement for Caldwell, because I think that international relations from a politics perspective is something that is very different from DWA, and I would really hate to see that voice leave,” Baer said.
Students and faculty alike expressed their gratitude for what Caldwell and Near brought to Occidental.
“Professor Caldwell is an extraordinary researcher, teacher and colleague who will be sorely missed by his colleagues and students,” Heldman said.
This sentiment extends to many of Near’s students as well. “I have always appreciated his candor,” Wei said. “I have also appreciated his wealth of knowledge in many topics. He will be missed.”
On Thursday, April 18, Professor of Medieval Literature Ashby Kinch, a former student of Near, will be giving a lecture on Chaucer in honor of Near’s retirement. The lecture will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Dumke Commons Swan Hall.
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