The freshmen crowding Lecture Hall 1 are not the only unfamiliar faces around campus; the professor at the head of the room may be just as new.
Since 2011, Binghamton University has hired 587 tenure-track professors, 81 of whom begin teaching the 2015-2016 school year. Of the hires since 2011, 120 have been net gains, which means they were not replacing leaving professors. This is part of the “Road Map to Premier” initiative begun by President Harvey Stenger, with the end goal of netting 150 new professors by 2020.
The majority of these professors were added to Harpur College, with 82 new professors gained since 2011. Watson has netted 34 new professors, School of Management has netted 17, Decker School of Nursing has netted 6 and the College of Community and Public Affairs has netted 10.
The hiring process takes about a year, according to Vice Provost Susan Strehle, and can see 200 applications for a single seat. The key, she said, was standing out both as a professor and a researcher.
“We wanted someone who seemed to have a huge amount of promise, both as a scholar and a teacher,” she said. “Someone who would make students delighted and then bring added fame and importance to the department because they would publish work that was really new.”
This includes interests in multiple areas. The Transdisciplinary Areas of Excellence (TAE) program features professors who have proven adept at working across fields of study. Assistant Professor of English Surya Parekh said that while the concept was not unique to BU, it is usually limited to the sciences. The ability to apply it to liberal arts drew him to the school.
“It’s not as common to see this kind of institutional support,” he said. “A university-wide initiative is much less common. It’s exciting for me to see that there’s funding available for risk-taking projects, that there are a whole group of people who have already assembled, that there is all this new faculty coming in.”
Parekh is now working within the TAE of citizenship, rights and cultural belonging, which is one of five areas of study that looks to target larger social and scientific issues.
Another new assistant professor, Aravind Prakash, was hired to the computer science department. His focus in security includes working to protect the intellectual property rights of corporations like Microsoft and Google.
“Binghamton has really started to push in the area of security,” Prakash said. “BU definitely impressed me, both due to the department and the kind of students that are here, especially the undergraduates.”
He said that from the beginning in the interview process, the caliber of the undergraduates was apparent to him.
“The candidate makes an hour-long presentation and that is followed up by Q&A session from the students and faculty,” Prakash said. “The kind of questions I got from the students at BU were really good. It showed they were really employing ideas of research, which is something as potential faculty I was very much impressed by and looking forward to.”
The diversity of the student body was also a factor when choosing BU, according to new English and medieval and renaissance studies professor Bridget Whearty. She said the influx of new faces and ideas is ultimately going to make the school a great place for the exchange of ideas, benefiting both the faculty and students.
“I like what the undergraduate in-state tuition is,” she said. “That matters to me because it allows a more diverse set of students to come together and talk together. Getting different kinds of voices together to grapple about the big questions in life is the whole point of college.”