My First Year at Monmouth College
In an earlier post I described how I wound up teaching Classics at Monmouth College. In this post I would like to reflect on my first year at Monmouth College and how that was almost my only year.
When I accepted a job offer from Monmouth College in 1984, I was tenured at Howard. With a wife and three children to support, I was not about to abandon a tenured position at a strong institution for an untenured job at a small liberal arts college. The college obviously had enrollment challenges but I was impressed with its visionary president, Bruce Haywood, who clearly had a plan to move the college forward. But I certainly was not going to move to Monmouth without some asssurance that tenure was possible.
When I expressed my concern to the dean during our contract negotiations, I was told that the college never hired faculty with tenure, that I would have to go through the regular tenure process. I knew that other institutions hired with tenure, so I told the dean I could not accept the position without tenure. So we compromised. I agreed to accept Monmouth’s offer with the understanding that I would go through a hastened one-year tenure process. I was able to arrange a one-year leave of absence from Howard, so I went to Monmouth with the knowledge that if things didn’t work out I could always return to Howard.
So we rented out our house in Mount Rainier, Maryland, rented a house in Monmouth, and gave Monmouth a chance.
At the time the college was on a term system, which meant that there were three ten-week terms in the academic year. Faculty were expected to teach eight courses during the year, that is, two terms with three courses and one term with two. The Classics curriculum was very traditional and rigid and included elementary Latin 1 and 2, classical mythology, word elements and four advanced Latin courses. While Bernice Fox had been teaching, that course sequence worked for her but the heavy emphasis on advanced language courses meant that most Classics courses were not heavily enrolled. She did occasionally teach elementary Greek as an overload, but Greek was not on the schedule for my first year.
My teaching schedule was fixed before I arrived. In first term I would teach Elementary Latin I, Classical Mythology and advanced Latin courses. In the second term it would be Elementary Latin II, Word Elements and one advanced Latin course. In the third term it would be two advanced Latin courses. When classes started for the first term, I had reasonable enrollments in Elementary Latin and Classical Mythology, both of which were supported by graduation requirements, but there was only one advanced Latin student (the program’s only major). There was nothing I could do about enrollment in the the advanced course, which, obviously, only students with Latin could take so I wasn’t too worried. But I should have been because within a week that advanced student walked into my office and announced that, due to financial difficulties, he had to withdraw from the college.
His departure, of course, was a game changer. It meant that instead of teaching eight courses that year I would only teach four, since there were no other advanced Latin students to come out of the woodwork. And there were no other Classics courses on the books which I could teach. Any new courses would have to be approved by the College Curriculum Committee and then by the entire faculty and that was not going to happen fast enough to help.
So, in consultation with a supportive colleague in history, I came up with a plan. I proposed to the administration that I spend the time I would have been teaching in visitations to high school Latin programs around the state. The Latin teachers around Illinois were very supportive of this idea and I visited a number of high schools that year, where I gave presentations to classes and met with teachers. In the long run, these visits were a good idea. They helped me get to know the Latin programs in the state and for the teachers and students to get to know me.
At the same time, it was clear that the Classics program needed major restructuring. The program needed to include more courses besides Word Elements and Classical Mythology which were open to the entire student body. There was too much emphasis on courses in Latin. The second, and crucial, part of my plan, then, was the redesign of the Classics curriculum.
So over the next weeks I began to sketch out a program which would enable me to offer courses which more students could take while, at the same time, maintaining a strong Latin program (as well as, occasionally, Greek). In the end I cam up with an innovative program which I called the triad course, in which I would offer, in translation, courses on a variety of interesting topics, like “The Ancient Family,” “Classical Mythology”, “Love Poetry in the Ancient World.” The Classics curriculum I designed was eventually approved by the Curriculum Committee and by the faculty and was implemented the following year. A description of this curriculum, major portions of which are still in place today, was published as “The Triad Course: Teaching Classics in the One-Room Schoolhouse” in Monmouth College Faculty Forum 4 (1991), 7–10.
While the new curriculum wended its way through the college bureaucracy, there was still the question of tenure, which also needed to go through channels, first the College Personnel Committee, then the dean and the president and, finally, the Board of Trustees. The review by the Personnel Committee included both classroom visit by a member of the committee as well as a public presentation. For the latter, I prepared a talk entitled “Attending the First Antigone” in conjunction with a performance by the college Crimson Masque of Sophocles’ play. Apparently both the classroom visit and presentation were satisfactory because my tenure was approved. While the board, of course, did not make it official until commencement in May, by then Anne and I had already decided to stay in Monmouth. So I resigned my position at Howard and we bought a house in Monmouth (more on that in another blog). Things seemed to work out because we are still living in Monmouth and in that house.
By the way, several years after I was tenured at Monmouth, the college revised its tenure process and specifically banned the possibility of anyone receiving tenure before at least three-years of teaching at the college. Under those terms, I would not have come to Monmouth.