Carleton College’s history department intends to hire two new professors to specialize in African American history. Noel Voltz, who already teaches African American History at Carleton as a Laird Bell Postdoctoral Fellow, will fill one of these positions as an Assistant Professor of History. Carleton also hopes to hire Rebecca Bruckman of Ruhr-University Bochum in Berlin, with tenure, though that decision will be confirmed.
Following the retirement of Harry Williams, Carleton’s search for an African American history professor is part of a continued effort by the department to center the African American experience and issues of race within American history. Originally looking to fill one position, President Alison Byerly and Dean Gretchen Hofmeister helped allocate the means to hire two professors in this field.
During Fall Term, the department invited the candidates to visit and speak in front of the department, requested student feedback and made their final deliberations at the end of the term. The department decided to hireVoltz, a scholar of African American history and sexuality, andBruckman, a scholar of North America in its transcultural context.
Voltz graduated with a PhD in African American history from Ohio State University in 2014, where she specialized in Black women’s history, slavery and freedom in the 19th century. Voltz found her love of the liberal arts as a professor at Trinity Washington University, and her desire to do research led her to the University of Salt Lake City Utah, and then Case Western University, in the spring of 2020 until her decision to move to Carleton.
“I got a call early on during my time at Case Western from Thabiti Willis. I had known him through history conferences and we had presented on panels,” said Voltz. “He asked me to come and give a talk, a workshop of the chapter of the book I’m working on, and I did that last April and it was so fun. I loved the Carleton experience, getting to intersect with students and faculty and talk about my work. It was the coolest conversation—and I just felt like I was vibing with Carleton.”
After her talk last April, Voltz was asked to join Carleton as a Postdoctoral Fellow in Fall Term of 2021, where she has been teaching African American History I and II and Black Women’s History.
Voltz noted that she sees the emphasis that Carleton puts on teaching as central to her own ambitions.
“I’ve been at these research institutions, and they’re great, but teaching isn’t the emphasis, and teaching is what I absolutely love,” Voltz said. “I like my research, but I love the classroom, and so this felt like the melding of my loves because I could do that intellectual work with my research and I could do what I love the most, which is bringing that knowledge to students.”
Carleton is known for the importance it places on teaching, having been ranked number one in undergraduate teaching in recent years by US News and World Report. According to…, it is this drive to hire and support esteemed educators that influenced the department’s decision to push for a tenure position for Bruckman.
The tenure decision is a significant one, as candidates for tenure have often been teaching at the college for several years and have had their teaching observed and evaluated. According to Serena Zabin, head of the history department, the decision ignited an unprecedented hiring process.
“The actual faculty handbook didn’t have a provision for hiring people with tenure, it’s just not a Carleton thing,” Zabin said. “This is an institution that puts such emphasis on teaching that historically we’ve really wanted to see people teach over a period of time, preferably six years. Even when we bring in people with experience, we usually ask them to still teach for a couple of years so we can watch.”
Inspiration to make such a move came from the significance of this position and the hope to attract a diverse pool of experienced historians, even if they may have tenure at another institution.
“Hiring at any point is important, and hiring in African American history is always important, but hiring in African American history at this particular moment seemed to us a really important decision that we wanted to be able to do as carefully as we could,” Zabin said. “One of the things that really mattered was that we be able to make as broad a pool of applicants as possible, and that includes people who might have tenure somewhere else.”
This required the history department to convince the rest of the faculty to change the bylaws in the faculty handbook, which they did ahead of the 2021-22 academic year. What they didn’t anticipate was hiring someone with a tenure equivalent in another country. According to Zabin, “We really just didn’t anticipate that there would be such exciting work coming out of Berlin.”
This required a further change to the hiring process: the department needed to collect teaching examples, which Bruckman performed remotely from Germany during seventh week of Winter Term, and write a letter to the Faculty Personnel Committee and then the Board of Trustees, who ultimately approve every tenure decision. This letter advocates that the scholarship and teaching experience of Bruckmann is worthy and deserving of a tenure position.
The Board of Trustees will make a decision during Spring Term on the status of Bruckman’s tenure.
Zabin says, “We hope that this will really shape the way people think about American history…African American history is American history, and we really want all Carls to understand that.”