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The Carletonian

Visiting English profs bring new perspectives

<ir="ltr">Most Carls are familiar with Carleton’s self-professed emphasis on the liberal arts. “Our curriculum teaches skills that last a lifetime: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, effective communication and the flexibility adapt to dynamic situations,” the college website states.

Given the breadth of academic opportunities the college strives to offer students, Carleton’s full-time faculty members realize that more teaching capacity can be needed to cover the many subjects. In order to allow room for the teaching of new concepts and perspective, many Carleton departments take on visiting professors for various periods of time.

According to Timothy Raylor, Chair of English, there is no policy regarding visiting professors, at least in his department. These professors can serve in a variety of roles, such as filling certain departmental needs if a full-time professor is temporarily off-campus. One example, according to the English Department Administrative Assistant Meggan Clapp, is Visiting Assistant Professor Chris Martin ’00, who is teaching department courses on poetry and creative writing. Professor of English Gregory Hewett, who usually teaches these courses, is off-campus this term.

Another possible key role of visiting professors is to teach subjects that are not usually covered by the department. Many universities officially classify these visitors as “Professors of Practice,” Raylor said. Dennis Cass ‘90 is currently a visiting instructor in English, teaching “Crafts of Writing: Creative Non-Fiction.” On top of being a Carleton alum, Cass a Carleton alum has taught this course for the department almost every year since 2006.

“Typically, what you would need is a terminal degree to be tenure track, but I’m actually very happy as an adjunct,” Cass said. He added that his position at Carleton is just one of many roles he has in his life. His career thus far has included time writing television criticism for Slate and serving as a literary agent, and he continues to pursue opportunities within his interests.

Raylor explained that the length of a visiting professor’s stay can last as short as two weeks or as long as a full year. He referred to Mark McClusky ’94, an alum and the current head of operations for Wired magazine, who joined the English department this past winter to teach a two-week course about storytelling in the digital age. Raylor joked that McClusky could not stay any longer than two weeks. “He runs a magazine!”

McClusky, like Cass, is an example of an English visiting instructor who adds value to the department through his career and experiences rather than an academic background. In that way, both could be categorized as “Professors of Practice.”

Explaining the motivation for bringing this kind of faculty to the department, Raylor said, “The English major is not only a precursor to grad school but [also to] a whole range of careers where you use language and literary skills. We want to bring people from these diverse fields to our department.”

Members of the English department eagerly awaiting the impending arrival of Visiting Professor Kao Kalia Yang ’03. Yang is known for The Latehomecomer, her 2008 memoir describing her family’s post-Vietnam War immigration from Laos to Minnesota and the many transitional challenges they faced in that process. In the fall, she will teach “Writing Across Genres” in the English department and “Unwritten America” in the American Studies department. Her official position at Carleton will be a Benedict Distinguished Scholar, a position appointed by the Office of the Dean of the College with nominations from departments, concentrations, and programs across the college.

Opportunities offered to visiting professors are ultimately meant to be valuable for both the faculty member and the students. Cass, in particular, emphasized that he has enjoyed his status as a visiting instructor. “Everything I teach is experience-based, which is my approach,” he said. “I’ve been an agent. I’ve done editing. I’ve written books. I’ve written articles of all different types, and so that is what I talk about in the class, the practical approach to writing beautiful work.”

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