BC prepares to welcome new faculty

A Nobel laureate, a new director for African and African Diaspora Studies, and four Engineering faculty are among 51 new additions for the coming academic year

Boston College will welcome 51 new faculty members for the 2023-2024 academic year, including a Nobel laureate, a new director of the African and African Diaspora Studies program, and four additional faculty in the two-year-old Engineering Department.

 The 51 tenured or tenure-track faculty and full-time professors of the practice will be joined by an additional nine lateral hires—previously visiting faculty members who are now professors of the practice. Also coming to campus for the next academic year are 22 new, visiting full-time faculty members who are on limited-term contracts.

While smaller than last year’s record 62, this year’s cohort of new full-time, non-visiting faculty represents another significant milestone, according to University administrators: 33 of the 51 are women, the highest such percentage (65) of new hires in BC history. More than a quarter of the new full-time, non-visiting faculty members—27 percent—are AHANA, they noted.

But straightforward statistical analysis only goes so far in evaluating the annual faculty hiring process, so vital to making major institutional goals for teaching and academics a day-to-day reality in BC classrooms. The number of hires in a given year can be affected by internal considerations—how many faculty are needed for a particular discipline or field—as well as short- or long-term trends impacting higher education that may be beyond BC’s control. 

Billy Soo

Vice Provost Billy Soo

Taking all that into account, said Vice Provost for Faculties Billy Soo, the litmus test for prospective faculty members is at once straightforward and multifaceted.

“Does this person truly understand BC and our mission?” he explained. “Do they appreciate what a Jesuit, Catholic university is all about, and the expectations that come with being a professor here? That BC emphasizes an undergraduate education that involves not only intellectual development, but also personal and spiritual formation?

“Not all faculty searches are successful. We may lose out to another institution for any number of reasons, including geographical location, or the time-frame for a candidate’s availability just doesn’t work. But we’re not going to force ourselves to hire someone just for the sake of filling the position if none of the candidates fit the profile of what we look for in a faculty member.”  

Among the new faculty is Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, the Seidner University Professor at the Carroll School of Management, who joins the school’s highly touted Finance Department and will launch the new Center for the Economics of Ideas.

Professor of History Lorelle Semley, whose teaching and research in African history spans a multiplicity of disciplines, source materials, and political and social subject matter—her current project examines the evolution of Black citizenship in the former French colonial empire—will become the new director of BC’s African and African Diaspora Studies program.

As the first majors in the University’s Human-Centered Engineering program move toward the latter stage of their undergraduate years, a newly arrived quartet of accomplished faculty will enable the department to offer upper-level courses: Assistant Professors Emma Brace and Catherine Hoar, Associate Professor of the Practice Amin Mohebbi, and Assistant Professor of the Practice Kristen Conroy.

These and other new faculty appointments are the end result of many hours of work involving senior administrators and current faculty. In early spring, academic deans assess their respective school’s teaching needs—based on such factors as faculty retirements or departures and growth of specific majors—and share these with the Office of the Provost, which takes a holistic view using metrics like student credit hours to help determine how many new faculty a school can recruit.

Search committees are formed with current faculty members—who sometimes serve on more than one, depending on their respective department’s openings—to identify and interview three finalists for each position. Soo noted that the school’s dean takes part in the interview process as well, as does the provost if the candidate is a tenured faculty member.

“It’s a reflection of how seriously BC takes its mission when you have senior academic administrators as well as faculty involved in the search for new faculty,” said Soo. “As a university, we make a great effort to ensure that our academic goals and strategies are widely understood throughout each school, department, and program. This knowledge is critical for a search committee member in determining whether a faculty candidate is a good fit for BC.”

Soo emphasized that context is a must in scrutinizing numbers of new faculty hires, at BC and elsewhere. A department or program that is undertaking a new direction or starting a major initiative may carry out multiple or “cluster” hires for an academic year, then have considerably fewer openings the next two or three years. The relative lack of AHANA or women faculty in a particular field on a national level can affect how many candidates are available for a position.

“This year’s successful recruitment season was the result of ongoing collaboration among faculty search committees across the University working to advance key departmental and school priorities,” said Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley.  “I look forward to welcoming our newest colleagues to campus later this summer.”

New faculty members will receive their formal introduction to BC at an all-day event on August 17, which will begin with greetings from University President William P. Leahy, S.J., Haub Vice President for University Mission and Ministry John Butler, S.J., and Quigley. Presentations on the University Mission and Ministry division’s work and on Title IX and student health and wellness will round out the morning session. The afternoon will include an introduction to University Libraries, a student panel, a session on teaching and research grants, and a talk on the Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society by Laura Steinberg, the Seidner Executive Director of the institute. A reception with deans and department chairs will close out the day.

Soo said the University has put an increasingly greater emphasis on faculty orientation, reflecting contemporary higher education practices but also its own institutional aims.

“We’ve found the panel with current undergraduates to be especially popular, because it’s a chance to hear what specific ways a faculty member can help students, inside and outside of the classroom.  The message we send to new faculty is, ‘We want you to succeed, not just because we’ve invested a lot in you, but because we feel you have much to offer our students as well as your colleagues.’”