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Forty and Counting

Long-time Faculty Discuss Their Years at the UW

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Four Arts and Sciences professors who came to the UW between 1964 and 1968 spoke with A&S Perspectives editor Nancy Joseph in January about what has changed—or remained the same—since their arrival. Participants were Kenneth Clatterbaugh, chair and professor of philosophy; Thomas Lockwood, professor of English; Lillian C. McDermott, professor of physics; and Carol Thomas, professor of history. This is an abbreviated version of their discussion.

NJ: All of you joined the faculty in the mid-1960s. Can you describe the hiring process?

Tom Lockwood: I was interviewed by the chair of the English Department at a regional meeting and was offered the job without ever making a campus visit. Nobody did campus visits in those days. My advisor and others urged me to take the job here, so that’s what I did. 

Ken Clatterbaugh (left) and Tom Lockwood.

Ken Clatterbaugh (left) and Tom Lockwood. Media credit: Karen Orders

Ken Clatterbaugh: I also had no campus visit. I didn’t even have a formal interview. I was at a professional meeting and was introduced to the chair of the Philosophy Department by the chair at another university who mentioned that he was going to make me an offer. The UW chair took me aside and said, “I’ll make you an offer too.” 

Carol Thomas: Did he offer you the job right there, on the spot?

Clatterbaugh: Pretty much. 

NJ: So you had no job interviews? 

Clatterbaugh: Oh, I did have a few, including one particularly memorable interview with an East Coast school. It was 9 a.m., and when I showed up at the hotel room where the interview was being held, the room was literally littered with bottles and the provost and chair of the department were still in bed in their clothes. I introduced myself and said I was there for the interview, and they said, “OK, talk.” And that was the only question they asked—although they did sit up at that point. I have no idea what I talked about, but I left feeling utterly despondent.

NJ: Did they offer you a job as well?

Clatterbaugh: They did! But of course I had no interest in going to that place. 

NJ: For comparison, what is the faculty hiring process like now?

Lockwood: It takes months. There are often two campus visits—an initial visit for a job talk, and then if the candidate gets the offer, another visit to convince him or her to come to the UW, tour places to live, pretend that housing is affordable... that sort of thing.

Clatterbaugh: And often the second visit involves other family members. Often you have to convince the family to come here.

Thomas: You can lose a person who would like to come if the spouse doesn’t like Seattle. It happened recently in our department. 

NJ: I assume that can be particularly challenging when the spouse is also looking for a faculty position—a situation that seems to be increasingly common. 

Lockwood: The efforts we now make to accommodate spouses and partners would have been illegal in 1967 because of the nepotism rule.

NJ: What was the nepotism rule?

Thomas: It was a State of Washington law that made it illegal for the spouse 
of a faculty member to be hired to a tenure track position. The law affected 
me directly because I came to the UW with my then-husband, who had an offer from the Economics Department.

NJ: And you were denied a position?

Thomas: Well, I was still working on my dissertation when we arrived. I finished it the next year. To give you an idea of what things were like at that time, one of the people on my PhD advisory committee congratulated me on finishing my dissertation and then asked, “What will you do with this? You’re a woman.” I did want a career in academia, and the chair of the History Department crafted a position, sort of a “super-TA” position, and found ways for me to occasionally offer a course of my own in ancient Greek history. 

NJ: So you could be working at the University, but not as a tenure-track professor.

Thomas: That’s right. I was an acting instructor and then an acting assistant professor for about the first five years I was here. 

NJ: Now academic couples seem to be a common occurrence.

Thomas: In our department alone, we have three couples on our faculty. Another big change is that we now have 18 women on the history faculty, not including adjunct faculty. When I began, I was the only woman on the faculty. The department was very slow to add women. 

Lillian McDermott

Lillian McDermott  Media credit: Karen Orders

Lillian McDermott: I also came here because of my husband. He got a position in the Physics Department, and although we had received our PhDs at the same time from the same university, I was told right off that there would never be a chance I could work here [because of the nepotism rule]. I started teaching part-time at Seattle University and was occasionally tapped to teach at the UW when there was an emergency. Then the hard times hit in the early 1970s and all part-time people at both universities were cut, so I no longer had a job. I worked without pay for a newly arrived professor who came to the UW to start a course in the Physics Department for prospective elementary school teachers, and that eventually turned into a part-time grant-funded position and later a tenure-track position. I was the first woman in our department.


NJ: How was that for you, being the lone female faculty member?

McDermott: There were hardly any women in physics when I was in graduate school, so it wasn’t new to me. I had a lot of support from my husband, and the department adjusted. But I remember one chair—a good friend now—saying, “You know you have to choose. You can’t really have a career in physics and a family.” He said it in a nice way, but he had an old-fashioned view of the whole thing. Now there are four women in our department.

NJ: There are numerous UW programs that provide guidance to new faculty today. Did you get any support from your department or the University when you arrived?

Lockwood: It was basically, “Here’s your classroom” and “do your research.” But no one said what that meant. It wasn’t clear at all to me what I had to do or how it worked. 

Clatterbaugh: There were no conferences with chairs, and if you hadn’t done much teaching in graduate school, which I hadn’t because I’d been on a fellowship, then suddenly you were just thrown in the classroom and told to teach. My first quarter here I taught two classes that met every day. I would finish teaching and immediately sit down and start working on the next day’s lectures. I felt like I had to have ten pages of notes to get through the hour; my very first day of class I got through my ten pages of notes in 20 minutes.

Thomas: To make matters worse, we had to teach the big survey courses. I remember being expected to cover all of western civilization. And maybe, just coming out of graduate school, you hadn’t done all of western civilization. The first lecture I gave was in old Meany Hall, which I think held about 750 people.

NJ: Who did you look to for guidance?

Thomas: The only way to get help or mentoring at that time was to make friends—really good friends—who had been at the University three or four years. They would tell you what you needed to know and encourage you to publish.

The only way to get help or mentoring at that time was to make friends—really good friends—who had been at the University three or four years. They would tell you what you needed to know and encourage you to publish.

McDermott: The chair didn’t seek you out and tell you that?

Thomas: No. Not at all.

Lockwood: I also had a couple of friends who were more senior who helped me out. But certainly not the chair. That’s really changed. Now there’s a strong culture of mentoring in our department and in many others in the College. And there are other resources for new faculty. The idea that a junior faculty person could attend a workshop given by the College Council on how to prepare for tenure would have just blown my mind.

Clatterbaugh: And incoming people now get more mentoring at the graduate schools they’re coming from. Many have had teaching experience, some have taught a course of their own, and they’ve been taught a bit about the tenure process. We try to educate our graduate students about what will be expected, and that’s something that wasn’t done when we were graduate students.

NJ: Just a few years after most of you arrived, the UW campus was shaken by Vietnam War demonstrations. What do remember of that time?

Thomas: The spring of 1970 was the most intense time. There were demonstrations much of the time. They just went on and on and on.

Lockwood: There was a great deal of upheaval. Some faculty held classes off campus; some didn’t hold classes. The faculty were divided about that. And some students didn’t attend classes at all. 

McDermott: I had a course in which the students told me they wanted to go out and march, and I said, “Nothing doing. You’ll help your cause a whole lot more by staying here than by marching up and down the streets.” I remember deciding to teach my class whether or not the University decided to close. I felt it was my decision. That doesn’t mean I didn’t support the cause. There are different ways of expressing that. 

Lillian McDermott (left) and Carol Thomas

Lillian McDermott (left) and Carol Thomas. Media credit: Karen Orders

Thomas: Some of us were giving lectures during the time when groups of people wanted to protest actively. I was giving a lecture to a large class when a group of demonstators came into the classroom and ordered all the students to leave. But since there was just one exit, now largely occupied by the demonstrators, the students couldn’t leave and the demonstrators started beating them with clubs. Eventually the police came in. The really frightening thing is that I had a student tell me, once things had calmed down, “It’s alright Professor Thomas. If anything bad had happened, I would have shot them.” And he pulled out a gun. And I thought, “Oh boy.”

NJ: Charles Odegaard was president at that time. There have been four other UW presidents since then, and many other administrative changes. Have these changes impacted you or your department?

Clatterbaugh: Definitely. When I came here, departments mostly controlled their own faculty lines, deciding how and when vacant faculty positions would be filled. Now most of that control is at the College or University level, which has been very detrimental to departments.

McDermott: What I’ve noticed is that every time there is a change of administration, there is a reorganization. And the reorganizing always means that you bring in more people to report to other people.

Thomas: Yes, and that has made the leadership less accessible. When Charles Odegaard was president, you knew him. Personal contact was not difficult through the presidency of Bill Gerberding. But now there are so many layers of administration, and the president is so busy raising money or talking with the legislature, that there’s not the same accessibility.

NJ: Are you finding similar changes at the departmental level? Are you less likely to make connections with colleagues in other departments?

Thomas: I think it’s been an accordion. When times are bad, you hunker in. 
When times are good, you have more affiliate appointments and interdisciplinary connections.

McDermott: I think a lot of that depends on the personality of the leadership within the department. It makes a big difference in how we act as a department and how we relate to other departments. 

Ken Clatterbaugh

Ken Clatterbaugh. Media credit: Karen Orders

Clatterbaugh: I actually think things have gotten better on this campus for interdisciplinary work and contact across units. That certainly has been true for my unit. We used to have few connections with other departments; now we share faculty with Physics, History, the Evans School, the Medical School, and the Information School. Most of those are joint appointments. It’s worked really well. These are people whose research interests genuinely overlap.

NJ: Has this influenced the feel of the department?

Clatterbaugh: Very much so. We were much more insular before. We weren’t talking with other people. We weren’t aware of what our colleagues in other units were doing. Now we see these connections as a positive, and we put those into the evaluations of faculty members—their involvement with other units, participation in committees—and they get credit for that.

Thomas: Your department has a very good record of doing this. Not all departments do. 

Lockwood: It’s true. Especially in smaller departments, it can be hard to release faculty to do interdisciplinary work.

Thomas: But I know some smaller departments that do it all the time. They’re some of the best. It depends on the leadership in the department, I believe.

Clatterbaugh: Also, if a department is overwhelmed with students and simply cannot meet their curricular needs, then I think they are less likely to encourage that.

NJ: When departments are overwhelmed by student demand, how do they ensure that all faculty bear the load?

Thomas: We now have an unofficial number of students that every faculty member should be teaching every year. Some faculty teach huge courses and that gives the department a bit of leeway.

Lockwood: Was that number tacitly suggested?

Thomas: There was a committee that quantified this. When you plan your next year’s offerings, you need to indicate how many students you think you’ll have. You have to make it add up.

McDermott: In Physics we aren’t required to teach a certain number of students. It’s assumed that you will teach one course each quarter, and that course can vary in size.

Clatterbaugh: One thing that concerns me is that as the number of students has grown and the number of majors has grown, there’s less room in the classes for students from other units. We’re finding it hard to find space for them, yet our service to other units is very important. 

Tom Lockwood

Tom Lockwood. Media credit: Karen Orders

Lockwood: I’ve noticed that change too. In our upper division courses, about 30 percent of the students used to be non-majors. I liked that mix a lot, because it created a different dynamic in the classroom. Now almost all are majors. 

NJ: Speaking of the classroom, it seems that the University’s emphasis on teaching has increased substantially in the past decade or so. 

McDermott: Ah, but not the rewards for teaching. In Physics, teaching is very important and you have to do it, but it won’t save you. It won’t get you tenure if your research isn’t strong. But it can count against you and make your promotion more difficult if you are not a good teacher.

NJ: Who assesses teaching ability?

McDermott: Student evaluations seem to be given the greatest weight, but classroom observations by other faculty are considered as well. But the student evaluations can be a popularity contest, which is troubling. I’ve sat in classes where the students’ rankings of the professor were low and I thought the person was doing a good job. I don’t think students had as much of a say in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness 20 or 30 years ago.

. . . student evaluations can be a popularity contest, which is troubling. I’ve sat in classes where the students’ rankings of the professor were low and I thought the person was doing a good job.

Lockwood: I think the student evaluations do play a bigger role than they used to, but peer evaluations are being given more attention as well. I served on the College Council not long ago and I was really impressed by the time spent looking at tenure candidates’ teaching portfolios and their department’s assessment of them. I was impressed by the number of departments that had a sophisticated analysis of the results, not just looking at numbers. I think there has been quite a lot of improvement that way. But I also agree with Lillian that rewards don’t follow.

Thomas: And the rewards don’t really follow service either. If you serve on the laborious College Council, as several of us have, there’s not much reward for that.

Clatterbaugh: I think there’s been a speed-up in all three areas—teaching, research, and service. Students have more access to faculty now then they ever did before, especially with email. In terms of research, it takes more published papers to get tenure today than it did 20 years ago. Service too, has changed. In smaller departments people serve on multiple committees, and now there are more development responsibilities. 

McDermott: By development, you mean private money coming in?

Clatterbaugh: Yes. As chair, I spend a huge amount of time on this now. Sometimes it is very rewarding to the department, but it is also another thing requiring my time.

Thomas: And as state support continues to decline, you have to focus on development.

NJ: I want to get back to Ken’s statement about students being able to reach you at any time. Has that increased accessibility been positive or negative? 

Carol Thomas

Carol Thomas.

Thomas: They’ll ask, “Didn’t you see that email that I sent to you last night at midnight?” (Laughs.) I think to myself, “Well, I did go to bed.”

Lockwood: A positive change I’ve seen with email is that some students who communicate by email I never would have heard from in a pre-email era. They would have sat in the back of class and been shy about talking in class. So that has actually enlarged the conversation in a way. 

Thomas: But it can be difficult. On a snow day, when a paper is due, 75 students in a course send it to you electronically and expect you to print it out. (Everyone laughs in agreement.)

NJ: Do students seem different today in other ways? Have their attitudes changed? Or are students just students?

Lockwood: The students now are smarter in some ways and not as smart in others. They have shorter attention spans for texts and words, but they are a lot smarter about visual and digital culture.

McDermott: I’d add that they are not as polite on the whole.

Thomas: I agree.

NJ: Can you give an example?

McDermott: There’s a certain amount of silent respect that I consider good manners in dealing with somebody who is trying to teach you something. You don’t always see that. A lot of the kids think you are equals, and then they feel betrayed when the grades come. There used to be more protection in the kind of behavior that was considered appropriate. 

Clatterbaugh: I agree that there was a kind of formality that has been lost. But I still find that students are not assertive enough with faculty members. They still have a hard time going to faculty and saying, “I don’t quite understand this.” They are so intimidated. I sometimes have them come into my office and they’ll start by saying, “I know you’re really busy; I don’t want to take up your time.” I’ll have to convince them to sit down. They come out of high school with a kind of awe of university professors that doesn’t serve them very well in making good decisions.

NJ: Do you feel the University and College are in a better place overall now than they were when you arrived?

Clatterbaugh: There are trade-offs. I think there’s a much greater sensitivity about the extra burdens that fall on women and underrepresented faculty. Our department had no women in tenure-track positions until 1980; now a third of the faculty are women. That has had a huge and positive impact on the quality and the atmosphere. But there have been other places where I think we’re losing ground. I think departments have lost some control over their destiny, and that has cost us in terms of excellence. We are continuing to lose the salary battle and the retention battle. 

NJ : Faculty rentention has been a real concern. But all of you have remained here for many years. What has kept you here?

Thomas: Given my really difficult start here—and I did have a difficult start, joining an all-male faculty in the 1960s—what I’ve really appreciated is that the University changed. That’s commendable. Had it not, I wouldn’t have stayed.
McDermott: Neither my husband nor I explored or encouraged offers from other universities. We enjoyed living here. We liked our colleagues in our department and the University. We never even discussed leaving. 

Lockwood: In my case, it’s been my unwillingness to leave the Seattle area combined with some excellent faculty colleagues, the good students, and the 
open and unrestrictive—if underfunded—academic environment here. If you have an idea you want to pursue, or a program you want to build, there are no entrenched institutional barriers blocking the way.

Clatterbaugh: I agree that the open environment is key. There is a great amount of freedom at the UW to pursue inquiry that is interdisciplinary rather than specifically discipline driven. In fact, I would say that the opportunity for doing serious interdisciplinary work here is as good as, or better than, at our peer institutions. That creates a rich environment that is intellectually challenging and satisfying. It gives you a sense of being part of a larger intellectual community. And to me, that is worth a great deal.