Despite cuts new profs. join College faculty

by Ann Baum | 11/9/09 11:00pm

A group of 13 new faculty members, with interests ranging from electroacoustic music research to politics and public services for the rural poor of India, have joined Dartmouth's faculty this year in various departments across the College.

While budget cuts have prevented some departments from completing searches to fill open positions, Mastanduno said he believes the quality of the faculty hired recently has been especially strong due to decreased hiring at other institutions.

"Although we delayed a few searches, in the extent that we've been able to search, we've recruited really top people certainly in my division and I think across the College," he said.

Dartmouth's focus on a "hybrid" of undergraduate teaching and advanced research attracts a self-selecting group of faculty, according to Michael Mastanduno, associate dean for the social sciences.

"I think what we generally look for here are people who are both excellent teachers and excellent scholars," he said.

As a fifth-grade teacher in a poor urban school district in the Boston area, Michele Tine found herself questioning why some students "seemed to learn in ways that were primarily different," she said. With, Tine joins the education department with expertise in learning and developmental differences between groups of students.

"We've known that different groups of students perform differently with a variety of cognitive outcomes," she said. "I'm asking why and how learning is different for different groups of children."

Much of Tine's work has focused on children in low-income communities, children with autism and low-performing students in standard classrooms.

"Landing at Dartmouth, it's a dream in that I'm able to continue the research of these questions that I was plagued with as a fifth-grade teacher and pass that information on to teachers and folks that are going to be entering the work force," she said.

David Plans Casal, a recent arrival in the music department, said he is "tired of lectures" and wants to change the standard classroom format.

"I think primarily the idea of teaching when you have the one person speaking out to a whole bunch of people doesn't work anymore," he said.

Casal, who grew up in Spain and received his doctorate at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, said he intends to make his teaching part of a larger conversation, using new and innovative methods to incorporate the work of other scholars into his lessons. His classes, he said, will look at the confluence of technology and music, a topic explored in his work.

Ming Meng, who joined Dartmouth as a psychology professor, said he hopes to help students understand the causes of autism through his research on perception. Meng, who studied biophysics at the University of Science and Technology in China, and studied psychology in the Ph.D. program at Princeton, studies brain and cognitive sciences, exploring links between social disorders such as autism and patients' ability to perceive faces and facial expressions, an important part of social interaction, he said.

Dartmouth's learning environment is one of the College's main attractions for professors, Meng said.

"I think it's the interaction between students and professors it's a very healthy, friendly relationship," he said.

The environmental studies department saw the hiring of two new professors this year: D.G. Webster and Anne Kapuscinski.

Kapuscinski's studies have focused primarily on the sustainability of fisheries. In her research, Kapuscinski has looked at ways to balance environmental concerns with the needs of those who depend on fisheries.

"How do we navigate those trade-offs in a way that is socially just? How do we make those decisions in the most democratic way possible?" she said.

Prior to coming to Dartmouth, Kapuscinski taught at the University of Minnesota for 25 years. While at Dartmouth, Kapuscinski will hold the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professorship of Sustainability Science, and will be involved in developing a program to improve the sustainability of the Connecticut River watershed. She will also help to develop a new undergraduate minor in sustainability science.

Webster, who serves as assistant professor of environmental studies at the College, told The Dartmouth she studies "the overlap or interactions between money, power and the planet."

Dartmouth's flexibility in course material appealed to Webster, who said she looked forward to teaching course work that directly relates to her research.

"I just think that it's better when you're teaching what you're passionate about," she said.

Antonio Tillis, a scholar of Afro-Diaspora studies, joined the African and African-American studies department. At Dartmouth, Tillis will continue his research on descendants of African immigrants in Brazil, with an emphasis on literature produced by American blacks of Hispanic heritage, he said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.

Tillis, who previously taught at Purdue, studies literature as a common feature of black diaspora communities that demonstrates various aspects of their cultures, he said.

"My part in the exchange is to share my knowledge regarding the nuances of dynamics pertaining to race, nationality, language, citizenship, migration with regard to people of African ancestry," he said.

Russell Rickford has become a member of the history department, although many of his classes will overlap with the African and African-American studies department.

Rickford hopes to complete a book based on his doctoral thesis, which he defended in May at Columbia University, he said. His research takes a critical look at the Black Power movement, black culture and black politics in the post-Civil Rights era.

"In particular, really, one of the questions I try to answer is, Why did black nationalism become increasingly conservative towards the end of the 20th century?'" Rickford said.

Before returning to school to earn his master's degree and doctorate, Rickford said he worked as a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer and co-authored a book on black English with his father, a professor at Stanford University.

Two new professors joined the economics department this year Sandip Sukhtankar and Robert Johnson.

Sukhtankar, a native of India who recently completed his Ph.D at Harvard University, said he focuses much of his research on public programs in rural areas in India. Sukhtankar also studies corruption in large government programs and "how that affects the beneficiaries of these programs, who happen to be some of the poorest people in India," he said.

Johnson's research, meanwhile, focuses on international economics in two main areas of work trends in international trade and how operational differences between firms affect their business success. His studies of trade, which have focused on international business cycles, may help explain the recent "collapse of the international economy in the past few years," he said.

"I was primarily attracted [to Dartmouth] by the quality of the economics department in particular, the number of professors working on international economics was a main draw from the research side," he said.

Despite being born, raised and educated in Massachusetts, Melanie Benson, a new assistant professor of Native American Studies, focuses much of her research on issues in the southern United States, mainly "how the South transitioned to a capitalist economy after slavery," she said.

In her studies, Benson encountered a "huge body of work by Native American writers in the South that nobody was really looking at," she said.

Benson said she was excited to come to Dartmouth in part because the College is home to a unique community of students from different tribes across the country. As a member of the Herring Pond Wampanoag tribe on Cape Cod, Mass., Benson said she had not been able to interact with other tribes in the area.

Russell Muirhead, a recent addition to the government department, is currently working on a book on political partisanship, which he is currently calling "A Defense of Party Spirit." Muirhead is also starting a short book that asks the question, "Why is political talk so painful to hear?" and conducts an investigation of the "Obama phenomenon," he said.

Muirhead, who has previously taught at both Harvard and the University of Texas at Austin, said he aims to give students a desire for a better understanding of the world, rather than just a desire for traditional things like "money and power, sex and love, health and luck."

Aimee Bahng, a new member of the English department, focuses her research on "transnational speculative fiction (or science fiction) by women of color," she said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.

"I think of my work as an examination of the relationship between science and fiction, or between science and culture more broadly," she said.

Bahng hopes to make a contribution to the study of Asian-American literature and culture at Dartmouth, she said, and to connect those issues with the concepts of science and technology that she explores in her field.

Noelia Cirnigliaro, who previously taught at the University of Michigan, is starting as an assistant professor of Spanish. Cirnigliaro's research focuses on Spanish culture and literature from the 17th century.

"I study specifically representations of domesticity," she said.

Her work looks at the power and relations of people within the home in literature, she said.

Cirnigliaro said she hopes students will improve their understanding of the unique aspects of Spanish culture and "the important relationship between language and culture."