The departments of history and political science at the University of Southern Maine are in the process of searching for a new professor specializing in African-American history following a five-year absence of any faculty position specifically dedicated to the subject.
According to Assistant Professor of History Libby Bischof, the consolidation of the two disciplines into one department has allowed room in the budget for the position’s return. She said it’s important to have the position back because it promotes diversity in a state with small minority populations.
“We’re hoping the [new professor's] courses will fit into the diversity element of the new core,” Bischof said.
What makes this position different from the past is its interdisciplinary nature. Because of the merged departments, the new professor would teach both history and political science courses concerning African-American issues. Bischof said that some classes haven’t been taught in five years because of the position’s past absence.
Associate Professor of Political Science Francesca Vassallo said she hopes this sets a new precedent for the combined department. Vassallo said her department and others that have been consolidated hope to create similarly interdisciplinary faculty positions.
After starting with over 60 applicants, the department is now down to four candidates, and as part of the application process, two of them — Kerri Greenidge, a PhD. candidate at Boston University and T.J. Boisseau, an associate professor of history at the University of Akron — have provided guest lectures on at USM. Leroy Rowe is scheduled to deliver a lecture on the early 20th century African American vision of child welfare in Missouri on Feb. 10 in room 211 of the Wishcamper Center. Rowe, a PhD. candidate at the University of Missouri, is currently working on a dissertation concerning poor African-American women in the rural south during Jim Crow. The final candidate, Michele Coffey is a visiting assistant professor in history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. Coffey does not yet have a date scheduled to speak at USM.
Bischof said the application process gives the candidates an opportunity to talk with students and faculty of the department. After each candidate speaks on a Friday at the Wishcamper Center, the faculty then convenes with the candidate for a more in-depth interview.
“We like it because it gives the students a chance to see what the candidates are like,” said Department Chair Eileen Eagan.
Associate Professor of History Allan Whitmore said this application method is especially appropriate because “the position tends to have a community outreach aspect.”
The previous professor to hold the African American history position was Maureen Elgersman Lee, who Bischof said was the first African-American professor at USM to reach tenure. Bischof also said Elgersman was involved with the African-American collections in the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, which is located in the Glickman Library.
Bischof said the department hopes a similar involvement will happen with the new hire.