Assistant Professor of Arabic and International Studies Ikram Masmoudi will resign at the end of the current school, highlighting the struggle to keep top-notch professors in "critical languages," in both the Language Schools and academic school year faculties.
Critical languages, those that are important for cultural understanding and international relations, include three languages - Arabic, Chinese and Russian - which are taught at the College.
Masmoudi said the reason for her departure was another job opportunity.
"I am not resigning because of any problem here," she said. "I got a very attractive offer from the University of Delaware."
On the contrary, Masmoudi said she will remember her time at Middlebury fondly and cherish this part of her career.
"Middlebury has a special place in my heart," she said. "This is where I started my teaching career in the U.S.A. I came here in the summer program in 2002. Then I took a tenure track position to help build the Arabic Department. Now that I've resigned, I've been romanticizing about my years here. I look at them like a romantic period in my life."
She hailed her students at the College as some of the best she has ever encountered.
"I really love my students here," she said. "They can compare to the students at Princeton and Duke. They have very curious minds. It is at Middlebury where I have met some of my best students."
Originally from Tunisia, Masmoudi completed her studies in France before coming to the United States. She taught at the Language School program, Duke University and Princeton University before coming to the College.
Masmoudi agreed that the turnover rates at the College are high, attributing them to a variety of reasons. In regards to Arabic in particular, she suggested the rise in popularity of the language throughout the country has made qualified faculty extremely sought-after.
Vice President of the Language Schools Michael Geisler agreed that attracting top-notch faculty has grown more difficult.
"It has been increasingly difficult for the Language Schools to hire the top quality faculty we need for the Language Schools in a market that is increasingly competitive, especially in Arabic and Chinese, but also in foreign languages overall," Geisler said. "So far we have been successful because of Middlebury's reputation for having the best language programs in the country, so many highly qualified faculty still come to the Summer Language Schools even though they could, in some cases find very competitive salaries elsewhere. In both Arabic and Chinese a complicating factor lies in the relative dearth of graduate degree programs in both languages,?compared to?the explosion in the numbers of students interested in studying one of those two languages."
To keep pace with the rise in student interest, departments like Arabic must continually recruit new members.
"We currently have three tenure-track positions, but with my resignation there are two," Masmoudi said. "We hired another lecturer for the fall. Last year we had a rise in interest. We turned away so many students. Every year we are hiring. We are witnessing a very high demand."
In spite of these challenges, Masmoudi said the College continues to attract highly qualified professors and aim for continuity in its programs.
"Middlebury is attracting very qualified people," she said. "It [continually] is important and it's a key element in growth and stability, but it is not easily achievable."
Maintaining continuity in regular academic year professors is vital to the success of students, Geisler said.
"For the academic year a stable faculty is crucial since they are the ones who build the curriculum over time, provide student advising, develop the major, etc," he said.
Geisler said the Language Schools have grown proactive in trying to recruit the best professors in languages.
"Language Schools faculty are hired by the directors of the individual schools," he said. "We try to find directors with a very large network of professional contacts and high visibility in the field. In addition, most directors attend major professional conferences, both nationally and internationally, and some also make recruitment trips to countries where the language is spoken in an effort to recruit qualified native speakers directly from there."
The College also tries to aid professors who come for language schools to adjust to the environment and minimize the inconvenience.
"In the summer, our reputation is a major drawing card," Geisler said. "In addition, Middlebury's scenic setting also helps us attract good faculty, since they can bring their families with them when they come here.? Summer faculty and staff?never experience the harshness of Vermont winters, except, of course, for those members of our summer facuilty who are also faculty members of Middlebury College during the academic year. The only major issue is the inaccessibility of the campus and the lack of public transportation."
Masmoudi, who has taught during summer and the regular academic year, acknowledged the challenges of adjusting to Vermont, such as removing snow from her car.
"It was a challenge when I came here first," she said. "The Arabic faculty is on their own, which is not easy. If there were more structure for incorporating new faculty so they feel a part of the community that might help."