By Emily Blackner
Job security is on many people’s minds with the current economic situation. Luckily for Professor Sean Meehan, his position is secure thanks to the Tenure and Promotion Committee’s decision to grant him tenure.
The tenure process at Washington College consists of evaluation by the committee, which is made up of other members of the faculty. Letters submitted by students about the professor also play a role in the decision.
“It’s very gratifying,” said Dr. Meehan. “I see it as a vote of support from my colleagues, people I respect. And there’s the sense of students supporting you.”
“There is also an external review by professors from other colleges that can comment on the type of scholarship I do,” he said. “That was very a meaningful part for me personally.”
The committee’s decision means that starting in the fall, Dr. Meehan will have the title of Associate Professor. Earning tenure also represents the commitment he has made to the College.
“Washington College is my academic home now,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next seven to 10 years and continuing to do what I love, but also being able to do some new things.”
Dr. Meehan’s work focuses on nonfiction and environmental writing and transcendentalism, about which he taught a course in the fall. His courses frequently use blogs and digital media to explore different kinds of writing and the impact of other media on literature. He is also the Director of Writing, coordinating the “Literature and Composition” (English 101) courses.
“I am working steadily on an Emerson project,” he said, referring to the 19th century author and essayist. “It’s an ongoing project, and new things keep emerging. He has ideas that relate both to education and learning, and I am exploring how those ideas relate to other writers he’s influenced. There’s a connection with William James that I hadn’t studied before, for instance.”
He plans to use this research in a book, but right now he said “the argument is still evolving.”
Dr. Meehan thinks it will incorporate Emerson’s views on teaching.
“[Emerson] focused on intellect and intelligence, and how schools can do bad things with it and how society devalues it. It is very relevant
to 21st century life.”
He also wants to edit a book offering advice about how to teach Emerson, getting submissions from other authors sharing their experiences.
“There are no books that address that,” he said. “There’s a need.”
Dr. Meehan has always been aware of the value of education. He completed his undergraduate studies in English at Princeton and then went to SUNY Buffalo for his master’s degree. Meehan’s doctorate came from the University of Iowa.
“I got my Ph. D. at a big research university, but I knew before I finished that I had to be in a small college teaching setting,” he said.
That is one of the things that he likes most about WC.
“I definitely like the liberal arts setting. We attract very good students who know about what we do here. They get what the liberal arts experience is about, and they come ready for the small classes, the discussions. I’m always impressed by that,” he said.
WC’s small setting would also allow him to do some collaborative work with students, which is something he’s interested in doing in the future.
“In the sciences, students frequently do research with the professors, but it’s harder in the humanities,” he said. “I’d like to do a project working closely with students who are interested in Emerson and Thoreau. The idea is to do more with students on research and writing; there’s a conference in Concord, Mass. I would like to be able to have students attend.”
Receiving tenure means that Dr. Meehan will have many years at WC to pursue these, and other, projects. The tenure committee evidently recognized in Dr. Meehan a love of learning and of teaching that makes him a valuable asset to the College.
“My definition of teaching is, a teacher is an advanced learner,” he said. “I’m in this business because I’m interested in learning.”