Date: May 11, 2015
Interviewee: Ken Campbell
Interviewer/Transcriber: Professor Melissa Ziobro
“Monmouth is a special place.”
Dr. Ken Campbell came to Monmouth from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where he’d taught from 1982-1986. He had begun teaching at Vassar while still pursuing his doctorate, but was not on a tenure track line. His initial interview for the tenure track position at Monmouth occurred at a meeting of the American Historical Association, after which he was invited for an on-campus interview. He secured the position in 1986.
Upon arriving at Monmouth, some adjustments were required on Campbell’s part. He wasn’t used to having 35 students per class, as he would in many sections at Monmouth. At Vassar, he’d have 20 or 25 students per class. He had also enjoyed a 2/3 teaching load at Vassar, while at Monmouth he’d be required to teach a 4/4 (and often summer classes on top of that). Campbell also noted that he was expected to do a lot of service from the start at Monmouth, while at Vassar he had had more time to focus on his teaching. Still, he was glad he decided to come to Monmouth, because he felt more “invested” on a tenure track line. In Campbell’s eyes, Monmouth was a school with a lot of potential, and he wanted to help it achieve that potential. In retrospect, he has seen the school grow and does feel he has played a positive role- especially serving in positions such as Chair of the Department of History and Anthropology, Chair of Faculty Council, Chair of Undergraduate Studies, Dean of the Honors Program, Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Chair of the Middle States Committee.
Some of Dr. Campbell’s favorite courses to teach (although he noted that it is hard to pick) have included his Beatles course, Tudor and Stuart England, Historical Criticism, History of the British Isles, and Western Civ. Campbell feels it was a mistake for the school to allow students to take only one, instead of both, Western Civ courses. History, according to Campbell, is not like every other discipline. It is the foundation for all other disciplines. There’s a depth to it that requires two semesters- from “Plato to Nato,” these are all things that a college student should know in order to understand the human experience and go forth in the world. Ultimately, though, the two semester Western Civ requirement fell victim to general education reform as many involved in said reforms wanted to make room on curriculum charts for more courses in a student’s major
Tangentially linked, also, to curriculum charts was the History and Anthropology Department’s decision to reduce the number of graduate credits required from 36 to 30. Dr. Campbell notes that reducing the number of credits in this way helped facilitate the school’s new 5-year combined BA/MA program. The decision was also admissions driven. Our peer institutions were offering MA degrees in 30 credits. Aligning ourselves similarly allowed us to remain competitive.
On the topic of admissions, Campbell recalled that Monmouth struggled with recruitment during his first 5 or 6 years here. He remembers the school struggling to fill its freshman class (when the goal would have been about 400). There were some lean years and low morale- something President Rebecca Stafford (1993-2003) was determined to address. During her tenure, Monmouth went from being a College to a University. Campbell discusses how much excitement this bought to campus, although a few older faculty worried about losing the intimacy of a small college. Campbell feels, in retrospect, however, that it has been a very positive thing. Yes, the faculty has grown and relations might be less intimate than when Campbell started, when even the Provost recognized new hires by name. Yes, research expectations are much greater now—and older faculty might resent that change. Campbell thinks, nonetheless, that we have maintained our status as a teaching University and that we continue to offer personalized experiences to our students.
How does one balance all of the teaching, scholarship, and service Campbell has discussed? He takes a long-term view. Rather than thinking about how many hours per week he must devote to each (although he does do that, to a degree), his approach involves focusing on which is most important at a given stage in his career. For example, he started his career as a teacher. Course prep was critical. He did some writing and service during this period, but the first 1/3 of his career prioritized teaching. Then he shifted more to service, serving in the aforementioned administrative roles. As an administrator, you don’t ignore your classes or writing, but you’re working a 9-5 job that obviously takes precedence. In 2000, Dr. Campbell stepped down as Associate Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and became full-time faculty again. Now, he devotes much more time to his writing than ever before. He is proud to say that he has never missed a deadline for one of his books- a key is not setting unrealistic goals for yourself. In his words, “you can’t do it all all the time.” Faculty must remember to make time for themselves and their families as well.
Throughout the course of his interview, Campbell comments on past Presidents Magill (1980-1993), Stafford (1993-2003), Gaffney (2003-2013), and Brown (2013-present). He has particularly fond memories of President Stafford, the President with whom he worked most closely given his administrative positions during her tenure. Stafford, according to Campbell, really went out of her way to get to know the faculty. She would even host faculty dinners at her home. One year, she gave the faculty bonuses because the University came in under budget. Campbell also praised Stafford’s work to increase enrollment while raising admission standards- while this is no easy feat, Campbell truly believes academic rigor at Monmouth has increased notably since his arrival. We are accepting higher caliber students, and they are performing well (Campbell notes Monmouth’s task force on grade inflation, meant to ensure these good grades are indeed earned).
Other topics of note include the interviewee’s thoughts on the organizational structure of Monmouth, the role of adjunct and contingent faculty in higher education, and the future of online education at Monmouth. According to Campbell, Monmouth is poised to meet the challenges of the future because “Monmouth is a special place” and “students get something here that they don’t get other places.”