Despite a letter of protest from students and his application for a tenure-track position at the college, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance and Postdoctoral Fellow Gregory King will be leaving Swarthmore at the end of the 2015-16 academic year.
King, a former Broadway dancer, was hired to begin teaching courses in the 2014-15 academic year, and his position was funded by a fellowship grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowship is intended for scholars who have been awarded a Ph.D. or M.F.A. no later than the beginning of the fellowship year and no earlier than five years before the beginning of the fellowship year. Fellows receive compensation commensurate with the salary of a full-time, one-year faculty member with comparable qualifications, and “…modest funds” are available to finance proposed research, mentoring, and scholarship.
At Swarthmore, King has taught all three levels of modern dance and Introduction to Laban Movement Analysis. His unique teaching style within the Department of Music and Dance has gained him a small but loyal following of students. Jong Seok Lee ’17 is one of these students. He began taking modern dance in the Spring of 2015 and has taken a dance course with Gregory every semester since.
“….all the dance majors just say that [King] is overqualified for Swarthmore because he just has so much experience teaching. He used to teach at Boston Ballet, so we’re very fortunate to have him. I don’t know if I’m going to take a modern class after he leaves,” Lee said.
While King’s fellowship only lasted for two academic years, he was interested in extending his time at Swarthmore. On the Faculty Diversity & Excellence page of the Swarthmore website, a description of the fellowship states, “… many CFD candidates are qualified for tenure track searches,” and King applied for a tenure track position that opened up during his time at the college: one to replace Professor Sharon Friedler, who has been Director of the Dance Program since 1985.
Associate Professor Olivia Sabee was hired to fill Friedler’s position in the department, not King. According to Associate Professor of Music Barbara Milewski, who was chair of the department during the Spring 2015 search process, King was ultimately not selected for the position because his experiences were not closely aligned enough with the curricular needs of the department.
“ … [we] felt strongly that Olivia Sabee, who we hired, would provide the department with expertise that would maintain a robust, comprehensive dance curriculum. We were searching for an exceptional dance scholar [and] practitioner and we felt Professor Sabee’s training and experience matched our criteria as closely as possible,” Milewski said.
King said that members of the search committee explicitly told him that he was not being considered for the position because he held an M.F.A. instead of a Ph.D.
“I applied. They told me I was not being considered for the position because they wanted someone with a Ph.D. … When I applied [for the tenure-track position], they sent me an email saying they wanted to meet with me, and I went to the office and [the search committee] said ‘Out of professional courtesy, you are not being considered for these reasons,’” King said.
King felt that his qualifications did not match up with the qualifications the department was looking for, and this explained why he was not selected for the tenure-track position.
“I understand, especially at an institution like this, [that] most of the hires are Ph.D.s because, in terms of core curriculum, it’s not practice-based. With my M.F.A., it may be limiting, but at the same time, I believe that within my M.F.A. there are lots of theory classes that could be taught … but I do believe, culturally, Swarthmore is definitely Ph.D. driven, and I get that,” King said. While he appreciates the academic nature of the department and of Swarthmore academics in general, and feels that the environment has made him a better teacher, King expressed that the department could be doing much more for its students.
“…[the department] has to shift how people view [their] craft. I wanted that very much to happen… because it’s not just about shuckin’ and jiving and twerking. I struggled really hard to make sure people grabbed something and held on to something so that when I leave, they can go, ‘Okay, he gave me something,’ or, ‘He shared something with me,” King said.
Even though it is almost certain that King will not be teaching at Swarthmore during the 2016-17 academic year, several of his students have attempted to convince the college that he should stay.
Amelia Estrada ’17, an honors dance major, spearheaded an effort to keep Gregory oncampus during the Fall 2015 semester, after the selection process for Friedler’s replacement had occurred. Estrada said she spoke with Daniel Underhill Professor of Music and Chair Thomas Whitman ’82 about King’s ability to remain at the college and also wrote him a letter explaining her rationale. In the letter, Estrada said that King adds a higher level of practice to the department, an element that she feels had been severely lacking in the dance department prior to his arrival. She also cited King’s presence as the primary reason she decided to pursue a major in Dance.
“More than anything, [King] awakened my passion for studying dance both in the studio and the classroom. Losing Gregory would be a grave detriment to the department and to Swarthmore College,” she wrote.
Estrada said that Whitman told her the size of the Department of Music and Dance limited the amount of funds that could be allocated for new hires. According to Whitman, reported Estrada, if funds were available for a new faculty member in any area of the college, they would go to a new Computer Science hire before a new Dance hire, because of student-faculty ratio concerns. Estrada also expressed concern that the department’s desire for a faculty member with a particular degree influenced the hiring decision.
“In the world of dance … an M.F.A. is considered a terminal degree just as much as a Ph.D. is, but there’s no Ph.D. in choreography, at least in this country … so people with M.F.A.s at schools with larger dance departments do get full-time tenured faculty positions because at schools with larger arts programs, it’s a little more recognized. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of pressure at [small schools] to hire Ph.D.s,” she said.
Whitman said that he was very grateful for Estrada’s letter, but was powerless to change the decision not to keep King at Swarthmore.
“I can’t wave my hands and create a new budget line for a dance faculty member. I don’t have that authority. Nobody has that authority,” he said. Whitman could not offer any information about any position openings for a modern dance professor within the department of music and dance and had no knowledge of King applying for a tenure-track position since he assumed the role of chair in July of 2015.
As it stands, King is considering offers from other institutions, and his students at Swarthmore will miss his presence on campus.
“We really wish that [King] could stay, and it’s definitely disappointing,” Estrada said.