When Dr. Jerome Wenger retired last spring, the Biology Department began to search for his replacement. The process had officially started back in the Fall of 2014, when the college sent out advertisements to publications such as science magazines and journals, “The Chronicle of Higher Education,” and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ advertising website.
The search for the new faculty member extended through the summer as more candidates applied, and three candidates finally got invited to campus for an interview.
Dr. Wenger had been on the faculty since 1972, retiring as the Professor of Biology. His focus on the Biology Department encompasses environmental biology and whole organisms. Wenger’s colleagues Dr. Tim Morris and Dr. Richard Nelson specialize in molecular and cellular biology respectively, leaving the environmental track unmanned.
As one of the bigger departments on campus, the Biology Department has a current number of about 110-120 advisees. While Dr. Wenger and an adjunct Professor, Dr. Stephen Barnett, currently help teach classes, the workload and amount of advising to do for the two faculty members still in place is quite significant.
The challenge of hiring a new faculty member, according to Dr. Nelson, is Covenant’s position as a college with particular Reformed distinctive.
“We need not just any biologist, but somebody in a particular sub discipline, who’s a Christian and can understand and resonate with our distinctives. It narrows the pool,” said Dr. Nelson.
The campus interview is one of the final parts of the searching process. This extensive interview extends well into two days, with candidates meeting with members of the Board, the President, the Faculty Status Committee, Faculty Development, Human Resources, and several others. The candidates are also asked to give teaching demonstrations and a research seminar.
According to Dr. Nelson, the hiring process in Covenant is quite extensive compared to other universities, especially with so many pieces that have to fit. The department is looking for someone who teaches well, has an evidence of Christian commitment, a strong inclination towards integration of faith and discipline, and is open to responding to the Westminster Confession of Faith.
“As you know, there are people on campus who aren’t PCA,” Dr. Nelson said, explaining that the candidates don’t have to be from a PCA background.
While Dr. Nelson admitted that it would be good to have a diversification of faculty, the department has to take a broad approach in seeking candidates, especially with such a small pool to draw from.
As for the hope for the future of the Biology Department, Dr. Nelson said that they had hoped that the environmental track of the major will stay strong, even though most students in the department tend to veer towards the biomedical and health professional tracks.
Hiring a new faculty member with a different specialization will also open opportunities for exciting classes for both Biology majors and non-majors.
When asked about his favorite part about being in the Biology department, Dr. Nelson smiled and said, “that’s an easy answer.”
“My colleagues and my students are my favorite part. They’re a wonderful group of people to work with. It’s nice to share the same interest and also share a common faith,” ended Dr. Nelson.