Chem Lecturer Fired, Department Adapts

By Megan McCurdy
Elm Staff Writer

It is not uncommon for Washington College to hire adjunct faculty members. It is, however, rather rare for the College to let go of one in the middle of a semester.

The decision to let James Watts go from the College came out of consultations between the chemistry department faculty and Provost and Dean of the College Emily Chamlee-Wright. As of Oct. 15, Watts’ position as lecturer in chemistry was terminated for his “failure in classroom performance” according to Alan Cheney of the Human Resources Department.

Because the situation demanded action sooner rather than later, the removal of a professor from the department left Watts’ former students and colleagues to adapt to the sudden changes following a plan they had established for such contingencies.

First and foremost, the department faculty worked to fill in the gaps left in the schedule.

“The reason we hired an adjunct in the fall was because Professor [Leslie] Sherman is on sabbatical this semester,” said Dr. Anne Marteel-Parrish, head of the chemistry department. In addition to requiring coverage for Dr. Sherman’s usual lecture and one general chemistry lab, Dr. Marteel-Parrish added that, “Because our number of students has grown tremendously, we had to open up more organic chemistry and general chemistry labs.”

With the influx of students enrolled in chemistry classes, “people were already on overload,” she said.

Lab instructor Betsy Moyer-Taylor, who already teaches four labs, picked up two of Watts’ labs– one additional organic and general chemistry lab for a total of six. With three small children at home, Moyer-Taylor has had to adjust to the extra workload.

“The good thing about small children is that they go to bed early. So nighttime is a good time for me to get a lot of work done. The first week I picked up the additional duties was most challenging because written reports were due in all six labs,” she said. “[But] sometimes being busier is better because you know you have to be productive all the time.”

Dr. Aaron Amick, who picked up another lab in addition to his already-full course load, was unable to meet for an interview because of his busy schedule.

The department faculty was not the only group impacted by the scheduling changes. In order to maintain the small size of the honors chemistry class, Dr. Marteel-Parris consulted with the honors students who wanted to keep the honors section separate from the other sections. The department and its students had to rearrange class schedules; one student in the honor section switched to a new section for a math class and one student switched out of the honor section due to scheduling conflicts with other classes.

Ashley Sowers, a sophomore in the honors chemistry class said, “I never had Watts as a professor, but I was affected by the schedule change. The honors section was changed from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.” While the change necessitated some students changing their schedules around, Sowers counted herself rather fortunate.

“I didn’t have to move any classes around, but it does make it difficult to get to lunch,” she said, something that she believes “isn’t really a big deal” in comparison to dealing with the difficulty of a professor who was not performing his duties.

For those students who were former students of Dr. Watts’, the change in professors and class structure halfway through the semester presented some anxiety and frustration.

Sophomore Rachel Dilliplane said, “My class time has not changed. I still have Dr. Lipchock for lab at the same time and Prof. Marteel is my lecture instructor. I’m annoyed that we are a full chapter behind the lab material, but that can’t really be helped.”

“My only complaint is that none of our grades with Watts are being carried over. Granted, Marteel doesn’t have access to all of Watts’ grades, but I was actually doing really well in Watts’ class and I’m annoyed to see all that work go down the drain.”

Dilliplane shared these concerns with others like her who had stayed up late to study for exams that will no longer count.

Dr. Marteel-Parrish said that these grades may not accurately reflect student performance due to the inordinately large number of bonus points that Watts awarded.

“In a class of 53 students, I highly doubt that this is a realistic portrayal of the true performance of each student,” she said.

Although it was a difficult decision, Dr. Marteel-Parrish felt the students’ needs came first and that it was important to pursue the course of action that would be best for them even if it put her on course overload. She hopes that the students appreciate the effort and plan put in place.

“Washington College is about excellence in teaching and receiving outstanding education,” she said. “We only move to plan B because we care about preparing our students for the future.”

Students are responding well and seem optimistic about the changes.
“I’m not really worried about the rest of the semester,” said Dilliplane. “I have a feeling it will be much smoother sailing from here on out.”

Despite the difficulties in rescheduling and filling in the gaps left by Watts, the supportive bond between the faculty members of the chemistry department has made the transition a relatively painless one.

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