At St. John’s, the teaching members of the faculty are called tutors. The title professor is avoided to signify that it is not the chief role of the tutors to expound doctrines in their field of expertise. Instead, learning is a cooperative enterprise carried out in small groups with persons at different stages of learning working together. All participants in a class are expected to prepare for their discussion by studying the text that is the principal teacher of the class it might be Plato or Newton or Jane Austen or one of the other authors who wrote from the high point of their learning.
What then is the role of the reading and talking teachers, the tutors? First of all, they should be good questioners, able to raise important issues that will engage the intellectual and imaginative powers of their students. Next, they must be good listeners, able to determine the difficulties of their students and to help them to reformulate their observations and examine their opinions. The tutors should be ready to supply helpful examples and to encourage students to examine the implications of their first attempts at understanding. In summary, the role of the tutors is to question, to listen and to help. The help might take the form of translation, experimentation, demonstration or explanation, but first of all the tutor will call on the students to try to help themselves.
In order that conversations at St. John’s will not be limited to what fits neatly inside a single discipline, it is essential that St. John’s tutors re-educate themselves to acquire increased understanding in those parts of the Program that are outside their field of post-graduate training. For example, tutors with advanced degrees in mathematics would prepare themselves to lead language tutorials requiring translations from Sophocles or Racine.
The advantage of this for students is that they are under the guidance of active learners who will not parry their far-ranging questions with the reply that these matters are handled in another department. There are no departments! The advantage of this for tutors is that they are involved with a variety of works of such richness that they are continually tempted to strive for greater comprehension of them. Some tutors do find time to write articles and books, but their first duty is to prepare themselves to teach the St. John’s Program. This preparation is necessarily demanding because no full-time tutor is confined to a single part of the Program. They are, and have to be, teaching members of a seminar and of either two tutorials or of one tutorial and a laboratory section, and they are continually teaching their colleagues and learning from them.
It is important that tutors have time to probe more deeply into the foundations and wider contexts of what is studied at St. John’s than the preparation for classes usually allows. In order to avoid staleness and the ever-present danger of succumbing to routine performance, they are granted sabbatical leaves to allow for leisure and serious study. Between sabbatical leaves, faculty study groups are set up. Leaders of such groups are sometimes relieved of part of their ordinary teaching duties. The groups engage in a thorough study and exploration of a subject chosen by themselves or the Instruction Committee of the faculty. Scholars from other institutions may join the group for certain periods. Although the subject under study may not be directly related to the St. John’s curriculum, the work of the study groups opens new perspectives for teaching and learning at St. John’s.
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Applications begin with assembly of an application file. This is complete when it contains the following materials:
A preliminary visit to the college can sometimes be arranged, but this is in no sense a requirement, and it cannot be regarded as a substitute for the formal interview (visit described below).
As part of the application procedure, the dean or subcommittee for faculty appointments may also choose to correspond with candidates who are being seriously considered for appointment.
When the likelihood of a new appointment arises, the dean, with the help of a faculty committee, reviews the completed application files and selects applicants to be invited for a formal interview visit. This customarily takes two days, including a Monday or Thursday evening (to permit a visit to a seminar). The college provides food and lodging on campus, and one-half of transportation costs. The visit includes several opportunities to audit classes and to converse informally with students and faculty. It also includes a leisurely, formal interview with the Instruction Committee, the faculty committee charged with making appointment recommendations to the president.
St. John’s College is an equal opportunity employer.
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Matthew K. Davis, Dean of the College in Santa Fe
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