Swarthmore College letter

Fall 1997

The following is a letter written by Prof. Charles Grinstead of Swarthmore College. As Charles explains in the letter, in the Fall of 1997, I was given the opportunity to apply for a one-year extension of my position as Visiting Assistant Professor at Swarthmore. Swarthmore does not have a regular method for gathering student evaluations, except when positions are being renewed. (Typically, during a tenure-track person's junior review and when a person is up for tenure.) The result of my review was that I was offered the extension, and I stayed at Swarthmore for the 1998-99 academic year. By the way, the department was extremely nice by telling me I could stay all the way back in October, but not requiring me to give them an answer/commitment until late in the spring (perhaps it was even early summer...) This letter allows me to at least post some recent student evaluations. If you need to see more, please contact the Swarthmore Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Here's the letter:

November 22, 1997

I am writing to you concerning the qualifications of Chris Towse, who is a member of our department and is applying for a position in your department. We hired Chris in the spring of 1996 for a two-year leave-replacement position, commencing in the fall of that year. He was chosen from among more than 300 applicants for the position. This fall, our department decided that because of the current state of the job market, it would be helpful to Chris if we could review his performance at Swarthmore, and if the results were positive, offer him the option of staying for another year. In this way, during the current academic year, he could try to find a more permanent position, and if nothing satisfactory was found, he could try again during the next academic year.

For this review, letters were solicited from all of the members of our department and from over 40 of his students. The student letters were uniformly positive, and most were enthusiastic. I would add that Chris has taught several courses, such as several-variable Calculus and Differential Equations, that are populated primarily by Chemistry, Engineering, and Physics majors. Thus, many of the students in these classes are there because of the requirements of their major department. Yet the letters from these students were as good as from the courses, such as the Algebra seminar and Honors Linear Algebra, that are populated primarily by mathematics majors.

The members of our department were also asked to write about Chris, and once again, the letters were uniformly positive. As a result, Chris has been offered a one-year extension here at Swarthmore, should he not get a more permanent job elsewhere.

I will now give some excerpts from the student letters.

``It is difficult for me to express how much I owe to Chris. It is thanks to him that I have a love of mathematics. A string of disappointing math teachers in high school dulled my enjoyment of mathematics... After a semester with Chris, I cared about math again for its own sake. Chris' love of his subject comes through so clearly in his words and his lessons that it is infectious. He is a proficient teacher who does his best to make sure students understand before moving on."

``Professor Towse's teaching has been excellent. I appreciate both his lectures and his explanations of material in his office hours. His lectures are very prepared, organized, and clear... Even the most base question receives attention and is thoroughly answered... While many professors do well teaching to an advanced group of students, Professor Towse has shown himself to have respect for the needs of students who are not Mathematics majors."

``Quite simply, I feel strongly that Swarthmore would be lucky to have him in a more permanent position, let alone for one more year... he was instrumental in triggering my interest in mathematics. His teaching style was dynamic and personal, and he was excellent at translating complex mathematical ideas into more `learnable' terms. Above all, though, what struck me about Professor Towse was his love for math, a love that came through in class. His excitement was contagious; I would leave class feeling good about math...

``I was in a Math 5 [first-semester Calculus] class he taught and enjoyed his enthusiasm for math teaching, and the clarity with which he presented the material. He took an interest in my personal progress and encouraged me. The environment in the classroom was instructional, yet relaxed..."

``I urge you [to] hold onto Chris Towse as long as possible. He is a careful, patient, and skillful teacher...I particularly remember the meetings I had with him outside of class: instructional meetings more productive than I have had with any other professor... Chris' approach in these sessions--the care he took--allowed him to understand my questions well...In seminar, Chris was the same way: listening carefully to students' questions and rarely misunderstanding them."

``A failure to keep Professor Towse at Swarthmore for as long as possible would be a mistake...as a clinician [someone who works in our Math Clinic; a tutoring service for students in mathematics courses] I know that Chris beats the department median thumbs up/thumbs down ratio even from calculus and differential equations students who are just taking the course because they have to. Chris is witty, excited, energetic, and friendly. He explains concepts with clarity and is well-tuned to his audience."

``Throughout the semester, Professor Towse was very accessible and held consistent office hours. When students struggled before exams, he would volunteer to hold extra office hours...Professor Towse created an amiable atmosphere within our class."

``I have only good things to say about Professor Towse. His dynamic personality makes his lectures a pleasure to listen to; his enthusiasm for his subject rubs off and makes it easy to become enthusiastic about the subject oneself."


My colleagues and I are very impressed with Chris' ability to inspire and excite our students. We are all very happy that he is here, and I am sure that were we to have a tenure track position available, he would be a strong candidate for that position. We have given him an extension for a year, but we hope that he can find a more permanent position elsewhere. If your department is looking for someone who is a committed, gifted, and inspiring teacher, you should look closely at Chris Towse.


Charles M. Grinstead
Acting Chair
Department of Mathematics and Statistics