James H. Ottoway Sr. Visitng Professorship is kicking off the spring semester with visiting professor Jelani Cobb from Columbia University.
To enroll in the Ottoway Seminar, a student requires Department Chair approval, as the program is supposed to happen at the end of a student’s career at SUNY New Paltz. Lower-level students may take the program, but a student needs to exhibit sharp skills and strong passion. This interdisciplinary class can include a group of students with varying majors. Digital Media and Journalism students may have priority, but the program is extended to students majoring in history, sociology and even the honors program.
Although the Ottoway Program maintains its prestige, it is in no way out of reach. Typically, everyone who would wish to participate in the program can get the chance.
The Ottoway committee consists of seven faculty members including: Professor James Gormley, Professor Lisa Phillips, Professor Gregory Bray, Professor Rachel Somerstein, Professor Patricia Sullivan, Chief of Staff and Vice President of Communications Shelly Wright and Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Erica Marks. The committee receives recommendations from colleagues and recommends students as well.
Specifically, Somerstein, the search coordinator of the program, explained her search method as “reaching out to people who are doing exciting stuff.” Somerstein voiced her understanding toward unavailable professors, as taking off of work to teach a course requires a solid standing in his or her career. Sure enough, the program is in the process of tweaking the professorship into holding a higher incentive regarding salary. To further the process, they are looking into launching some targeted advertising to spark the spread of the program.
In her search for this semester’s visiting professor, Somerstein reached out to Cobb in the fall of 2017 when she first became search coordinator.
“He does really interesting and important work as a public intellectual on race and culture,” Somerstein said, “I was personally interested in his work in the way he writes and talks about current events with historian knowledge. He honored us by applying.”
After interviewing a group of people, the committee believed that “far and away, he stood out as the best and we’re extremely fortunate that he accepted,” Somerstein said. “Cobb brings a perspective on journalism through a historian scope, widening the minds of students.”
This semester, Cobb will be teaching a one-credit course called “The First Draft of History,” which will explore journalism through a cultural eye and will assist students in using historical ideals to create a timeline of events within the news.
Students will have a chance to listen to Cobb speak on “The Half Life of Freedom: Race and the Evasion of American History” on Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. in Lecture Center 102 and on April 11 at 4:30 p.m. in the Honors Center during his Q & A with President Donald P. Christian.