Born in Zimbabwe, Munemo comes to Hamilton from Williams College, where his roles included professor of political science, chair of the Global Studies Program, and, most recently, interim vice president for institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and master’s degrees and a doctorate from Columbia University, Munemo served as a visiting instructor at the College of William and Mary before joining the Williams faculty in 2007. He has taught courses ranging from contemporary African politics to democratization and institution building, and is the author of several academic articles and the book Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa (2012).
Munemo served on a range of committees at Williams, including chair of the Faculty Steering Committee responsible for representing faculty concerns. At Hamilton, he is charged with supporting faculty scholarship and development, promoting excellent teaching in the classroom, enhancing curricular innovation, incorporating diversity and inclusion across academic domains, and supporting the academic success of students. He also holds a position as professor of government.
Now that he’s been in the dean’s position for a few months, we asked him a few questions about his initial impressions of Hamilton.
From Bard to Williams, you’ve been drawn to liberal arts colleges. What led you to Hamilton?
I reached a moment in my career where I had a choice — go back to being a faculty member or consider administrative roles. I initially didn’t know which to pick, so I pursued both. I actually found out I had been selected as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to South Africa the day before my first interview with the search committee at Hamilton. The College’s motto [Know Thyself] really pulled me in. Of course, the purpose of education is to find ways to think beyond oneself, but one must start with the self. The liberal arts allows for that journey, from the inner to the outer, and I find it interesting to think about what kind of a liberal arts experience best prepares students for lives in a complex and always-changing world. During my interviews and campus visits, the deep commitment of the faculty to the educational mission was clear, and I knew this was a place where I could see myself.
What are your thoughts on Hamilton’s open curriculum?
The open curriculum is ideal for the very curious, inquisitive, and self-starting student, one who is open to the breadth of courses offered and willing to see where they may lead. That is who I met at the matriculation ceremony [in the Kirkland Cottage] — students who showed intellectual curiosity and expressed a willingness to try a whole host of things.
On the faculty side, the open curriculum similarly requires an open mind and a willingness to engage in deep conversation with students, offering the occasional nudge or even some cajoling as faculty help students develop an overall coherence and clear trajectory for the courses they are taking. As the new ALEX [Advise Learn, EXperience] program evolves, students will have an expanded network of advisors they can connect with, which will only help them both take advantage of the open curriculum and find their own paths in and through it.
Hamilton has seen quite a few faculty retirements over the past five-10 years. What can you say regarding attracting the finest teacher-scholars to Hamilton?
Renewal is essential for any community of learning. We are accustomed to thinking about renewal on the student side — a new class arrives every year as another one leaves. It can make us nervous when the renewal is on the faculty side. On one hand, with a shift [in the faculty] a wealth of knowledge is lost. Retaining that institutional and scholarly memory, making sure it’s woven into who we are and how we continue, is important for our students and our mission.
But it’s an exciting time, too. We need the scholarship, creative work, and new ways of thinking about old questions that come with people who more recently earned their advanced degrees. This brings us back to our motto of knowing thyself — how do we prepare students for engagement in the 21st century? I am lucky to come in at a moment when so much incredible work has already been underway to recruit a phenomenal faculty. It’s imperative that we continue the momentum of developing a generous program of startups so [new faculty] can launch their scholarly and creative projects when they arrive.
Similarly, what are your thoughts on retaining top faculty?
The first step is understanding the full retention picture at Hamilton over the past 15 to 20 years, while always recognizing that departures are multivocal moments. There is a lot we can learn from the specifics of individual circumstances, which might help us approach with more creativity some of the commonly cited factors, such as an opportunity elsewhere that could advance someone’s career or opportunities for a faculty member’s spouse or partner. Making headway on retention requires us to be mindful of faculty members’ overall experiences, including the experiences of faculty within their own departments and the wider campus context.
Among your many duties, for the past six years, you’ve served in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) roles at Williams. How will that inform your work as dean at Hamilton?
Issues of equity and inclusion are always front of my mind and woven into how I think about my role. I am ever mindful that we have yet to live up to our aspiration to become a community where those who teach our students reflect the full range of diversity of the society in which we are embedded. This means there is still much knowledge and experience we lack — ideas and frameworks we don’t yet have access to. I believe acknowledging this fact and maintaining a commitment to addressing it are integral to my work as dean of faculty, and I appreciate the urgency of the younger generation, in particular, to continue moving on a path of recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and staff. But while this mindset informs all of my work, I also believe my work must go beyond that. We have all heard national conversations around DEI on college campuses that frame it as a zero-sum game, where some populations and viewpoints ultimately lose out. I don’t buy that. Our work is to add, rather than remove. We can, and we must, work harder to be the community we aspire to be.
You’ve published on a range of subjects. How did you arrive at your research interests and career in higher education?
I was raised by my grandparents. My grandmother taught primary school for almost 50 years. My grandfather’s first job was as a teacher and then a headmaster. Education was their priority, and they were proud to send me to the University of Zimbabwe. There I encountered two politics professors who took me under their wing. One even invited me to join a weekly seminar with his colleagues as faculty shared their research. During my final year, I was invited to participate in a year-long exchange program at Bard, where I worked with incredible faculty mentors and met the woman who would become my wife. I returned home and worked for six months, but went back to Bard in 2000 to finish my undergraduate degree. I had the opportunity to write a senior project — mine was about the evolution of African education in colonial Zimbabwe — which gave me a taste of the kind of research I wanted to do in the longer term. At Columbia, my Ph.D. dissertation focused on drought and famine relief, the project that informed my first book. My current research involves understanding the cause of persistent student protests in higher education in South Africa. But beyond my research, I have loved my time in the classroom and advising students one on one. That connection to what drew me to the liberal arts in the first place — interacting with students — remains at the heart of my work today, with faculty at Hamilton.