An Open Letter on Changes in the Size of the Faculty

An Open Letter on Changes in the Size of the Faculty

An Open Letter on Changes in the Size of the Faculty

February 27, 2008

Smith has historically operated, like most colleges, with a set number of faculty positions. In 1999, Smith moved from a teaching load policy in which faculty taught five courses a year to one in which they taught four courses a year. A decision was made shortly thereafter to lift the limit on the size of the faculty, and the faculty grew very quickly; in just three years, we added 32 new positions (including positions for engineering, a new program). Not all of these positions were intended to represent permanent growth of the faculty; some anticipated retirements, and some were opportunistic hires intended to diversify the faculty in advance of an opening.

In the financial downturn of 2001–02, it became clear that the college could not fiscally sustain a faculty of that size, and the decision was made to return the faculty to its traditional size (plus 10 positions for engineering) and to reinstitute a limit or cap on the number of faculty positions. We created an early retirement plan to help us achieve that goal. Reductions like the ones we are making are never easy, and they have taken longer to achieve than anticipated. We have already achieved a reduction of 17 positions; we have eight more to go to reach the size that is fiscally sustainable in the long run — 285 positions, representing a student/faculty ratio of 9/1 — one of the lowest in higher education and equivalent to that of our peers. We have been using budget surpluses over the past two years to smooth the process of transition.

In a series of discussions with department chairs and program directors this fall, faculty asked that we create an open process for consideration of the final eight reductions. The process that we agreed upon is the following: the Provost identified a number of possible positions, far longer than the eight required; CAP, or the Committee on Academic Priorities, reduced that list and has invited departments remaining on it to meet with the committee, from which it will identify the remaining eight positions (some of which may be half positions).

In weighing the shifting of faculty positions — which goes on regularly, as student interests shift and as new fields of scholarship develop — we consider a number of factors: course enrollments, number of majors, the needs of the curriculum, areas of Smith’s distinctive strength and emphasis, emerging fields of study (like art and technology, for example, or environmental science), and impact on diversity. In keeping with the Common Ground recommendations, The Provost, CAP and I consider diversity seriously whenever we approve the set of faculty searches for the coming year, identifying fields where we think the pool of candidates is likely to be diverse. Since we began the reductions of the faculty in 2004, we have made tenure-track appointments in Afro-American Studies, Anthropology, East Asian Studies, East Asian Languages and Literature, History, Psychology, Religion, and Spanish and Portuguese that have added to the diversity of the faculty.

Carol T. Christ