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About Grinnell (some draft notes for external reviewers)

Part of the ongoing series Things I was going to write already.

I recently wrote a prologue to this piece [1]. In case you’ve forgotten, I think the College needs a description of Grinnell that can be used for external reviews, and I’ve been enough of a pain that I now get to write that description.

Here’s what I’ve come up with. It is based closely on the text we used in our prior review. I appreciate any comments and criticisms you wish to provide [2]. I expect that no matter what I write, it will also get modified by the Dean’s office and by Council [3]. I did not have fun trying to look up numbers, such as the number of departments, majors, or trustees. It doesn’t help that some of the information online is not quite accurate, such as a list of departments that includes Biological Chemistry [4]. It also seems that some numbers have changed significantly. The prior text said, The College is governed by a Board of forty-eight trustees, forty-one of whom are alumni of the College. The Web site now says that The board consists of not less than 16 and not more than 32 regular members, at least one-quarter (1/4) of whom are alumni or alumnae of the College. [5] I count 27, all but five of whom are alums.

Now that I’ve written it, it feels a bit long. But it strikes me that the data and information need to be there somewhere. It’s probably better to have this information in one place, rather than making reviewers seek it out [6]. Even with the length, there may also be things missing. For example, I wonder if I should list one of the many lists of learning goals that the College provides. I should probably run it by Henry Walker, who has done more external reviews than anyone I know.

Founded in 1846, Grinnell College is a highly selective, residential, nonsectarian, undergraduate institution offering the Bachelor of Arts degree in twenty-seven major fields. Our mission is to graduate liberally educated people who apply their understanding and ability for the common good.

In its early history, the College developed a thoughtfully progressive tradition in forming the structure and character of its student body and its curriculum. In 1857 the College became coeducational; it awarded its first bachelor of arts degree to a woman in 1857 and to an African American in 1871. Grinnell established the first major in political science in 1883 and pioneered the 3-2 program in engineering in the 1930s. To maintain cultural and socioeconomic diversity in its student body, Grinnell maintains a completely need-blind admission policy: Students are admitted solely on the basis of their academic qualifications and the College meets the full demonstrated financial need of all admitted domestic students.

The College now enrolls approximately 1650 highly qualified students from across the U.S. and about forty foreign countries. Domestic students of color make up 25% of the student body and international students make up another 20%. Grinnell provides an outstanding liberal-arts education stressing academic excellence and social responsibility. These priorities are reflected in Grinnell’s low student-faculty ratio (9:1), small classes (average class size of 18), and its individually advised curriculum. We have about 200 full-time faculty (160 tenure-line), almost all of whom hold the Ph.D. or terminal degree in their fields.

The College is governed by a Board of not less than 16 and not more than 32 regular members, at least one-quarter (1/4) of whom are alumni or alumnae of the College. Currently, approximately 80% of the Trustees are alumni or alumnae of the College. Our extraordinarily strong endowment reflects the trustees’ financial acumen, dedication, and faithful service. The Board holds three regular meetings during the academic year, an occasional retreat during the summer months, and monthly conference calls.

Executive authority for all administrative functions and decisions throughout the College is vested in the President. The Academic Affairs Office, headed by the Dean of the College (who also has the title of Vice-President for Academic Affairs), is responsible for support and coordination of the academic program. The Dean serves the roles associated with the Provost at institutions with a Provost. The Dean is aided by three Associate Deans selected from the regular faculty who serve as full-time members of the Dean’s office staff. The normal term for Associate Deans is three years.

The two central governing committees of the faculty are the Executive Council and the Personnel Committee. All non-administrative faculty members on these committees are elected representatives of the faculty. The Executive Council determines matters of academic policy and college-wide governance. The Personnel Committee makes recommendations to the Dean of the College and the President concerning faculty contract renewals, tenure, and promotions. Together, Executive Council and the Personnel Committee have responsibility for determining faculty raises (based on the available pool for raises). The Chair of the Faculty, who is elected by the faculty for a two-year term, serves on both committees.

The College’s academic programs are organized into three divisions (Humanities, Science, and Social Studies), comprising twenty-five departments. Each Division has an elected Division Chair who represents the Division on Executive Council and an elected representative to the Personnel Committee. Two members of Executive Council and two members of Personnel are at-large members. All faculty members of Council also represent the faculty as a whole. Division chairs, Personnel committee representatives, and at-large members of both committees serve two-year terms.

Department chairs are typically elected for three-year terms. In most cases, chairs do not serve two subsequent terms.

Grinnell does not have general education requirements beyond the First-Year Tutorial, a course which builds student skills in college-level work. While students are required to take 124 credits and maintain a cumulative grade-point average of at least 2.0 to graduate, the particulars of each student’s education are negotiated individually. Students and their faculty advisors craft an appropriate program of study which includes both a broad liberal education and the requirements for a major. Four credits are awarded for most College courses and students normally graduate after eight semesters of study, so students generally enroll for four courses each semester. While the College does not impose general education requirements, it does limit the number of credits that count toward the required 124 credits; a student may count no more than forty-eight credits for work in any one department, even their major department, nor more than ninety-two credits in any division.

Students typically declare majors in their third or fourth semester at the College. Most majors are tied to individual departments. The College also offers a few non-departmental majors, including General Science, Biological Chemistry, and Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. A few students design and complete independent majors, which are individually evaluated and approved by the Academic Affairs Office. Approximately one-third of Grinnell students complete two majors. It is also common to combine a major with an interdisciplinary concentration consisting of thematically related courses drawn from several departments. The College currently offers thirteen such concentrations, each overseen by a faculty committee organized for that purpose.

Majors at Grinnell typically consist of 32 credits of course work, the equivalent of eight regular courses. Some departments tacitly increase the effective minimum by requiring courses with prerequisites. For example, many sciences require some level of Calculus or Statistics which they do not count as part of those 32 credits and some departments do not count the 100-level courses as part of the 32 credits.

Faculty, rather than professional staff, serve as students’ primary advisors. Before students declare a major, their advisor is typically their Tutorial professor. Once they declare a major, their advisor is typically a member of their major department. Students with multiple majors have one advisor per major.

Grinnell has recently initiated two large-scale curricular initiatives. The Research Opportunities for All initiative provides each student with the opportunity for a significant research experience within their major. Departments choose the appropriate kinds of opportunities for their students. Experiences range from full-time summer research projects, to projects in semester-long seminars or independent studies, to multi-week projects that serve as the capstone of an upper-division course. The Global Grinnell initiative seeks to connect students’ education to the broader world. Among other things, Global Grinnell has supported increased levels of course-embedded travel, with week-long trips included as part of the course curriculum.

Grinnell has also been expanding the connections between its Curricular and Co-Curricular programs. The Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS) provides an advisor for each student, tied to the students’ Tutorial. CLS also provides a variety of Career Communities that provide common advising on students with similar interests. The College’s Office of Student Affairs is also exploring ways to better integrate students’ curricular and co-curricular experiences, with a variety of models currently underway.

The normal teaching load for a full-time faculty member is five courses per year. Faculty in the traditional lab sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Biological Chemistry, and Psychology) typically receive one-half course teaching credit for laboratories and one-and-a-half course credits for combined class/laboratory courses. Many faculty members receive course reductions to compensate either for exceptional administrative responsibilities. For instance, chairing a department typically provides two course reductions over the three-year term of service, chairing a division provides an annual course reduction, and directing a major program typically provides two or three course reductions per year.

The average faculty advising load is twelve students, although some faculty members take on significantly more, particularly in years in which they are teaching Tutorial.

The Grinnell College campus covers 120 acres, with sixty-three buildings, of which nineteen are student residence halls. The College also owns and operates a 365-acre environmental research area, comprising several distinct ecosystems, located approximately fourteen miles from central campus. Campus buildings range in age from Goodnow Hall, built in 1885 and most recently renovated in 1996, to several recent constructions: four East Campus residence halls (2004); the Bear athletic facility (2005); the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (2006); and a major expansion of the Noyce Science Center (2007). The College is currently building an expanded Humanities and Social Science Complex and a new Admissions Center.

[1] In this case, recently means the same day I wrote this piece. That wasn’t my intent, but that’s how things happened.

[2] Even if they take the tone of my normal comments and criticisms.

[3] Hopefully, for the better.

[4] Click on Departments under


[6] Okay, I’ll admit that I don’t think we need a paragraph on the Trustees. But it was in the old version, so I’m keeping it here. Maybe someone else can choose to remove it.

Version 1.0 released 2018-02-18.

Version 1.0.2 of 2018-02-19.