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Faculty Lines and Zero-Sum Games

A little more than a week ago, one of the cover stories on the latest Scarlet and Black [1] was titled GWSS Students Request Tenured Professor [3]. A few folks have said to me Sam, CS needs a tenure-track faculty member more than GWSS. While we definitely need more CS faculty (more on that later), I also think the needs in GWSS are fairly severe. GWSS has a strange state at the College; it’s a major, but not a department. Hence, there are some faculty members who teach part-time in the department, and the two primary faculty members in the department are officially in English. Those two faculty members are tenured. One currently serves as Assistant Vice President for Diversity. The other is on long-term leave. The College is filling in with a variety of term people, senior lecturers, and faculty who can teach GWSS. However, it’s not quite the same thing. As the students note, for advising, you really want a full-time faculty member. And, while our AVPD [5] does serve as an advisor, she has a lot of other roles and a difficult job. We also have a reasonably large number of GWSS majors, 32 at last count [6,7].

But here’s the problem. A few years ago, the Trustees decided that since we were not growing the student body [8], we should also have a fixed number of faculty lines. From some perspectives, that makes a lot of sense. If you make no other changes, the same number of faculty should be able to serve the same number of students. However, we have made a number of changes in the time that I’ve been at Grinnell. We’ve gone from one associate dean to three [9]. We’ve added a number of centers, each of which includes fairly significant course reductions. We’ve added at least two positions (Director of CTLA and the new Assistant VP for Global Education) that are essentially administrative positions and that take a faculty member out of the classroom. We’ve instituted policies that increase faculty leave. And I’ve probably left out some things.

Now, each of those missing tenure-line faculty (or portions thereof, for those with reduced loads from centers) can be replaced by a term faculty member [10]. But term faculty aren’t the same as tenure-line faculty. They generally don’t serve as academic advisors. They generally don’t serve on committees. Does that make a difference? Certainly. Let’s take my department as an example. We have four tenure-line faculty and are growing to a fifth. We also have one permanent lecturer. Two of the tenure-line faculty are in their second year and will be teaching Tutorial next year. One of our faculty is on leave this year. Our lecturer will be on leave next year. Both of our second-year faculty will have twelve major advisees at the end of this year, and I’m going to hold fairly tight to that cap, because twelve major advisees and twelve Tutorial advisees is about the upper-limit of the number of advisees a young faculty member should have [11]. Faculty on leave don’t have advisees. That means that when the thirty-plus undeclared students in the class of 2019 who have not yet reached an agreement with the young faculty decide to declare a major, they will have one available advisor. That’s a problem. I will admit that CS is a special situation. However, departments do need enough faculty to support the close advising on which Grinnell prides itself. And term faculty can’t really do that close advising.

As you may have noted in the midst of the whining in the previous paragraph, CS has been granted an additional (much needed) tenure-line position. Since it’s a zero-sum game, that means another department was not permitted to replace a tenure-track position. Whose loss was our gain? Well, last year there were two new tenure-track positions approved. One was in CS and one was in Biological Chemistry, to be housed in the Biology department. What departments could not replace faculty? Classics was not allowed to hire a tenure-track replacement for a faculty member going to Senior-Faculty Status [12]. Physics was not allowed to hire a replacement for an outstanding faculty member who passed away unexpectedly because his position had been an opportunity hire [14].

Could Computer Science have continued without a new tenure-line position? No. Without that position, we could not offer sufficiently many courses to support the number of majors we have, and I’ve been told that we cannot cap our number of majors [15]. I’m pretty sure that Biological Chemistry is in a similar position. However, it completely sucks to know that our necessary gain came at the expense of two departments who I think of as essential to Grinnell’s mission.

This coming spring, GWSS will apply for a new tenure-track position (or at least I hope they will). I hope they get that position. Other departments who are facing severe enrollment pressures are also likely to apply. Executive Council, our faculty governing body, seems to have worked out an agreement that new tenure-line positions don’t have to be created only in the same year that a tenure-line position is lost. However, if GWSS gets their (needed) position, someone else loses. And, as far as I can tell from preregistration figures, there aren’t many departments that can lose a tenure-line position without compromising the quality of education that Grinnell offers.

Do I have a solution for all of this? No, not really. I understand that we have a limited operating budget, and that each new expense means that something else probably has to be cut [16]. I’m not sure that I’d add a new tenure-line position at the expense of, say, a full-time Psychiatrist in SHACS [17]. But I do think that we need to explore how to handle the effects of various policies on the number of tenure-line faculty who are in the classroom, and may have to adjust the number of tenure-line faculty so that we keep the number of classroom faculty constant.

Oh … just in case you are reading this essay and have a lot of spare cash: I believe a donation of about two million dollars creates a new chaired position, and I believe that we might even be able to treat that as an additional faculty position. You can name the professorship after yourself or after a beloved faculty member. Wouldn’t you like to know that you funded the Wayne Moyer Professorship, or the Henry Walker Professorship, or the George Drake Professorship, or the Pamela Ferguson Professorship?

And for those of you interested in the history of the institution. There was a previous time in which the Trustees decided that we had too many tenured (not tenure-line) faculty. How did we get out of that problem? We [18] sacrificed tenure for the PE faculty and the Library faculty. I hope that nothing close to that severe happens now, and that we can find ways to grow the faculty.

[1] The Scarlet and Black is Grinnell’s students newspaper. I believe that it’s the longest-running student newspaper west of the Mississippi. We often refer to the Scarlet and Black as The S&B [2].

[2] Most of us don’t try to pronounce the italics.

[3] Like many S&B articles, it had a someone misleading title. The Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies [4] students want a tenure-track professor, not a tenured professor. In my twenty years at Grinnell, we’ve only hired three people with tenure: two presidents and one dean.

[4] While the S&B article does not use an Oxford comma in the title of the major, I think there should be one, and I’m pretty sure that the major uses one.

[5] Amazingly, AVPD is not a common acronym at the College.

[6] If you are on campus, you can see the list here.

[7] You can play with that URL to get other counts. Here’s what I came up with on 12 December 2016: 32 Anthropology majors; 15 Art History majors; 69 Biological Chemistry majors; 91 Biology majors; 54 Chemistry majors; 5 Chinese majors; 10 Classics majors; 89 Computer Science majors; 111 Economics majors; 71 English majors; 34 French majors; 32 GWSS majors; 9 General Science majors; 13 German majors; 64 History majors; 16 Independent majors; 70 Mathematics majors; 15 Music majors; 24 Philosophy majors; 49 Physics majors; 96 Political Science majors; 73 Psychology majors; 12 Religious Studies majors; 9 Russian majors; 65 Sociology Majors; 33 Spanish majors; 29 Studio Art majors; and 17 Theatre and Dance majors. All of those seem like fairly healthy numbers.

[8] There is a task force charged with modeling changes to the size of the student body. But for now, we are relatively fixed.

[9] I’m not complaining; I’m just observing. Looking at their workload, we clearly need three associate deans.

[10] We may discuss the ethics of term faculty in another essay.

[11] Okay, I think it’s a bit more than any young faculty member should have, but it’s not an unheard-of number.

[12] I believe that Classics received a three-year term position and were told to re-apply in two years.

[14] I don’t know whether Physics also received a term position.

[15] I do not want to cap our number of majors. I strongly believe that every Grinnell student who wants to declare a CS major and is capable of completing a CS major should be allowed to do so. But the pragmatist in me does the math and says that when we hit certain numbers of majors, we need certain numbers of courses.

[16] This winter break, I’m taking a short course on institutional finances. Maybe taking that course will help me figure something out. I’ll try to write an essay about what I learn.

[17] No, we don’t have one of those. But we should.

[18] The we is figurative. I wasn’t yet at Grinnell. I’m pretty sure that the faculty didn’t make the decision.

Version 1.0 of 2016-12-12.