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Figures Don’t Lie… #2: The S/F Ratio is a Misleading Statistic
In his Tenth Annual Report to the General Faculty in 2007, President James Wright said:
The FTE of A&S faculty has grown from 380 to 430 over the past decade. In terms of authorized tenure-track positions the numbers have gone from 352 to 411. This has allowed us to reduce the student-faculty ratio down to 8 to 1 today. This is the US News and World Report calculation and according to them we have come down from 12:1 in 1997-98. This is at best a marginally useful comparative metric - for it is also a misleading one. It calculates the ratio based on total teaching faculty and total student enrollment.
For once, I agree with President Wright. The student:faculty ratio statistic is “at best marginally useful” and “misleading”. SO WHY DOES THE COLLEGE KEEP USING IT!?! In fact, the two statistical performance measurements most widely trumpeted by the former administration were the reduction in the student:faculty ratio and the change in the number of <20-student courses at the College (another bad stat that we will look at in the future).
Let’s leave aside the fact that President Wright chose the 1997-1998 figure as his basis of comparison — the worst figure over the last two decades; we should concentrate on the nature of the student:faculty ratio itself. The ratio is based on the proportion of FTE (full-time equivalent) students to FTE faculty. However, no distinction is made as to types of professors (tenured, tenure-track, adjunct, visiting), or how much they actually teach. Examine the following universities:
Tenured/Track Faculty: 25
Adjunct Faculty: 75
Student:Faculty Ratio: 10:1
Both have the same student:faculty ratio, even though university B has a far higher proportion of short-term adjunct faculty — professors who did not meet the standard needed to become tenured or tenure-track faculty members.
The above calculation does not vary even if the tenured faculty members teach only one or two courses per year (and spend most of their time doing research), and adjunct faculty teach five or six courses each year. Nor does the figure change if one school offers many more courses in total than another. The metric is not actual teaching, just the existence of faculty members of whatever type.
However, from a student perspective, the difference is quite large, don’t you think?
So, for example, when the teaching requirement for all Dartmouth profs dropped from five courses/year to four courses/year in the early 1990’s, this shift did not change the College’s student:faculty ratio at all. Same thing when Dartmouth’s science faculty had their annual teaching load reduced from four courses to three about six years ago. And there was no change in the ratio over the past decade as the proportion of adjunct professors at the College soared.
So the next time you wonder why it is tough to get into the classes that you want, or why your adjunct professors aren’t quite the “leaders in their fields” that you and your parents had been expecting, don’t let the Adminstration bamboozle you by citing the positive evolution of Dartmouth’s student:faculty ratio.
And President Kim, I hope that you will agree that this metric is not worthy of use by an anthropologist.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…