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Summertime and the Whining is Easy

Thumbnail image for Storrs Pond Map.jpgAt a forum last week regarding the D-Plan and at a faculty meeting last term, it was astounding to hear faculty members shamelessly whine about how they just don’t like to teach in the summer. They want to have time with their kids, and go on trips, and take it easy. What an embarrassment. Computer Science Professor Tom Cormen talked with a laugh last Monday about how his department offers only one course in the summer, and it is taught by a grad student or a visiting professor. As chairman of the department, he said, he just can’t get anyone in CS to agree to teach during sophomore summer. His colleague Scot Drysdale, a former chairman of the department, added a thought (at 37:15):

“I agree with Tom. I taught summers a lot of times before I had kids. I taught probably more summers than anybody else in the department, I think. But, once you have kids, and that’s their summer vacation, if you’re teaching, well, once they’re in school, then you no longer have time to go anyplace with your kids, which is a big sacrifice. So, I’ve seen the same problem that Tom has; it’s gotten worse over time; that people don’t want to be teaching in the summer when they have kids, and that’s when they can be with their kids.”

‘Twas not always thus. During my own sophomore summer in 1977, I had seminars from a tenured prof, a tenure-track professor, and a visiting senior professor from Harvard. I didn’t do much swimming, but I got in a lot of good learning.

Back then, faculty at the College taught five courses per year (currently Humanities and Social Science profs teach four courses, and Science division faculty teach three) and their commitment to teaching was arguably greater than now: my Italian I professor, Nancy Vickers, went on to become the President of Bryn Mawr, and Don Pease taught my English 5 section — who can make a statement like that today?

Don’t get me wrong. I am constantly finding myself proud of the commitment that many Dartmouth professors make to teaching. And not only that, many faculty members help students with the myriad extracurricular and personal challenges that they face in their undergraduate lives. But Phil should call upon them to do more.

The faculty should step up in support of summer term. Right now most faculty members only teach during two ten-week terms each year. Under the formal rules in place, they must be in residence for a third term (an “R” term — Residence) to do committee work and participate in the life of their respective departments. There seems to me no reason why the faculty can’t vote in an additional requirement that obliges professors at all levels to teach a couple of courses during a summer term at least once every four years.

Of course, it will be an ordeal during the summer months for the professoriat to go into Hanover twice or even three times each week to hold classes and meet with students — leaving only four or five days at home. And perhaps one year in four, they’ll have to skip a long summer trip. But then, other than college professors and school teachers, the rest of America’s working population seems to bear up under this burden each and every summer. The College’s faculty could make the same effort on occasion.

Addendum: Team teaching courses would allow professors to take their family vacations. There are any number of creative ways for the faculty to provide sophomores with a more stimulating summer. Phil, it’s time to get the College moving again.

Addendum: Many of my own employees express the desire to be with their children in the summer months, while others would like to enjoy the out-of-doors in the winter. Some like the fall foliage, and there are even people who have a fondness for spring. Needless to say, like Dartmouth does, I accommodate them all, with one salient difference: if you don’t want to work when you are needed in our business, you don’t get paid.

Addendum: A longtime reader is skeptical:

Don’t make the David McLaughlin mistake of thinking faculty are fungible employees. You can’t put an ad in the paper and get a genuine replacement for an Adina Roskies or Tom Cormen or Bruce Sacerdote or a Gordon Gribble or a George Cybenko or whoever you think is among the faculty rock stars. Try to muscle professors as you seem to suggest (and as McLaughlin tried), and the next time a modestly tempting offer comes from a comparable institution, the rock stars will take it. Once word gets out that good faculty are leaving, the best new prospects will shy away. It’s a difficult cycle to break once it starts.

Is there a national oversupply of PhDs out there? Absolutely. But as in some other personal service professional situations, the competition for the best remains intense, perhaps even more intense. Keep in mind that it’s not necessarily the professor you attempt to muscle who will leave. If any faculty get strong armed, the entire faculty will smell oppression and make whatever other plans they can.

I suspect the faculty in your time were more willing to suck it up and teach in the summer because they saw the Dartmouth Plan as a necessarily evil for having coeducation. Not supporting the D-Plan was not supporting coeducation. In fact, most of the faculty of your time had essentially signed that social contract themselves. It also possible that that back in your day, adjuncts and visitors were neither so plentiful nor so accepted as a possible substitute for regular faculty.

Not so today. No one in their right mind thinks the Dartmouth Plan has anything to do with keeping Dartmouth coeducational. And nearly none of today’s active faculty agreed to the D-Plan as the price for coeducation.

Trying to “manage” faculty is like trying to untangle spaghetti. You’re almost certain to get stained in the process. Many have observed that it’s like herding cats.

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