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Too Big, Too Small, or Just Right?

Amid the recent scandals about Phil’s condemnation of violence-supporting Mark Bray, the closure of the golf course, and such, we’ve forgotten about the debate about the size of the College. Phil’s floated idea to increase the number of undergraduate students by 10-25% is making the news, this time in Inside Higher Education:

IHE Can Dartmouth Grow.jpg

Obviously the editors at Inside Higher Ed sense that the College is making the move for the money. We made this assertion in our very first post about the idea of growing the College. Only a fool would think that Phil is not feeling budget pressures from the growth of the administrative bureaucracy and his declining fundraising results.

Beyond that point, you don’t build an addition onto a structure until you are sure that the foundation is solid. The Inside Higher Education article observes that the College’s dorms are both in need of sprucing up and are not even capable of housing today’s undergraduate population:

The college is already facing some pressures on its dormitory space. Dormitories that house first-year students are worn, said Andrew Samwick, a professor of economics who will be the chair this academic year of the Committee on Priorities, which forms and promotes faculty budget priorities. This year’s higher-than-expected admissions yield already means some undergraduates will be living in campus housing that was previously dedicated to graduate students, he said.

The issue of class size has surfaced again, too:

Other faculty members voiced similar concerns. Dartmouth’s campus is already too small for its student body, said Thomas Cormen, a professor of computer science and former chair of the Committee on Instruction, which reviews matters related to educational policy.

Cormen likened Dartmouth’s vaunted D-Plan, a year-round quarter system devised when the college started admitting women in the 1970s, to a computer’s cache. The D-Plan — formed amid discussion about how Dartmouth could admit women without displacing men — rotates students off campus, enabling the college to enroll more students without adding more physical space or altering the size of the student body during any one quarter.

An upside to enrolling more undergraduates would be if the college then hired more faculty, adding to departments and intellectual activity, Cormen said. He would not support adding undergraduates without adding faculty positions.

“That would be terrible,” Cormen said. “We’d be seeing class sizes increasing. In our department, we are capping just about every course. We never used to cap courses. We don’t always hit the cap, but we have to plan for it, which is terrible.”

As we have stressed repeatedly in the past, students at the College today are regularly turned away from classes that have reached their enrollment cap — a situation virtually unknown at the College before the Jim Wright era.

This issue of faculty size is also addressed in the piece:

Computer science may be feeling the crunch of high student demand. But the number of faculty members at Dartmouth has grown faster than undergraduate enrollment over the years, said Mills, the college’s executive vice president.

Dartmouth’s School of Arts and Sciences, its largest, had 606 faculty members in 2016, according to the college’s Office of Institutional Research. That’s up by more than 15 percent from 526 in 2004.

Meanwhile, undergraduate head-count enrollment in the college was 4,310 in 2016, up only 5.7 percent from 4,079 in 2004.

But the total number of professors on campus is a red herring. The proper metric is the number of courses offered to undergrads. As we have discussed, Phil Hanlon’s cluster hire program, and his effort to have teams work on the world’s big problems with the goal of garnering prestige for the College, is hardly propitious for the improvement of undergraduate education. The kind of profs that he hopes to attract (will he be able to do so?), don’t do much teaching.

The task force on the growth of the College will present a preliminary report at the end of October. Let’s hope that it includes of full review of the state of Dartmouth today. If the committee is rigorous, it is hard to see how a solid argument for growth can be made. Phil should get his house in order first, before he talks about putting on additions.

Addendum: In the coming year, undergraduate students will be living in the graduate student housing at 18 North Park, 20 North Park, 22 North Park, 24 North Park, 7 Ivy Lane, and 9 Ivy Lane — which is essentially all the housing that the College has for graduate students. Dartmouth is already bursting at the seams.


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