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Faculty Derides Enrollment Increase

At yesterday’s meeting of the faculty, two professors, Art History Professor Mary Coffey and Government Professor Stephen Brooks, spoke critically about Phil’s plans to expand the size of the undergraduate student body by 10-25%:

Mary Coffey

Mary Coffey1.jpg

“I know you’d like to have this conversation this winter when the task force has completed its work, which is fine, I mean, I look forward to that, but just from what you said here today and what little I’ve heard here before now about this potential to expand the undergraduate student population, what I haven’t heard is an argument that’s really pegged to the academic mission of our undergraduate institution.

I’ve heard arguments, assumptions, that, sort of, expanding the number of butts in the seat will somehow necessarily translate into qualitative impact on the world… I’ve heard arguments just now about what we are doing and comparing ourselves to our peer institutions. First of all, I would argue that our great strategic advantage within the Ivy League is precisely the fact that we are a small, liberal arts college, as opposed to a college which is predominantly oriented towards its graduate population. The teacher/scholar model is unique in the Ivies; maybe there is a little bit going on at Princeton.

And so, in order to be unskeptical about a move like this, something that feels like it will dramatically change the culture and character of this institution — everything that actually makes it strategically competitive and desirable from a standpoint of faculty — I need to hear a lot more about how this will enhance our academic mission. And I need to hear a lot more about how we would accommodate all of the other things that will have to expand or change in order to make it viable… I’m talking about are we going to maintain our student/teacher ratio? Are we going to go to larger classes? What are we going to do about our facilities?

You’ve heard this from us many times, but I am going to say it again: Dartmouth Row, which is really the spine of our undergraduate curriculum, is in disastrous shape. It is inadequate for the student population we have now and the faculty we have now. What will it look like if we add even a few more students? If that building isn’t addressed and addressed soon… We have parking problems, serious parking problems on this campus, and some of the proposed buildings that are on-line here are going to eat up even more existing campus parking.

These are just simple, obvious things that anybody could bring out, but there are also potentially unintended consequences, and I think the anxiety and the frustration that make us feel — especially those of us who have been in institutions that went this route ten years ago: increasing enrollments, offloading students to campuses on other sites, privatizing and casualizing labor, etc. — you know, we see some of this kind of thing, revenue-generating exercises in these terms, branding, competitive and strategic management, etc.

I think that there is a lot of skepticism, and until we hear really compelling arguments about how this can actually enhance the educational experience that we’re providing, how this will benefit the teacher/scholar model that we have come close to perfecting at this institution, how we will manage the constraints of our material footprint in the Upper Valley with an expansion of that nature, it is really hard to entertain this as a viable, feasible or desirable possibility.”

Stephen Brooks

Stephen Brooks.jpg

“A few things have come up on the Committee of the Faculty. I think one thing to note is that in an expansion, however it is done, there are going to be situations where we thought this would happen and we thought this would be enough, and it wasn’t — so we thought there would be enough dorms, and there weren’t; we thought there would be enough first-year classrooms, there weren’t; we thought there would be enough faculty in this department, there weren’t. And then there would be a lag, and presumably that issue would be addressed.

It’s hard to have confidence, what many faculty have told me, in how that process would work, given that right now we are dealing with the various issues that we have pointed out are problems now for the faculty here, even before the expansion, and they haven’t been fixed.

So, we don’t have adequate research support — that hasn’t been fixed; there hasn’t been a commitment made to it. We no longer have anywhere to park on campus — even the Dewey Lot is full every day. No movement apparently on that. We don’t have adequate computer support, in part because we don’t have enough people. Haven’t seen movement on that.

So it would be a lot easier to say, let’s do something, make the place bigger, they’ll be hiccups, but we will be able to fix them, if the problems we are having now were being addressed. That’s what the faculty is telling me.

That would be point 1. Point 2 would be, what people have told me, is that the task force has been given a very specific job: the job was to say, how much does this cost? The job was not to say if this is a good idea.

Well, the analogy is that Mike Pence recently floated the idea of going back to the moon. Presumably now there’s going to be a commission set up to figure out how much that will cost. I don’t need to know how much that will cost to know that it is not a good idea. The benefits will be marginally small, but whatever they are, will be tiny compared to whatever the costs are. I don’t need to pinpoint what the costs are to debate whether this is a good idea.

So that’s my feedback. One of the things that is the purpose of these committees is to kind of derive feedback. People talk to me all the time and relay stuff. That, in a nutshell, incorporates what fifteen or twenty people told me.”

Note Brooks’ use of the word “confidence” — and how it is hard to have any in the Hanlon administration. The faculty should formally vote to say so.

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