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CS tenure talks reflect department’s unprecedented growth

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In the last two weeks, the computer science department, known for its increasing size and consequent lotteries, conducted tenure talks in order to hire a new tenure track professor. The first talk was marked by a joke about the CS lottery amongst the students in attendance. While tenure talks are not unique to CS, they do come at a critical time in the department’s development due to its unprecedented growth.

According to Professor Jeff Knerr, CS only had two professors when it began in 1985. It now has 12 — eight tenure track professors and four visiting professors.

Knerr has taught CS 21, the intro class, many times, and he reminisced about a time when there were only 10 CS majors and he taught a CS 21 class with only 16 students.

“It was wonderful,” he said. “I got to know everybody.”

Now, it’s rather difficult to imagine a class that small when there are about 60 CS majors and 10 additional minors each year.

“It’s a crazy time right now,” Knerr said, referring to the number of students who are now taking CS.

However, the department is experiencing growing pains when it comes to the expansion. Knerr said that there are currently not enough professors to meet student demands. This shortage of professors has led to CS 21 classes that have almost 40 students and a lottery that helps cap these high-demand classes.

“The CS department is always looking for more professors to expand the department because it is definitely growing exponentially,” said Kyra Moed ’20, a student member of the search committee for the tenure talks.

Moed feels that the shortage of professors hasn’t caused any noticeable problems in the quality of education for students, whether it’s the class size or accessibility to professors.

“I think the department does a really great job at ensuring that no matter if it’s your first CS course or your senior year [they provide] a lot of support … All of the professors I’ve encountered are really passionate about teaching,” she said.

Michael Davinbry ’19, another student on the search committee, would not comment on the effects of the class sizes, but he said that the one of the department’s long-term goals is to hire more professors.

“I do think the CS department is trying to grow, so they’re hiring more professors. So I think that would benefit students and the faculty in general,” he said.

The tenure talks are necessary to hire a new professor who might help the CS department meet the demands of students.

There were four talks in total, with two occurring each week. The talks had three components: the research presentation, an informal lunch interview with CS students, and a mock class. The search committee in charge is comprised of tenure track professors and three student members, who were chosen by the faculty.

“My job is to gather feedback on candidates from other students and … summarize those feedbacks and present it to the faculty,” Davinbry said regarding his role in the interviewing process.

One of the themes of these tenure talks is student involvement. This is reflected in the nature of the three parts, the student component of the search committee, and the invitation for student observation and feedback on the candidates.

“I would imagine that the CS department values student input, and Swarthmore is an institution that values teaching as well as research, so having input from students in a way to get student opinions on a candidate [seems] … valuable,” said Davinbry.

The first part of the tenure talks was the research presentation. This involved the candidate explaining research that they were conducting and featured interaction between the candidate and faculty and CS students in attendance.

During the first research presentation, the classroom was nearly full with students and faculty in attendance. It lasted for approximately an hour.

After the research presentation was the informal lunch, which was coordinated by the students on the search committee and was independent of the faculty. Students were able to get to know the candidate in a setting outside of the classroom.

The final part, the mock class, started in the evening and lasted approximately 30 minutes. Students in attendance were asked to be “silent observers” while the faculty on the search committee took on the role of students in the “class.”

The first mock class was about binary trees. The instruction was short due to the limited time frame and was intended to be a lesson from a lower-level CS class.

The expansion of CS and shortage of professors that have resulted in the tenure talks are not unique to Swat, according to both Knerr and Moed.

“It’s really impressive how quickly it’s grown and how popular it’s become. And I think that’s true at every college and every university that there’s just this struggle to find people who aren’t just drawn by the money to [computer science],” said Moed.

There are many open computer science positions available in the job market today, which is leading to the growing number of students interested in the department. Knerr noted that it’s critical for everyone looking for a job to have a basic understanding of computer science, which is why there is not just an increase in CS majors but CS 21 students as well.

“[There are] lots of jobs, lots of opportunity. And some of them are lucrative,” Knerr added.

Because of this trend in available jobs, many colleges and universities nationwide seem to be experiencing difficulties finding professors who are willing to teach when they could have a more lucrative job elsewhere.

“I have heard in general that there’s a shortage nationally of CS professors,” Moed said.

The CS department has used the lotteries and now the tenure talks as ways to deal with its over-enrollment of students and subsequent shortage of professors. While the lotteries have been implemented to control class sizes, the addition of a new professor is needed to support the increase of students. But despite the problems that the department is facing, the heightened demand for CS majors in the job market will maintain its popularity in the years to come.

Questions surrounding tenure process on the rise, students voice concerns

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Questions surrounding the overall tenure process have arisen in the wake of the celebration surrounding Professor Sa’ed Atshan’s recent placement on a tenure track position in the Peace and Conflict Studies program. Many concerns are about which professors get tenure as the hows and whys are seemingly unclear.

Tenure track positions, as explained by English literature Department Chair Professor Peter Schmidt, are integral to every department in the college.

“For most departments, the majority of their positions are tenure line positions, so somebody on the tenure track is going to come up for evaluation … the evaluation always happens in the sixth year,” he said.

Candidates going through the process find themselves under intensive review, as Schmidt goes on to explain.

“People are here for three years, they get a preliminary evaluation, like how well is their teaching going. Student letters are collected from people who have taken classes from them, but also they get a preliminary read on their scholarship and how it’s progressing, … and then three years later, the same thing happens,” he said.

The remaining part of the process, he explains, is just as rigorous as the initial three years.

“After six years, after the tenure review, then people are either accepted for tenure to stay here, or they have to leave, and we start a new process again with hiring. Later on, after you get tenure, you’re called an associate professor. After that, eight to ten years can go by, and then you get evaluated again, … and after you pass that review, you become a full professor,” he said.

Student knowledge about the process and all of its intricacies is very much limited, as they may be unaware of a professor’s status on the tenure track. However, many questions center around how tenure track positions are awarded in the first place. The differences between visiting professors and tenured professors, Schmidt explains, are in the hiring practices.

“Tenure positions, you’re definitely supposed to do a national search. So that means putting out ads and then reading tons and tons of applications and then interviewing about 12 to 15 people, usually. And then of those, usually a handful of them get invited to campus to meet everybody, including students, when they’re in the running for a job … Adjuncts or temporary positions, whether it’s in the sciences or humanities or the social sciences, those all tend to be much more local searches,” he said.

There are distinctions between the titles held by professors at the college delineating their status on the track, as well as marking those who are not tenure track. The title, however, does not serve as a basis for which students interact with a professor. Indeed, students gravitate towards professors for many reasons, finding mentorship and forming meaningful relationships with them. It is for this reason that problems arise when a non-tenured professor leaves the college on the account that their position was only temporary.

In tandem with this, the college’s interdisciplinary programs traditionally do not have tenure track positions as they are not stand alone departments. With the lack of tenure track positions within interdisciplinary programs, students face a loss on two ends: a professor with whom their feelings resonate and an overall loss to the program.

“Often they [interdisciplinary programs] just borrow professors from other departments, so nobody’s trained solely in that area, they will lend courses to it. Sometimes the courses will be cross listed, that kind of thing. They try to have an introductory course, like to Black Studies or a capstone for the students that minor in it. So those programs kind of fit into the tenure program, but at the moment, most of the teaching is done by borrowing professors from other departments” Schmidt said.

Valeria Ochoa ’19 is saddened at the prospect of losing Professor Milton Machuca, Coordinator of the Latin American and Latino Studies program.

“He founded the program here, and is not being given tenure track … it’s not right,” they said.

Machuca, a Visiting Assistant professor, is indeed not on a tenure track. His contract is set to expire with the conclusion of the Spring 2017 semester and is, as not now, not being considered for renewal. He is popular amongst his students, many not understanding why he is not being kept. The securing of his position was not done via national search, hence the temporality of his contract. Placing the blame is hard to do, as the ability of a department to even begin such a search is in the hands of a college committee.

“There’s a committee called the Council on Educational Policy that has some faculty, students and staff on it including the President and the Provost, It’s a college wide committee: that is the committee that decides which departments can do a tenure track search for the next year if there’s an opening or if somebody retires … lots of departments every year are disappointed that they’re not allowed to do a search. But the search would work the same for an interdisciplinary program as it would for a department, the standards are all supposed to be equal,” Schmidt said.

The first interdisciplinary program to successfully secure a tenure track position was Peace and Conflict Studies in 2016 with Professor Ashtan. This was after the program had already existed for 25 years and had been attempting to secure a tenured position since 2012 according to a previously written Phoenix article. Students are not oblivious to the struggle of interdisciplinary programs. Brandon Ekweonu ’20 is of the opinion that more needs to be done to give merit to the programs.

I cannot say I know much about the how the tenure process works, but I can say this: I think programs like Latin American and Latino Studies and Black Studies deserve more attention than they get, not only on our campus, but on campuses around the country. As someone with a genuine interest in both of these areas, seeing that they are not established as departments makes me feel like they are not recognized as ‘valuable’ enough,” he said.

Professor Schmidt remains positive about the possibility of tenure tracks being awarded to interdisciplinary programs in the future.

“For years, all of the tenure positions were within particular disciplines like Chemistry or Biology or English literature. For the first time last year, a position in tenure track has been entirely awarded to an interdisciplinary program … that means that the faculty voted to do this. So now, interdisciplinary programs are have the chance to grow in a way that makes them have the same type of status as a department does … I think there’s a sense that down the road some of the other interdisciplinary programs will get tenure track too,” he said.

Eyes will be on the college’s tenure track process as students attempt to stave the loss of their beloved professor. With the historical award of a tenure track position in Peace and Conflict Studies, the outlook for change has become that much brighter. For students of Professor Machuca, this change cannot come soon enough.

Atshan moved to tenure track position

in Around Campus/News by

This semester, Sa’ed Atshan ’06 joined the peace and conflict studies program as a full time tenure track faculty member. Atshan joined the program in the fall of 2015 as a visiting professor. After three semesters of teaching several well-received courses and coordinating community events, Atshan was offered the first tenure track position in the peace and conflict studies program in its 25 years of existence.

In addition to being a Swarthmore alumnus, Atshan holds a MPP, M.A., and Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University prior to accepting his visiting professorship. His position as a visiting professor was supposed to last three years. However, as he finished out his third semester of teaching, his move to tenure track position was approved.

“I was thrilled. I’m a Swarthmore alum, so there’s something really special about going full circle. [Swarthmore] has given so much to me and it’s such an honor to be able to give back to Swarthmore. But also I feel like I’m the luckiest person on the planet to be a professor of peace and conflict studies at such a historic program working on the most pressing issues of our time. I can’t think of a better, more fulfilling place to be,” said Atshan.

Peace and conflict studies has a long history at the college, although it took many years in significant effort for the program to reach its current form. The college offered the first known higher education peace studies course, a class in “Elements of International Law with special attention to the important subjects of Peace and Arbitration” in 1888. Just over 100 years later, in 1991, the peace and conflict studies program began. The program has been bolstered by the independent founding of several notable resources for the scholarly study of peace on campus, namely the Peace Collection and the Friends Historical Library. Ellen Ross, professor of religion and coordinator of the peace and conflict studies program, explained that there are many factors that have facilitated the development of the peace and conflict studies program.

We’ve got just phenomenal students, committed to peace and conflict studies. We’ve got a great program, we’ve got this wonderful history at Swarthmore College. We have our Peace Collection here, which is just an extraordinary resource for a small liberal arts college, so we really feel this is the school to have a strong and robust peace and conflict studies program,” said Ross.

The development of the program was spurred on by the hiring of Lee Smithey, associate professor of sociology, for a position with a three fifths distribution between peace and conflict studies and sociology. He is also a past coordinator of the program.

“Lee Smithey has done an incredible job of building this program over the years. The work that Lee does is often behind the scenes … We have quite a number of faculty who are in different departments who teach in the program but it was really Lee who was coordinating and organizing and building the program,” said Ross.

As the program began to grow, the peace and conflict studies program began to seek a tenure line, which would allow them to hire a full time tenure track member.

“The Peace and Conflict Studies Program has sought a tenure line for the program for several years.  The process for adding tenure lines to departments and programs involves a proposal to the Council on Educational Policy (CEP), which weighs all the proposals from all departments and programs against the available positions.  In the past, the proposal from Peace and Conflict Studies has been one of the highest rated proposals that has not received a position,” said Provost Tom Stephenson.

“Since about 2012, we’ve been putting in an application every year to try to get this [tenure] line and what we did get was a three year position,” said Ross.

After Atshan was hired for the three year visiting professor position, he kept up the momentum of the program with a popular series of new courses, guest lectures, and film screenings. For two years now, he has offered an Israel/Palestine course which includes a 10-day trip to Israel Palestine as well as an Israel/Palestine film series open to the public. His courses and community events have impacted the lives of many at the college.

“I can speak personally to the fact that Professor Atshan’s courses can change the trajectories of his student’s lives. It was chiefly due to him that I pursued peace and conflict studies, which is now my declared major. His instruction inspires countless students, and his contribution to the intellectual discourse on campus and the growth of his students’ academic lives is enormous. He also acts as a mentor and role model for countless people on this campus, constantly providing time and support to his students in and out of the classroom,” said Isabel Cristo ’18.

Ross also spoke very highly of Atshan, noting that he was not only inspiring to students, but was influential to many members of the college community.

“He is himself, just a remarkable, interesting, charismatic, and visionary person, who understands education and understands people in a very deep way. I’ve been at Swarthmore for a very long time and I just have a lot of students come in inspired by Sa’ed, inspired to go off and do things they never would have imagined they would have done, intellectual ideas, cross lines of division that they never would have crossed. Part of what Sa’ed brings is just extraordinary abilities to understand people, to work with people, and to invite them to know their deepest selves and to be willing to embark on new adventures,” said Ross.

“I came in last year and I had a vision for the study trip, I had a vision for an honors seminar that I wanted to teach on humanitarianism, I had all kinds of guest speakers that I wanted to invite to campus and I just started right away,” said Atshan.

Atshan’s Israel/Palestine study trip was an experience cited by his students as particularly transformative. A significant component of his Israel/Palestine class is the idea of “radical humanization,” which students are able to learn experientially during the study trip.

“For us to visit a village, a settlement, now a city, that borders Gaza and to go to a children’s playground that has a bomb shelter because they’re afraid their children are going to get killed, you can’t not humanize; you can’t not feel for parents worrying for their children. Of course, in the back of your mind you think, ‘Ok, did the Gaza children have this? Do they have these playgrounds in general? Do they have anywhere to protect themselves? What do they have?’” said Nevien Swailmyeen ’20, who took Atshan’s class this past semester.

Swailmyeen described how the films, guest speakers, and classroom debates, in which students embodied specific and conflicting Israeli or Palestinian groups, offered a lot of new perspectives and encouraged her seek a deep, empathic understanding of them. The study-trip particularly challenged her preconceptions as a Palestinian and motivated her to embrace radical humanization.

“Of course, that hits the back of your mind, but you can’t deny the fact that there are people dying, and when you meet an Israeli family that’s lost somebody to the conflict, when you meet a Palestinian family that’s lost somebody to the conflict, you realize that there’s so much loss happening that those parallels can’t be denied. Again, this clear-cut idea of an oppressed and an oppressor isn’t as clear-cut as it used it be. In my mind, it wasn’t,” she continued.

Despite the outpouring of praise that resulted from Atshan’s first year at the college, the peace and conflict studies program’s appeal for a tenure track position was denied last spring. This was not well received by many students and faculty. Several students, Cristo among them, organized a petition to reverse this decision.

A group of students, including myself, felt that Professor Atshan’s contributions to the campus called for the chance to achieve a lasting position at the college. We collaborated on a petition calling on President Smith to reconsider the decision to deny the peace and conflict studies program a tenure track position, and over the course of a few days, were able to garner over 200 student signatures on the petition. Immediately after presenting the petition, we were told that there was no chance of reversing the decision,” said Cristo.

Despite the position being rejected, CEP was receptive to the criticism they received and took it into account when considering applications in the fall.

Last spring, when we (CEP) announced our recommended tenure line allocations, there was widespread discomfort expressed by faculty that we had not allocated any positions to interdisciplinary programs.  So, when the fall semester opened, and the peace and conflict studies program asked us to expedite a request to allocate a position to the program and to specifically target the position to retain Professor Atshan, it was a win-win.  We could address what many saw as a deficiency in our allocations last spring, strengthen an interdisciplinary program that was in need of more staffing, and retain a dynamic teacher and established scholar,” said Stephenson.

Atshan’s move to a tenure track position will assure the continued availability of his courses,  continuity in support for his advisees within the program, and undoubtedly the continued availability of community events concerned with peace and / or Palestine. The stability of his new position will also provide a measure of comfort to Atshan.

When you’re a visiting professor, other institutions will reach out to you and invite you to apply for particular positions. So, now, that’s it, Swarthmore put a ring on it, so to speak. That really allows me to settle here, and what I’m most excited about now is my research trajectory. I have a lot of research projects that I want to carry out over the next five years, so this allows to really focus on that,” said Atshan.

Atshan’s current research includes two separate projects concerned with different aspects of Palestine, and his future research may include much more.

“I have one big book project, which is under contract with Stanford University Press, and that manuscript is on the politics of humanitarian aid provision in Palestine, and then I have a second major project, which is now well underway, and that’s on the LGBTQ Palestinian movement. There are some exciting projects I’m looking forward to as well moving beyond Israel / Palestine. I still have a deep interest in that, but am also planning on expanding my horizons a little bit,” said Atshan.

Atshan’s new position is not only a first for the peace and conflict studies program but for all interdisciplinary studies at Swarthmore. This new precedent suggests the possibility of other interdisciplinary programs receiving tenure lines in the future.

“A couple years ago, the faculty decided that we should be creating positions in interdisciplinary programs, and so I think that this is a really exciting moment for interdisciplinary programs. I hope that we’ll see growth with environmental studies and other really valuable programs on campus, ” said Atshan.

Ross also expressed support for interdisciplinary programs. She noted that not only were enrollments and majors in peace and conflict studies increasing, but there was growing interest in interdisciplinary programs in general.

“The place of programs is growing. [Because] there’s a lot of attention and faculty, students are committed to growing the interdisciplinary programs,” said Ross.

Right now, CEP has before it proposals from three other programs for tenure lines.  Whether we will be able to prioritize those this year, or in a future year, is not yet clear.  But President Smith has said that she places a high value on interdisciplinary learning, so I think that it is just a question of time before we see a growth in support for interdisciplinary programs,” said Stephenson.

While the exact future of interdisciplinary programs is still uncertain, it is clear that the general momentum is toward larger and stronger interdisciplinary programs.

Despite student pushback, Gregory King departs

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Despite a letter of protest from students and his application for a tenure-track position at the college, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance and Postdoctoral Fellow Gregory King will be leaving Swarthmore at the end of the 2015-16 academic year.

King, a former Broadway dancer, was hired to begin teaching courses in the 2014-15 academic year, and his position was funded by a fellowship grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The fellowship is intended for scholars who have been awarded a Ph.D. or M.F.A. no later than the beginning of the fellowship year and no earlier than five years before the beginning of the fellowship year. Fellows receive compensation commensurate with the salary of a full-time, one-year faculty member with comparable qualifications, and “…modest funds” are available to finance proposed research, mentoring, and scholarship.

At Swarthmore, King has taught all three levels of modern dance and Introduction to Laban Movement Analysis. His unique teaching style within the Department of Music and Dance has gained him a small but loyal following of students. Jong Seok Lee ’17 is one of these students. He began taking modern dance in the Spring of 2015 and has taken a dance course with Gregory every semester since.

“….all the dance majors just say that [King] is overqualified for Swarthmore because he just has so much experience teaching. He used to teach at Boston Ballet, so we’re very fortunate to have him. I don’t know if I’m going to take a modern class after he leaves,” Lee said.

While King’s fellowship only lasted for two academic years, he was interested in extending his time at Swarthmore. On the Faculty Diversity & Excellence page of the Swarthmore website, a description of the fellowship states, “… many CFD candidates are qualified for tenure track searches,” and King applied for a tenure track position that opened up during his time at the college: one to replace Professor Sharon Friedler, who has been Director of the Dance Program since 1985.

Associate Professor Olivia Sabee was hired to fill Friedler’s position in the department, not King. According to Associate Professor of Music Barbara Milewski, who was chair of the department during the Spring 2015 search process, King was ultimately not selected for the position because his experiences were not closely aligned enough with the curricular needs of the department.

“ … [we] felt strongly that Olivia Sabee, who we hired, would provide the department with expertise that would maintain a robust, comprehensive dance curriculum. We were searching for an exceptional dance scholar [and] practitioner and we felt Professor Sabee’s training and experience matched our criteria as closely as possible,” Milewski said.

King said that members of the search committee explicitly told him that he was not being considered for the position because he held an M.F.A. instead of a Ph.D.

        “I applied. They told me I was not being considered for the position because they wanted someone with a Ph.D. … When I applied [for the tenure-track position], they sent me an email saying they wanted to meet with me, and I went to the office and [the search committee] said ‘Out of professional courtesy, you are not being considered for these reasons,’” King said.

King felt that his qualifications did not match up with the qualifications the department was looking for, and this explained why he was not selected for the tenure-track position.

“I understand, especially at an institution like this, [that] most of the hires are Ph.D.s because, in terms of core curriculum, it’s not practice-based. With my M.F.A., it may be limiting, but at the same time, I believe that within my M.F.A. there are lots of theory classes that could be taught … but I do believe, culturally, Swarthmore is definitely Ph.D. driven, and I get that,” King said. While he appreciates the academic nature of the department and of Swarthmore academics in general, and feels that the environment has made him a better teacher, King expressed that the department could be doing much more for its students.

“…[the department] has to shift how people view [their] craft. I wanted that very much to happen… because it’s not just about shuckin’ and jiving and twerking. I struggled really hard to make sure people grabbed something and held on to something so that when I leave, they can go, ‘Okay, he gave me something,’ or, ‘He shared something with me,” King said.

Even though it is almost certain that King will not be teaching at Swarthmore during the 2016-17 academic year, several of his students have attempted to convince the college that he should stay.

Amelia Estrada ’17, an honors dance major, spearheaded an effort to keep Gregory oncampus during the Fall 2015 semester, after the selection process for Friedler’s replacement had occurred. Estrada said she spoke with Daniel Underhill Professor of Music and Chair Thomas Whitman ’82 about King’s ability to remain at the college and also wrote him a letter explaining her rationale. In the letter, Estrada said that King adds a higher level of practice to the department, an element that she feels had been severely lacking in the dance department prior to his arrival. She also cited King’s presence as the primary reason she decided to pursue a major in Dance.

“More than anything, [King] awakened my passion for studying dance both in the studio and the classroom. Losing Gregory would be a grave detriment to the department and to Swarthmore College,” she wrote.

Estrada said that Whitman told her the size of the Department of Music and Dance limited the amount of funds that could be allocated for new hires. According to Whitman, reported Estrada, if funds were available for a new faculty member in any area of the college, they would go to a new Computer Science hire before a new Dance hire, because of student-faculty ratio concerns. Estrada also expressed concern that the department’s desire for a faculty member with a particular degree influenced the hiring decision.

“In the world of dance … an M.F.A. is considered a terminal degree just as much as a Ph.D. is, but there’s no Ph.D. in choreography, at least in this country … so people with M.F.A.s at schools with larger dance departments do get full-time tenured faculty positions because at schools with larger arts programs, it’s a little more recognized. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of pressure at [small schools] to hire Ph.D.s,” she said.

Whitman said that he was very grateful for Estrada’s letter, but was powerless to change the decision not to keep King at Swarthmore.

“I can’t wave my hands and create a new budget line for a dance faculty member. I don’t have that authority. Nobody has that authority,” he said. Whitman could not offer any information about any position openings for a modern dance professor within the department of music and dance and had no knowledge of King applying for a tenure-track position since he assumed the role of chair in July of 2015.

As it stands, King is considering offers from other institutions, and his students at Swarthmore will miss his presence on campus.

“We really wish that [King] could stay, and it’s definitely disappointing,” Estrada said.

Professors call for increased faculty diversity

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Of the 180 tenure and tenure-track faculty positions at the college, 45 percent are occupied by women and 36 percent are occupied by individuals who identify as members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Of the 75 female tenure and tenure-track faculty members at the college, 14 are professors in the natural sciences or engineering and 10 identify themselves as women of color. While these statistics are on par with national trends in higher education and represent considerable improvement from previous years, many faculty members at the college believe that significant advancements still need to made for there to be congruence between the college’s theoretical and practical commitments to faculty diversity.

In 2011, the college released the “Strategic Directions” report, which established the institution’s plans for handling the changing world of higher education over the coming years. One of the key features of “Strategic Directions” was a commitment to increasing faculty diversity. In former president Rebecca Chopp’s letter to the community, which begins the “Strategic Directions” report, she states, “Our ways of attracting and retaining a diverse faculty will need to keep pace with the changes both in academics and in our student body.”

Across higher education, changes at the institutional level have led to more progressive hiring practices for tenure and tenure-track positions. While such changes are far easier to undertake at large research universities, smaller, comparable institutions, such as Bowdoin College and Pomona College, have also made strides in promoting faculty diversity in recent years.

In 2008, Bowdoin introduced a “Proposal to Increase Faculty Diversity,” which led to the implementation of “Special Opportunity Hiring” practices that specifically target female and minority candidates for tenure-track faculty positions. Such practices provide for the appointment of new faculty members, prioritizing each candidate’s ability to fill certain diversity criteria without having to go through a national search where smaller colleges typically struggle to find a significant number of candidates from diverse backgrounds.

In 2004, Pomona College instituted diversity recruitment procedures requiring each department to report to the Dean, the Diversity Committee, and the Diversity Officer each time they plan to fill a tenure-track position in order to maximize the diversity of the candidate pool.

The “Strategic Directions” report outlines the need for the installment of similar procedures at Swarthmore.

In the report, the committee states, “With the support of the College’s equal opportunity office, we must increase the diversity of applicant pools and develop strategies to persuade highly sought-after candidates to choose Swarthmore, including funding postdoctoral fellowships for underrepresented groups.”

Despite the rhetoric of diversification emphasized in the “Strategic Directions” report, however, some professors feel that the college still is not doing enough to ensure race and gender diversity amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty, particularly in the natural sciences.

“I think more could be done,” said Professor of Spanish Maria Luisa Guardiola. “They are trying to get people to be more flexible about who they are going to hire, to think more openly about the candidate, but that’s not enough…I just find that if they’re going to diversify they have to really commit to this diversity.”

Guardiola worried that there is some disparity between the college’s stated dedication to faculty diversity and the way in which this dedication has manifested itself in practice.

“There is what they are telling people they are doing and then there is what they are actually doing,” she explained. “It seems like the college wants to impose certain things because they look good.”

Professor of History Marjorie Murphy expressed similar concerns, particularly in regards to the gender gap amongst tenured and tenure-track faculty.

“I think it’s time for the college to hold up the mirror and take a good look at what it’s doing for the faculty,” Murphy explained. “There is no point in recruiting all of these wonderful women here and bringing them halfway through their career here, or their tenure here, and then not tenuring them. This speaks to a lack of communication.”

Murphy noted that this problem is particularly pronounced in the natural sciences where, in past years, controversial tenure decisions have denied various female tenure-track faculty members from becoming fully tenured professors. Five of twenty female tenure candidates in the natural sciences and engineering have been denied tenure by their departments after the termination of their contracts at the college. Murphy believes this 15 percent differential has played a significant role in shaping the gender makeup of the natural sciences faculty at the college today.

Professor of Engineering Lynn Molter agreed.

“I think in the sciences at the college, you do face more challenges in getting tenure as a woman,” Molter said. “I’ve known [tenure-track] women who have not continued on to even be considered for tenure, and I’m trying to think of men … and I can’t really think of any, so I’m going to say it’s a smaller number of men – if any – who have been in that circumstance.”

Molter, who is the sole female professor in the engineering department, explained that during her more than 27 years of teaching at the college, she has only had two other female colleagues within the engineering department. However, neither of them work at the college today. Molter believes that the college could and should have done more to retain them. While one left after one year after having been offered a tenure-track position at another institution, the other was denied tenure in the sixth year of her contract despite what Molter considered to have been sufficient qualifications.

“I do think that being a woman was a very significant factor,” she said. “I am also convinced that there were other very serious issues that should not have been a factor in the decision.”

Molter believes that the irregularities in the tenure evaluation of this candidate represent a serious loss for the department.

“We could have made an opportunistic hire, however, there was legitimate disagreement about whether the department should have done an opportunistic hire or a full search,” Molter explained, referring to the process of filling tenured faculty positions without conducting a national search. “Now knowing, since that time, about the remarkable success and contributions of the individual who could have been hired, I am resolved to improve the circumstances for women in Engineering as well as in other sciences and mathematics at Swarthmore .”

According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, in the natural sciences, 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure, while only 75 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure.

Sunka Simon, professor of German studies and associate provost for faculty development, explained that over the past 20 years, male tenure candidates have receive tenure at a rate 7 percent higher than female tenure candidates across all disciplines.

“It doesn’t look so great,” Simon said. “In the case of engineering, I know of a woman and a person of international ethnicity who were denied tenure, and I know in biology a while back there was a tenure denial of a double minority candidate.”

Murphy explained that the denial of tenure for qualified women in the sciences raises questions about the nature of the tenure process in general.

“All I can say is that it was surprising to me given how difficult it is to recruit good women in science and have them come to the campus and then not have them achieve tenure,” Murphy said. “The arguments against their tenure were perfectly legitimate within their fields, but it caused you to wonder. If they were acceptable when they were hired, what caused them to be so unacceptable seven years later?”

Nevertheless, given the efforts of the college to diversify in recent years, Simon is hesitant to point to gender and racial bias as playing a dominant role in the seven-year tenure process. Simon explained that the tenure process is incredibly comprehensive and involves a number of factors, including a candidate’s teaching, scholarship, and service.

Most tenure-track faculty are appointed on four year contracts as Assistant Professors, and in their third year, they apply for reappointment. For the reappointment process, a candidate must amass all of their scholarly research and publications, choose colleagues from other disciplines as well as former students to write letters on their behalf, and select three external reviewers in their field to assess their application for reappointment. At the same time, the department reviewing the reappointment application is also responsible for choosing a selection of former students and external reviewers to evaluate the applicant.

If the department decides to reappoint a candidate and make them an Associate Professor, they must submit that decision to the Committee for Promotion and Tenure – comprised of five senior faculty, the provost, and the president of the college – which, based on the department’s recommendation, will also make a decision on the candidate’s tenure future. That decision is then submitted to the Board of Managers who will either confirm or deny the reappointment. According to Provost and Professor of Chemistry Tom Stephenson, the third year review is usually successful, but provides a very useful opportunity for feedback and mentoring.

In the candidate’s sixth year, the College repeats this process on a more scrutinizing level, at which point, if their application for tenure is accepted, they become tenured professors.

Despite the multiple checks and balances of the tenure appointment process, however, some believe that there is still room for biases to affect the final tenure decision.

“There is a culture here where there is still a popularity contest,” said Guardiola. “Sometimes I’ve noticed that the standards are not the same for different people… When they don’t want someone to get through, they claim it’s a collegiality issue, and to me, that collegiality issue is very arbitrary.”

Guardiola expressed concern that collegiality, which is an assessment of how well a tenure candidate relates to their colleagues, has the potential to be used as a rationale for denying tenure to more outspoken or less socially popular candidates.

Murphy agreed, explaining that issues of collegiality can lead to inappropriate assumptions about the personal lives of tenure candidates that may add scrutiny to the applications of female and minority candidates.

“This generation of men, knowing that they can’t ask about marital status and children still speculate as to what the family life of female candidates is as opposed to men,” Murphy said. “Sometimes they’re just curious…They’ll say ‘I wish I knew, but I can’t ask her.’ … It used to be that you had to be suspicious of a comment like that thinking she won’t be able to devote as much work time as men would.”

Murphy explained that sometimes women who have families and children to raise may appear less collegial than their colleagues simply because they have responsibilities that take them out of the workplace.

“Sometimes when faculty members aren’t here very much – and this happens sometimes with women faculty members. At five o’clock they turn into pumpkins and go home and take care of their kids, regularly, and that could be interpreted as not collegial,” Murphy explained. “I go to my friend’s lectures as much as I can, but I’m a single woman, and I don’t have as heavy family claims on my time.”

In the past, these issues were far more pronounced.

Guardiola explained that when she came up for tenure, it was very difficult as a female tenure candidate to both raise a family and go through the tenure process because there was no maternity leave granted to female faculty members.

“In the late 1980s, I was a visiting professor, and my youngest child was born in 1989,” Guardiola said. “I had no maternity leave, so I came back to my class two weeks later.”

“I think this was a sexist campus when I came up,” agreed Murphy, who received tenure in 1987. “Some of the comments when I first got here were outrageous.”

Guardiola agreed, expressing that she experienced significant antagonism from male colleagues during her tenure process given her outspoken nature on departmental issues.

“There were a lot of male professors, so it was important that you kind of followed their ideas and that you did what they wanted,” said Guardiola, who received tenure in 2000. “I always felt a little bit uncomfortable because I didn’t agree with their vision of the direction that the Spanish program should go, but because of my circumstances I had to compromise a little.”

Professor of Physics Amy Graves felt that when she received tenure in 1994, some faculty outside of her department were surprised.

“They were pretty sure I wouldn’t get tenure just because of my vibe,” Graves explained. “On the day tenure decisions were announced, I had been invited to the tenure party of a wonderful colleague … and there was a sense that my case was much more tenuous than theirs, and when I walked in the door, people’s eyebrows shot up, and when I said ‘Hey, I got tenure,’ there was that shock … and it was just much less expected that I would [get tenure] for reasons I do not want to project a simplistic interpretation upon.”

Professors Graves, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that today, the culture regarding gender and tenure has improved significantly.

Guardiola believes that the college is much more accommodating to the needs of its female tenure track faculty than it was in the past. For example, women on maternity leave are now given extra time to complete their tenure track, which Guardiola believes is indicative of some culture of change at the college.

“There definitely are a lot more women with tenure than when I started here for sure,” Guardiola said. “It definitely has changed. It’s a lot more balanced.”

Murphy echoed these sentiments.

“When I first came to Swarthmore, the Political Science Department didn’t have any women,” Murphy said. “I think some of it was clearly attitude and those attitudes began to break down… It’s a much more diverse campus than when I came.”

Simon agreed, explaining that in the humanities and social sciences at the college, women now receive tenure at a higher rate than men. According to data released by the Provost’s Office, in the last 20 years, female tenure applicants in the social sciences have received tenure at a rate of 88 percent, while their male colleagues have received tenure at a rate of 86 percent. In the humanities, over the same time period, 91 percent of female tenure candidates have received tenure, while 90 percent of male tenure candidates have received tenure.

Still, Professors Simon, Guardiola, and Murphy all explained that much work remains to be done in order to achieve the type of faculty diversity that the college has expressed a desire for. They felt that though norms might be changing in regards to gender, especially in the humanities and social sciences, there remains an immense lack of racial and ethnic diversity amongst tenure and tenure-track faculty at the college.

“There are more women professors than racial or ethnic minorities,” Simon said. “Race is really pitiful. It’s not good. It should be much better.”

Starting in the 1980s, the college began to engage in diversity hiring programs to bring racial and ethnic minorities to campus. These efforts were part of a broader initiative to better fulfill Quaker ideals of tolerance and community. Still, despite their good intentions, these reforms have left something to be desired.

“Its great that every few years, Swarthmore makes a concerted effort to recruit more women or recruit more faculty of color,” Sarah Willie-LeBreton, Professor of Sociology at the college, explained. “We succeed at that, and then comes the frustrating part, we take a vacation.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that while the college has made significant gains in diversity over the years, these gains have occurred in fits and starts. A consistent effort to recruit and maintain diverse tenure track faculty has been lacking.

Willie-LeBreton expressed concern that the college sometimes relies too heavily on its prestigious reputation to attract applicants for tenure positions instead of actively recruiting diverse candidates.

“I wish we would take a page out of the admissions handbook,” Willie-LeBreton said. “Admissions sends recruiters to the Southwest, to the Pacific Northwest, to the Midwest. We participate in QuestBridge to recruit low-income students that otherwise wouldn’t know about Swarthmore… we need to be doing a version of that. There are superlative PhDs coming out of the University of California system, the SUNY system, and the large universities in the South; people who would be a wonderful fit here and be a great contribution, but you need to scratch below the surface.”

Simon also felt that the college does not do enough to recruit candidates who do not have a certain academic pedigree.

“Swarthmore, because it considers itself an elite institution, has a bias against, for example, historically black institutions, or degrees that don’t come from the top five or the top ten,” Simon said. Simon worried that over the years, this bias has unfairly impacted the way in which the college has recruited for tenure-track positions.

“The challenge is surmounting the institutional inertia of bygone decades,” Willie-LeBreton agreed.

Still, according to Willie-LeBreton, the college has recently been making steps in the right direction.

“There has been a pretty serious change just in the last three or four years,” Willie-LeBreton explained, emphasizing the importance of the Diversity Task Force that operated during the 2013-2014 year. The task force conducted a review of faculty hiring for the year and distributed this report to all faculty members at the college in an effort to raise awareness regarding diversity hiring tactics. Additionally, the position description for Associate Provost was rewritten to mandate that the Associate Provost focus on increasing faculty diversity.

In her role as Associate Provost, Simon has helped to highlight the college’s role as a founding member of the Consortium of Faculty Diversity. In October of 2015, the college will host the CFD’s conference on campus. The consortium recruits faculty who identify themselves to be of diverse backgrounds to participate in two-year teaching fellowships at the college where they gain experience in the classroom, while working on their dissertations. According to Simon, this provides valuable teaching skills to professors and exposes students to a more diverse swath of instructors. Presently there are three CFD fellows teaching on campus.

Willie-LeBreton explained that such diversity initiatives are crucial to maintaining the competitiveness of the college on a national level.

“If we don’t keep diversity as one of our goals for faculty, staff, and student recruitment but also for the curriculum we offer, we will not remain one of the nation’s preeminent liberal arts colleges,” Willie-LeBreton said. “You could get away with that in 1957. You can’t get away with that anymore.”

Provost Stephenson agreed that faculty diversity is incredibly important to the future of the college, alluding to the college’s aim for continual improvement in this field.

“We’re always interested in diversifying the faculty,” Stephenson explained. “We have a high priority in making sure that we have as diverse a pool of applicants as possible… We definitely have aspirations to increase the diversity of our faculty. We’re not satisfied. I know I’m not satisfied.”

Willie-LeBreton explained that simply announcing these aspirations for diversity in conversations around campus has the potential to genuinely change the culture around faculty diversity at the college. In particular, she emphasized the power that students hold within these conversations – as evidenced by the student-driven development of more recent diversity initiatives around ethnic studies and mutual respect – to incite meaningful reform.

Murphy agreed.

“I’ll say this about Swarthmore,” Murphy said. “That lip service – at least we have that. In other words, at least they’re willing to entertain the idea that this is a possibility and thats always the first step. If somebody’s willing to do that or say that, then you can have a conversation.”

Hire professors sooner rather than later

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Academics are central to life at Swarthmore — Friday evening is largely indistinguishable from any other night here — both in and outside of the classroom, and many of us chose Swarthmore for precisely this reason. We pressed “send” on our applications with idyllic visions of professor tête-à-têtes, intimate classroom discussions and late-night intellectual debates. However, recent changes to the professor course load threaten some of the qualities we value most here in our academic lives.

As part of its Strategic Plan, the college is in the process of transitioning from a five-course professor teaching load to a four-course load. The five-course load, also referred to as the “3-2” course load, means that professors teach three classes during one semester of the year, and two classes during the other. The four-course load, or “2-2” course load, means that professors teach two classes each semester. The administration has justified the course load decrease by stating that it will enable faculty to better balance teaching with research pursuits.

We recognize that empowering faculty to pursue research enriches the academic experience for professors and students alike. However, the short-term effects of the course load decrease threaten to undercut future gains. The political science and computer science departments already suffer over-enrollment. The course load decrease will only further burden these departments, in addition to cutting down on the number of course options available to students.

Though the college plans to hire 20 to 35 new tenure-track professors in the coming years in order to accommodate planned increases in enrollment, we worry that during the hiring process, students will be left underserved.

We encourage students, faculty and the administration to engage in open dialogue about these new adjustments. Though it is vital that the college evolve to remain competitive and better meet changing demands, it is necessary that its development does not occur at the expense of academic excellence, or to the exclusion of student voices.

Obtaining tenure a lengthy process at Swarthmore

in News by

Though students at the college may be unaware of the specifics of the tenure process, most can envision the security promised by a tenured position at the school.

“An appointment with tenure means an appointment for the rest of your professional career,” says Tom Stephenson, provost and professor of chemistry.

The office of the provost, the chief academic officer at the college, stresses the importance of screening potential tenure-track appointees. The Swarthmore College Handbook for Instructional Staff states that the tenure-track appointment process “is ultimately an integral decision about performance and potentiality, in which a comprehensive judgment is likely to amount to more than simple addition of separate, specific aspects of performance, despite its dependence upon their appraisal.” Academic departments are thus tasked with hiring individuals that will positively contribute to the college community for the duration of their position.

Several Swarthmore professors commented that other universities make the appointment process competitive for candidates, while Swarthmore appoints individual tenure-track positions in order to fill particular needs in specific departments. Stephenson notes that replacements for professors on sabbatical, as well as three-year positions, are separate from positions with tenure.

“Those are just in situations where we haven’t yet made a commitment to have a tenure-track appointment in a particular field,” he said.

However, for candidates being considered for tenure, the appointment process involves multiple niches of the college community. Appointed candidates are given the assurance that they will be considered for tenure after a six-year process. Candidates are hired as assistant professors for four years. After their third year, the department reviews the candidate, and, if asked to return to the college, the candidate goes on sabbatical during their fourth year. Upon returning from their sabbatical, professors are considered for tenure.

In the event that a candidate must leave due to familial responsibilities, the process is postponed until the candidate returns. Circumstances such as these, however, in no way affect the candidates consideration for the position.

Professor of Biology John Jenkins notes that professors are given several instances of advice and review. By the time their positions are up for tenure, says Jenkins, professors should be aware of their standing with the college.

“You’ve had a couple of reviews at that point,” said Jenkins. “A lot of information has been collected, and the chair will sit down with you and say, ‘Your teaching needs to improve,’ or, ‘Your research needs to improve’ — you’ve been given signals all along the way.”

The actual tenure appointment process begins in a professor’s sixth year. The department assembles a dossier of information on the professor’s six years at the college, made to review the candidate’s outside scholarship, their teaching and their service to the institution. The dossier consists of letters from other colleagues in the department — both tenured and untenured — colleagues in other departments at the college, administrative staff, current students and recent alumni.

“Students play a very critical role,” said Stephenson, regarding the letters from students. “They’re probably the most important piece on the evaluation of teaching.”

The College Handbook stipulates that 25 letters should come from students. Of the 25 students, half are chosen by the candidate and the other half are chosen by the department chair. These letters come from a wide range of students, ranging from students who excelled in the course to those who failed. Because some students opt to not send in a letter or forget to send a letter, departments generally send out more than 25 requests in order to meet the quota.

Zachary Kronstat ’15 admits that he did not know much about the tenure process when asked to write a letter for a tenure-track candidate.

“I knew that I felt passionate about her class, and I felt like she should’ve continued teaching that specific class, but based on her upper-level students, she wasn’t the best upper-level professor,” he commented. Ultimately, the professor in question did not receive the tenured position.

After the pool of letters is collected, the departments tenured staff reviews the dossier. The dossier includes the chair’s review, the colleague and student reviews, the candidate’s published and unpublished work, an updated curriculum vitae, and a letter from the candidate outlining their professional career and their future academic aspirations. The candidate can opt to submit the letter directly to the chair — otherwise, it will be distributed among their department.

Once the dossier is assembled, the Department Chair makes a final evaluation and summary of the dossier which is then sent to the Committee of Promotion and Tenure. According to Stephenson, the committee, appointed every year, consists of the college president, the provost, and four senior members of the faculty. The Faculty and Instructional Staff Handbook asserts that the Committee has sole authority to negotiate any contractual arrangements with the candidate. The contract must then be approved by the president and the Board of Managers.

Jenkins, who was appointed to a tenured position in the late ’70s, reflected on the stress and anxiety surrounding the tenure process.

“The bottom line is, at least for me it was and for a lot of my colleagues, a pretty stressful time of the year. Because it’s just one black hole after another,” he said. “The department collects all of this information, and you don’t know where it’s going. You don’t know how they’re dealing with it.”

Added Jenkins, “I think it’s a fair system — stressful, yes, but fair.”

As colleges hire more admins, critics warn of bloat

in Around Campus/Around Higher Education/News by

According to the college staff reports, in 2011 the college employed 699 full-time employees. Of these, according to Director of Institutional Research Robin Huntington Shores, 242 were full-time professional administrators, while only 162 were tenured and on-track faculty members at the college. Critics of higher education have pointed towards what they call “administrative bloat,” the consistent growth of administrative positions. 

Shores, Vice President of Human Resources Pamela Prescod-Caesar and President Rebecca Chopp claim not to have a concrete definition of the word “administration” and declined to give this year’s equivalent number to what Shores calculated two years ago, though the number of tenurable positions has grown to 169.

“Swarthmore is very wealthy,” said Andrew Hacker, political scientist and author of “Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do About It.” “When last I saw, it had more endowment per student than any comparable college. So it spends on bloat because it has the money to do so. That’s what we found at Williams. In a related bloat, they also overpay their faculties because the money is there, in part to perpetuate the illusion that they are top people in the fields.”

Professor of History Timothy Burke does not completely agree with Hacker’s perspective. While he acknowledges that the trend in administrative growth is faster than that of faculty growth, Burke does not think this strongly applies at Swarthmore.

“Because some of the growth broadly speaking in large universities especially has been in top-level positions, [this mirrors] the degree to which top-level executive positions in private industry have multiplied and become excessively compensated,” he said.

Listing the driving forces behind this growth, Burke mentioned federal and state mandates, student demands, growth in financial and infrastructural intricacy, as well as more complex information technology, and “professionalization of the white-collar economy generally plus an end to ‘amateur’ faculty participation in providing administrative services.”

Professor of Economics Mark Kuperberg believes that some of these expressed reasons, such as more government regulations, may apply, but thinks that the largest reason for this growth derives from student demands.

“You need to ask how much of what students want of their college experience is just what happens in class versus having a big psychology services department, having a lot of coaches, etc. There are a lot of amenities. Part of this race to the top [that people strive for] isn’t just hiring more professors; it’s building buildings and amenities. Many years ago, when people went to colleges, it was less amenities and more studying. But students want these amenities.”

Burke added that, in the past several decades, students and their families demand and expect more services from their colleges or universities. He named residential life as a domain in which this is particularly true.

While Prescod-Caesar and Chopp both said that the college does not have a classification called “administrators,” two predominate domains in which administrative growth has occurred over the past several years are the Provost’s office and student’s physical and mental health.

“Staff growth in the Provost’s area over the past five years has been focused on two major initiatives: enhancing our [Information Technology] support and academic support,” Provost Tom Stephenson said. “Of the roughly 11.5 positions added, over 50 percent have been to directly support academic departments or study abroad, 35 percent have been to improve our network, web content and media services support in ITS and the remainder have been to expand our support of athletics, research compliance and a small increase in administrative support in Parrish.”

Examples of academic departments that receive such support, he said, are peer-mentoring in the sciences, language resource center, writing center and theater production.

Dean of Students Liz Braun added that, over the past four years, the administration has also focused on enhancing student mental health and wellness, diversity and inclusion and violence prevention.

“The department in our division that has changed the most over the last four years is Counseling and Psychological Services,” she said. “Over the last four years, we have increased the CAPS staffing model to three paid senior clinicians plus the Director [David Ramirez], two paid postgraduate fellows and two interns. We are now in a much better position to address the needs of the current student body related to counseling. Some of these positions were paid for through re-allocations of divisional resources and some of it came as new funding through the budgeting process.”

In addition to increases in full-time administrative positions, the college also currently has 182 part-time staff who work fewer than 17.5 hours/week on the 35-hour schedule or fewer than 20 hours/week on the 40-hour schedule. These positions range from seasonal employees, such as waitstaff, to assistant directors.

“There are a great many reasons why a position may be part-time,” Prescod-Caesar said. “In some instances, positions are made part-time to accommodate the needs of a particular employee while also filling a college need. In other situations, positions are seasonal or temporary. We also have positions across campus that support departments or offices during high-volume times of the day or academic year.”

Prescod-Caesar mentioned the library and the development office as two departments with several part-time staff members. The college has decreased the number of full-time library staff, curators, and archivists from 32 in 2011 to 28 this past year.

When economists Robert E. Martin and R. Carter Hill conducted a study in 2012 to calculate real cost changes per student at large, public universities, they found that an optimal staffing ratio is one administrator for every three tenure-track employees. This result caused some colleges and universities to calculate their own administrator to tenure-track employee ratio. What many, including Swarthmore, found was that their ratios did not match this “optimal” amount.

A November 1, 2012 blog post by Shores analyzes the 2011 data of administrators and tenure-track faculty with respect to Martin and Hill’s study on public universities. Noting that the ratio may be different among liberal arts colleges, Shores wrote, “If that three-to-one ratio were desirable here, we would need to add 564 tenure-track faculty. I don’t know how the 242 administrators would manage all the new buildings and infrastructure we’d need. And our student-to-faculty ratio would drop to about two:one. Alternately, we could get rid of about 188 professional administrators to drop their total to 54. In that case, our 162 faculty would have to start managing housing, administering grants, raising funds, supporting IT, doing [Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System] reporting, etc., in addition to all their regular responsibilities.”

Providing general examples of positions that some colleges and universities have, Hacker said that it can be difficult to find administrative positions without rationale. Still, he does not think that indicates a necessity for each of them.

“Gay students may feel isolated and misunderstood, so the college should provide a trained adult to help them,” Hacker said about administrative bloat. “Students with eating disorders are far from home, so the college should provide services that parents would have secured. The lacrosse team has had a spectacular season. So shouldn’t there be someone to alert media outlets and show them around when they arrive? So bloat is sustained by the apparent rationality of every claim for a service. That’s how it starts and why it grows.”

Burke, on the other hand, does not think there are any positions that are unnecessary enough to dispose of so easily. While he agrees with Hacker that Swarthmore can provide more resources than some other academic institutions, he does not see this as a negative.

“If you look at less wealthy, less selective institutions, you’ll typically find that they begin to have to make much more careful choices that Swarthmore so far hasn’t had to make: to have fewer departments, to have fewer faculty in less popular or well-enrolled subjects, to have higher teaching loads and therefore less attention to students, to have markedly weaker services in some critical area,” Burke said. “But this is pretty much Neoliberal Ideology 101: impoverish wherever you can, because you can.”

For Kuperberg, however, it is not so much a question of the necessity of current administrative duties as it is the necessity of how many people are required to carry out these duties. In fact, he feels that the existing system is almost too efficient.

“I think things are done now very professionally on the administration’s side that really don’t have to be done very well,” he said. “Let’s say I submit for reimbursement. I get that reimbursement back before the credit card company even bills me. I don’t need it that fast. They probably have people who can get to things quickly because they don’t have much else to do.”

While at a slower pace than that of administrative positions, the number of tenurable positions at the college is also increasing; during the 2003-2004 academic year, there were 158 tenurable positions, whereas this year there are 169.

“Historically, the growth in the faculty has been to accommodate new areas of the curriculum and the historic slow growth in the student body,” Stephenson said. “Over the next decade, we will be adding faculty positions to implement the strategic initiatives adopted in 2011 [and] assure continued student-faculty engagement in one-on-one and small group settings such as research and thesis supervision, directed readings and community based learning opportunities.”

Academic departments that have developed over the past 30 years include computer science, Arabic, Japanese, Islamic Studies and film and media studies.

Kuperberg believes that there may be an unspoken incentive not to increase tenure-track positions as quickly as administrative positions are rising, though.

“Adding a tenure-track position is forever, so there’s less room for getting rid of positions,” he said. “If they hire a staff person, [however,] they can fire that person tomorrow. When they think of expanding, it seems that adding faculty members is a fixed cost and less flexible, whereas adding administrators allows a kind of bias that, as we try to increase quality, we don’t have to think as hard when adding administrators.”

Burke thinks that the majority of Swarthmore faculty knows about these administrative and tenure-track trends, and some worry about the college’s ascribing to these trends. “There is, however, also an extent to which griping about administration is as generic to faculty life as griping about food in the cafeteria is about student life,” he added.

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