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.