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E-Musings from the Dean

On the Importance of Faculty/Student Ratios in the Discussion of the Quality of the Student Experience

Posted: April 14th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

In recent weeks I have heard and frequently read statements that draw conclusions about the impact of increasing class size and failure to reappointment lecturers that confound the impact of the rescissions caused by the budget reduction imposed on CAS and the impact of the UVM’s need to have CAS reach by fall a faculty/student ratio of 17:1. Further complicating an understanding of cause, effect and possible response is confusion over what is being referred to people use the word “quality.” Here’s my attempt to throw some light on this complicated subject and pose what I see as a real challenge to addressing the issue of quality as I think it is most frequently being defined.
First, there is a financial plan for UVM’s growth which is predicated on UVM’s being at a student/faculty ratio of 16:1. My Spring 2005 letter of appointment as dean suggests that 16/1 is the CAS target. However, in 2007, CAS was told that its ratio was 17:1 and that this target was required of CAS for the entire campus to get to 16:1. In the interim CAS was moving toward a higher ratio mostly be adding capacity in the social and natural sciences, where the demand by larger cohorts of students was high. At the same time, beginning a good deal before 2005, Departments in CAS began to use CE courses to manage the demand CAS was not budgeted to support, such that a larger and larger proportion of CAS students were being taught via CE and those students were not being counted in the calculation of the CAS faculty/student ratio (nor were, or are, those in the Honors College). Repeated timely requests for this calculation to be adjusted to include CAS students taught by CE were denied.
This past year, CAS was told that it would be penalized $870,000 for not reaching its student/ faculty ratio and informed in August that this was equivalent to having more than 20 FTE faculty it “did not need.” Payment of the penalty has not yet been made, but has been stayed until 2010 and 2011, when the current plan is to have CAS return that amount in two equal payments. CAS moved quickly to avoid such penalties in future by working both to increase the numerator and decrease the denominator in the student/faculty ratio. The only way to do this was, first, to move the CAS students from CE to CAS instruction and thus increase the numerator. The result was that some lecturers in CE became redundant. The second part of this strategy was guided by a conscious attempt to preserve the predominance of small classes that are a core value in CAS and an important market niche for UVM and provide adequate capacity for all CAS students. Thus departments that had large classes (80+) were encouraged to make them even larger and those departments (mostly in the humanities) whose individual student/faculty ratios were low, were asked to mount a small number of large classes taught by faculty known to be skilled lecturers. (In addition, as I described in a prior blog, CAS asked the administration for funding for a new program of undergraduate teaching fellows to assist with these larger classes and was awarded $80,000 for that purpose). The $870,000 penalty, we have now been informed, may be lifted if we actually can show that the student/faculty ratio has been reached when an estimate of that ration is calculated in fall after add/drop. If the ratio is not reached, the presumption is that CAS will continue to experience future financial penalties.
All this would have happened and did happen separate from the rescission. The rescission was a $1.76m cut of base-budget funding. It was accomplished by “cashing in” 7 vacant tenure-track lines and two vacant staff positions and the associated benefits of about 40% of salary, including two lines that had been under active recruitment at the time and have since been returned for fall, 2009 recruitment. In the mix was also savings from departmental and college operating funds, return of most of the HELIX Program to the Provost’s Office, savings on chair stipends as the result of a new, and more equitable method of compensation, a small amount of base-budget lecturer funding (that we planned to try to replace with one-time funding released from leaves and sabbaticals) and 5 staff positions (we await word due in May on whether or not these positions slated for phase 2 of the layoffs will in fact result in layoffs–also see a prior blog). The major portion of this rescission now remains 5 vacant tenure-track faculty lines. This needs to be seen in context: CAS has over 300 faculty.
So how does all this affect the quality of the undergraduate educational experience? There will be some larger classes and there will be some large classes in programs that never had them before. Will this affect the quality of the undergraduate educational experience? These students will have less face time with faculty than they otherwise would and, thus, the student/faculty relationship in these classes will be different than that experienced in smaller classes. However, it is important to note that most classes remain small (again, see prior blog) Is there a decline in the quality of the education itself? That is, will less be learned? That is an empirical question. Educational outcomes are exactly that, outcomes. They are measured, not by interviewing people before the education is delivered about whether or not they think students will learn less, but by actually trying to craft research designed to reveal whether or not this is the case. UVM has institutionalized methods of learning outcome assessment and student satisfaction already in place that track such outcomes, and programs have assessment plans in place as well, but we won’t actually have any data for quite some time that will reflect these recent changes and those data will be proximate unless we actually develop strategies for trying to measure in a reliable and valid way, as educators, the impact of what is happening. UVM has many researchers at its disposal who could begin to do this research, but I haven’t heard anyone suggest yet that it be done.
What I continue to hear, then, is that large classes and lecturer non-reappointment is the result of budgetary cuts. That seems demonstrably untrue to me. The suggestion is that these changes will result in less learning. That seems to me an empirical question. What is clear is that the student/teacher experience in some classes will be changed. But here’s the stubborn issue that untangling these sources of change reveals. If the assumption is that larger classes necessarily produce inferior learning outcomes and the implied solution is that they be scaled back to prior size (if this is what the funding recently offered by the President to continue to insure quality is used for) by hiring more lecturers, that will necessarily require an adjustment in the expected student/faculty ratio expected of CAS because whereas the predicted number of students in the equation remains the same, the number of people teaching them will have increased. Moreover, if it is the case that a campus ratio of 16:1 is required for financial viability, then it also implies that that ratio and its distribution among the schools and colleges needs to be revisited.
That said, I would like to present some data on the CAS investment in lecturer salaries: in ’08 it was $5,109,037; in ’09 $5,653,076. Our current estimate for 09 is $5,014,801. This amount is apt to go up as first-time, first-year students begin to enroll–but probably not significantly, unless, of course, more lecturers are hired.

Accepted Student Days, Registration and Orientation

Posted: April 9th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

Next week our current students will begin to make their course selection for Fall ’09 and soon the members of the class of 2013 will do the same. I would like to take a moment to thank faculty members and department chairs in the College for all the work it took to build the liberal arts offerings from which students will select. While there is some concern about particular areas of study or electives that will not be offered next year, many of those gaps are only temporary and I would like to point out some of the curricular innovations being introduced in CAS this coming year, even at a time of duress:
* For the first time, students will be able to declare a Global Studies Major
*Students will be able to begin or continue their study of Arabic and
take classes in Portuguese
*A residential Integrated Fine Arts Program will be launched this fall in the
College that parallels our very successful programs in the Humanities, Studies
of Earth and the Environment, and the Social Sciences
*We look forward to welcoming a diverse cohort of new faculty (see the CAS
homepage, where we have already begun to load pix and bios) with expertise
and course offerings in the following departments: Romance Languages, History,
Art and Art History, Religion and Physics.
*We will also have a new Henderson Fellow in Romance Languages from Guadaloupe.
That the College was able to consider curricular innovation under the extraordinary financial conditions that we have found ourselves in is a credit to the creativity and hard work of faculty members across the College and across all disciplines. As you move ahead with advising our students in the coming weeks and months, please reassure them that, despite what they might have been led to believe or read in the newspaper or on line or seen on TV, as the preceding innovations suggest, the College of Arts and Sciences is a vibrant, enduring and supportive intellectual community at the heart of what we know will continue to be for them a wonderful academic experience.

Update on CAS Staff and Layoffs

Posted: March 30th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

I met with staff on March 17 to go over the same ground I will here, but I know that not everyone was available for that noon meeting, so I thought it made sense to blog a bit on this topic. I know that the prospect of layoffs is causing anxiety; my hope is that knowledge is a mediator of that stress. Thus, I reiterate here the update I provided earlier
First, let me say clearly that AS OF TODAY NO STAFF MEMBERS EMPLOYED IN THE COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES HAVE BEEN LAID OFF AS A RESULT OF THE CURRENT BUDGET CRISIS. My understanding is that the Board of Trustees will meet on April 13th to discuss the state of the university finances and that only after that meeting will the schools and colleges have any clarity with regard to the possibility of additional state funding and its possible uses.
The Deans have been told that if additional funding becomes available, we will be given the choice of retaining the staff positions or the funding. The College of Arts and Sciences has base-budget funded staff in two categories who have been told that they are at risk of layoff. The first includes four positions that were initially funded by a HELIX Award in support of undergraduate research and are now funded by the Provost’s Office. Of those four, two technicians, will continue to be offered employment by CAS on slightly reduced appointments because they support our teaching missions in Biology and Psychology; the two other positions have been transferred back to the Provost’s Office, where decisions will be made about layoffs or reallocation. The second category includes eight staff positions slated for possible elimination in CAS. Two positions are vacant, one is funded on a gift account, and five are base-budget funded. Although this is not certain, it is possible that the position funded on the gift account will be eliminated. If additional state funding is forthcoming and CAS has a choice of keeping the remaining five base-funded positions that now have people in them, I have announced in several venues that my decision will be to keep those people employed. That is my plan.
I will provide an update on this situation when I have one. In the meantime, I know that you will treat the people in your midst who you know have been alerted to the possibility of layoff with the utmost kindness and concern. I do hope that these layoffs can be averted.

Of Course Everybody Knows That the Dean Hates the Psych Department

Posted: March 24th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

One of the reasons there are so many movies about the painful experiences we all had in high school is that high school aged kids are unable to move beyond the personal. It’s all about their efforts to claim and defend identities they don’t know whether or not they actually want or will be able to defend. There’s lots of high drama about who likes whom, who still has those cooties they had in elementary school, who should be included in the in-group and who just has to be treated as “other,” just because. This drama is part of an effort to protect one’s fragile identity by being part of a group. If you are part of this group and not that, perhaps people won’t question your right to have the identity the group performs. I was part of that scene. you probably were, too. It was too humiliating and dangerous not to be, but mostly I hid behind the covers of novels.
This preface is by way of saying, that I’m not interested in duplicating that scene. When I got wind of a rumor that “the dean hates the Psych and English Departments” and that Nancy Welch really gets her dander up, I thought: time to talk about this, time to talk about me. I don’t “other” departments and I don’t want to be the “other.” I don’t want to lead a College where people think that decisions are the result of personal animosity or favoritism.
A bit of recent history. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a donor a thank you note for giving the Psych Dept a gift. In it, I alluded to the high quality of the Dept. I got an e-mail from the donor. The gift was meant for Psychiatry and how dare I praise one department over others that he knew had merit. I wrote him back: the Psych Dept has more majors than any other Dept in the College and, as far as I could tell, taught them well. It had a complex set of graduate programs in several specialties, at least one of which was very highly ranked nationally. The College has three Green and Gold Professorships and, as of fall, the Dept will have two of them. The faculty of the Dept routinely win national awards and the Dept brings in a remarkable number of federally-funded grants. Since I’ve come we’ve hired a raft of really fabulous junior folks who are beginning to really take off as scholar-teachers. The Department is collegial, has a model mentoring system for junior faculty and is well run. The donor wrote me an e-mail conceding and confirming that his funding had been moved where he intended it to go.
My point is that I don’t hate the Psych Dept. I don’t hate departments as a matter of principle. This isn’t high school; this isn’t who I am. In fact, the Dept is a gem, but so are others. Has it suffered in the same ways others have during this downturn? Of course it has, but I don’t think more than others, and it’s been the cite of significant investment.
On to the English Department. Why would anyone in English think the Dean “hates the Department?” I think the issue in English is that the Dept feels that I haven’t kept up with the faculty retirements they’ve had, but who knows? English has also suffered from the rescission in ways peculiar to it because so much instruction in the Dept was delivered by part-time lecturers. The pressure of the student/faculty ratio is a much better explanation for recent change in that area than is the personal animosity of the dean. However, let me be clear, the dean doesn’t hate the English Department or anyone in it. I respect Nancy’s political commitment and activism. I write her when I know she hasn’t gotten it right or I think there’s been some distortion, but I’ve never written and suggested that she shouldn’t do what she’s doing and I’ve never questioned her motives. When Andrew Barnaby was the union grievance officer, he was a pit bull. Dealing with him had the effect on my emotional state you think that dealing with a pit bull would have, but that’s beside the point. I’m a grown-up. I understood that this was a role that he was taking very seriously and I respected him for the passion and dedication he demonstrated in presenting an employee’s cause. I could also talk at length about the talent and scholarly excellence that clearly characterizes the Dept and its various specialties in film, creative writing, etc. I couldn’t be more proud to be the dean of the college that houses the English Department.
So I would ask you to analyze decisions and ask questions about them that acknowledge organizational and financial exigencies and factual knowledge about attempts to spread scarce resources equitably. Let’s admit that organizations are human inventions and humans do the best they can. Let’s give one another in the College the benefit of the doubt. But, please, let’s not recapitulate high school. More importantly, you will neither engage the larger issues of governance and resource allocation in the College, nor understand the challenges and opportunities the College faces. At this time in the institution’s history, the need couldn’t be greater for College faculty to do both.

Update on CAS Lecturers for 2009-2010

Posted: March 20th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

In any given year, increasing or decreasing student demand and changing curriculum as well as the need to fill instructional gaps created by the sabbaticals, parental leaves, junior leaves, and administrative assignments of tenure-track faculty have an impact on the number of full-time and part-time lecturers hired by the College of Arts and Sciences.
This year, responding to these normal shifts and under pressure to increase our student faculty ratio to 17:1 and cut our budget, we reduced the number of full time lecturer positions slightly and chose instead to make more significant reductions in the number of part-time lecturers for the coming year.
At this point in time, this is where the college stands:
· Overall, the College of Arts and Science will have 10 fewer full-time lecturer positions and 17 fewer part-time positions in FY 10.
· Most of the reduction in full-time lecturers (9 out of 13) is the result of normal turnover resulting from tenure track faculty returning to the teaching ranks of the college.
· We are currently making offers to 61 full-time lecturers next year and 40 part-time lecturers.

Announcing College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Fellows

Posted: March 19th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

NOTA BENE: Before I post my second blog, I would like to state clearly that although the first blog was rather formal, my goal in future is to use the blog to alert faculty and staff of College events and decisions as they are being planned and to use it as well to respond to questions that I learn are widespread about things that are happening in the College or about College responses to university decisions. My hope is that these will be both timely communications that will, by necessity, also be informal. The result is that they may be updated and revised as plans develop and are refined.
College of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Fellows
This coming fall selected departments in CAS (those whose chairs told us their delivery of instruction would benefit from such a program) will pilot a new program that pairs undergraduate teaching assistants with faculty teaching large classes. The students will be chosen by department faculty using criteria developed by them, but are expected to be juniors or seniors by the fall who are academically talented students familiar with the course material and who contemplate careers in university teaching or related fields. The Provost’s office will provide the College with funding for 50-60 of these students who will work 8-10 hours per week for hourly wages. The goal is twofold: 1) to create pedagogical teams, supported with relevant programming, that will give students experience parallel to that many of them experience in the area of research, and 2) to provide faculty teaching large classes with support.

Constancy Amidst Chaos

Posted: March 17th, 2009 by Arts & Sciences Computing Services Office

During times of organizational upheaval, it is easy to think that everything about the organization is in flux, that the predictability about environment humans need to not be emotionally and physiologically on alert around the clock will never be restored. Those are times when it is difficult to focus on constants, but in fact that sort of focus is often calming and reassuring. More than being restorative, such a focus can create a realization of a community of care and competence that seems to be hard to achieve at UVM these days.
What I would like to address are the few things that I know are still true in the College of Arts and Sciences. First, through the waves of disturbing news, most faculty continue to teach at a level of excellence I’ve never experienced in an academic institution before, students continue to be engaged actively in learning and the CAS staff support us efficiently and with good humor despite the very real fear they were and are experiencing about job loss.
This signals to me a real commitment to quality at every level. Recruitment committees continue to produce unbelievably accomplished pools of diverse applicants and we have, thus far, hired our first choice in every search. The BA is Global Studies has been approved by the Board of Trustees and the proposal being made by CAS and CEMS for a BA in Engineering is moving through the approval process. Accepted students have begun to arrive on our doorstep and we have continued to woo them with great success.
It is true that our large classes will be larger in fall than in the past, but we very deliberately tried to reach our student/faculty ratio without increasing class size across the board and we are moving forward with systematic efforts to help faculty learn how best to teach these classes by arranging for a series of pedagogical workshops that, for example, will offer instruction on how to use the latest technology to increase intimacy and engagement and efficiently assess learning the first is this Friday). In addition to quality, we are doing our best to preserve another College value, in fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s our hallmark, the value of learning in relationship.
By “learning in relationship” I refer to the strong belief within the College in the efficacy of human connection as a value in itself, but also as a context for the deep and durable learning that the faculty in CAS aspire to for their students and themselves.
Commitment to quality learning in relationship is really what I think the college in all about. It is an almost sacred identity. We mean to preserve it no matter what. Many feel that it is also the unique niche we claim in the market, but the commitment here is not primarily market-driven. It is what I think CAS stands for at its core.
To this end, the College has proposed to central administration the creation of a fund to support a cohort of CAS Undergraduate Teaching Fellows each year who would be integrated into the teaching of large classes as peer mentors, teaching assistants and graders as appropriate. Fellowship would be available only to the most motivated and academically accomplished students, particularly those who wished to demonstrate to graduate schools that they have not only been part of research teams, but part of pedagogical teams as well.
There are other cultural markers of CAS culture. A high value is placed by most on issues of social justice, equity, transparency, accountability and faculty governance.
I would like to leave the deanship knowing that in each of these areas, CAS has moved closer to its goals. The College has a long commitment to faculty governance in its vibrant, if sometimes messy, committee structure. Recent changes to the By-Laws have allowed the establishment of a new Academic Program and Budget Committee that will advise me henceforth on new programs and the allocation of tenure-track positions. We now have posted to the College website a detailed statement about how merit pay decisions are made. Shortly, expect to see posted guidelines for chair and program director compensation. And we are moving to try to standardize course releases for service. I think that these are all moves in the right direction. They valorize faculty governance and force administrative accountability through permanent organizational and procedural change. They insure equal treatment in the governing and administration of the College, just as we emphasize the importance of equal treatment in our dealings with students.
It is these values that tell us who we are. They are the constants of College culture and they are very much still in play.

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