'Dr. Day Labor' misdiagnoses administrative priorities, hiring record

By Owen Truesdell

While this is the opinion section of The Mac Weekly, facts cannot be blindly ignored. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in Michael Richter’s “Dr. Day Labor” [9/11/09] . In his piece, Mr. Richter accuses the administration of compromising the quality of a Macalester education to save money. Mr. Richter grossly misstates the actions taken because of last year’s global economic collapse. Moreover, the article was incredibly disrespectful in its treatment of faculty and administrative staff. What follows is a rebuttal of both his interpretation of last year’s hiring decisions and the recommendations he presented.

Mr. Richter criticizes the administration for “cutting back on [new] faculty hires.” In fact, according to Provost Kathy Murray, last year the college hired fifteen new tenure-track faculty members, the largest number in thirty years. Compare this with many of our peer institutions that instituted complete hiring freezes, and that number is all the more impressive.

Further, Mr. Richter criticizes what he sees as a change in academic focus toward teaching “job-related skills.” This ignores the fact that Macalester has created concentrations in Community and Global Health and Global Citizenship, programs which few would argue are job-focused, in addition to adding an Applied Mathematics major.

But why are a liberal arts education and instruction intended to help students succeed in the workforce mutually exclusive? In my mind we should be able to have both.

Mr. Richter suggests a “complete change in priorities to avoid becoming some new hybrid of a technical school.” He recommends an increase in faculty size and salary, but this already is administration policy. The Step Forward campaign is raising $26.5 million for faculty positions and new curricular initiatives. Mr. Richter also suggests that we “make publication less of a priority in new hires and tenure decisions. A great scholar who is a poor teacher clearly has no place at this school.” Why can’t Macalester professors be both great scholars and great teachers? Insinuating that recent hires are anything but that is foolish and disrespectful to both professors and those who hired them. Macalester’s priorities in funding an academically rigorous, international and multicultural education are exactly what they should be and no change is needed.

Finally I would like to address what I found to be the most insulting statement in Mr. Richter’s article. He says, “Pay grades say something about how much we value staff members, and administrators are rarely as valuable or as difficult to replace as great professors.” This statement shows a complete lack of understanding of how a small, liberal arts college functions. Most students spend 12 hours in the classroom per week but we get much more than 12 hours of education. Staff members create the on-campus environment that provides just as much of an education as the academic work students do in class. The work of administrators makes Macalester a community, not just a school.

Mr. Richter owes an apology to the dedicated administrators and staff who spend countless hours making Macalester the community that it is. They deserve to make more money, not less. As we’ve heard over and over again, last year’s economic collapse was the worst since the Great Depression. In my view the administration made the necessary difficult decisions to protect Macalester’s finances without sacrificing the academic quality of our school. They should be applauded for this, not insulted.

Owen Truesdell can be reached

at [email protected].