Dr. Day labor

By Michael Richter

Last spring, Macalester announced cutbacks on faculty to deal with our financial troubles. In doing so, they have decided to compromise on the most important aspect of a quality education. Good teaching is clearly the driving force behind the liberal arts. Our recent selling points like internationalism, well-rounded academics, and instruction in “critical-thinking” are vague and unconvincing. These things can’t be measured and there is not a strong case that you can’t get them at bigger schools. Our only unquestionable advantage is the quality of our professors and their devotion to students. Unfortunately, the administration has decided to cut back on new hires, decrease the number of permanent faculty, slow down pay raises, and “weigh the importance” of vacant positions. Their willingness to compromise on quality and ignore their biggest selling point not only cheats us out of what we came for, but it will hurt the college in the long run.Aside from lowering our standards on faculty, there has been a more general change in our focus over the past couple years. Many liberal arts schools like ours are struggling because of the demand for a career-focused education, and we are guilty of trying to appeal to this new demand. However, emulating this type of education may not be in the best interest to colleges like ours. By putting focus of research, facilities, and student opportunities, we are trying to compete on a level at which we are clearly inferior to Universities. Simply look at the size and popularity of our economics department, each year producing new Goldman-Sachs and JPMorgan employees; something that should bring shame to anyone claiming to practice the liberal arts. Or look at our new “Applied Mathematics” major, clearly geared towards giving you more job-related skills. Giving into the demand for career-based education is antithetical to a liberal arts education.

I suggest a complete change in priorities to avoid becoming some new hybrid form of a technical school. A renewed dedication to teaching quality is the only thing a college like ours can do to offer something unique and valuable. Making our faculty the first priority not only requires increasing its size, wages, and support staff, but changing the way we hire and retain professors. Instead of simply putting up a help wanted ad and weeding out the majority, why not build up a recruitment network to find talented instructors? Also, 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, so why do we consider publication records when measuring professors?

Further, decrease the number of temporary and part-time faculty members. Visiting professorships are an inexcusable form of union breaking, the school gets teachers on the cheap and the professor gets no promise of a career. They did not earn their Ph.D.s to be treated like day laborers. If they can teach, give them a real position; and if they can’t they should not be brought here in the first place. This revolving door of faculty members is created from a corporate perspective, and our ability to connect with professors suffers from it. Finally, make faculty and administration salaries comparable. Giving some administrators double what the average professor makes does not fit in with our non-profit status or the values of the college. 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.

Macalester is quite simply not giving us an education that corresponds to the increasing tuition. Perhaps part of the funds raised for the IGC, that expensive piece of shameless pandering, should have been set-aside for the Center for Scholarship and Teaching. Our school made the faculty cutbacks to help them deal with the economic crisis, but they do not realize that many students are well aware of the falling standards here. When a business has lost some customers, cutting back on quality to maintain a respectable bottom line is a sure way to lose the rest of them. The right decision would be to assure us that we were smart to choose Macalester, and to put more effort towards our strongest asset. There should be no higher priority than improving the quality and treatment of our professors, even if it requires making cuts elsewhere.

Contact Michael Richter ’10 at [email protected]