EPAG focuses on diversity, class size

By Zac Farber

In reviewing the college’s curriculum, the Economic Policy and Governance Committee is focusing on the “breadth and shape of the curriculum,” “student demand” for courses, and racial, gender and disciplinary “faculty diversity.”David Martyn, the chair of EPAG, presented the committee’s latest progress on a curricular development plan Dec. 9 at the faculty meeting in the Weyerhaeuser boardroom.

Martyn said EPAG recommends emphasizing core areas of the liberal arts curriculum by comparing Macalester’s offered majors to the common majors offered by ten peer schools selected by the provost’s office. EPAG also recommends emphasizing Macalester’s distinct qualities such as “internationalism, multiculturalism and civic engagement.”

Martyn pointed to geography and international studies as departments whose strengths reinforce the college’s mission.

To cultivate faculty diversity, Martyn stressed the importance of choosing which kinds of curriculum can diversify the faculty rather than trying to recruit a diverse faculty to teach existing courses.

Martyn noted a growing disparity in student-faculty ratios among the different disciplines that has arisen over the past decade. Over that time period, the ratio has increased slightly in the social sciences, stayed roughly steady in the natural sciences, and decreased in the humanities and more dramatically in the fine arts.

But Martyn said there is a debate among members of EPAG over whether the changing student-faculty ratios are a problem.

“Even if you accept that there is a discrepancy, would a solution be effective?” Martyn said.

Martyn said he believes that supply of professors drives demand of students, so if an additional social science professor were hired to decrease the student-faculty ratio in that discipline, more students would gravitate toward the social sciences and undermine the solution.

Professors expressed varied reactions to Martyn’s presentation.

Religious Studies Department Chair Jim Laine said that distinctions between disciplines are arbitrary and differ among colleges. While history courses at Macalester are considered part of the humanities, history is classified as a social science at other colleges.

Sarah West, associate professor of economics, questioned the wisdom of giving the faculty the power to shape the curriculum, suggesting the Provost should take the most central role.

American Studies professor Karin Aguilar-San Juan said, “When we think of shared governance, it has a certain meaning, and when we think of effective governance, it’s not always the same.”

EPAG is asking for suggestions from faculty as it continues to work on the curricular development plan it was commissioned to create by the faculty (at EPAG’s request) in spring 2009. Martyn elicited laughter from the assembled faculty when he showed the Moodle page where the curricular development plan is posted and noted that not a single faculty member had posted a comment.