EPAG proposes changes to hiring

By Zac Farber

As the extended recession slows the growth of Macalester’s faculty, the college’s Educational Policy and Governance Committee is looking to increase coordination and communication about how to apportion faculty positions among academic departments. But the hold on adding new faculty positions this year is a marked contrast from the swell in faculty size of the last decade. From 2001 to 2008 the number of full-time faculty members jumped from 148 to 164. And the new equilibrium means that one department’s gain in faculty is another one’s loss.

The faculty, staff and students on EPAG are working to help guide faculty and administrators in shaping the composition of the faculty. At the faculty meeting Nov. 10 in the Weyerhaeuser boardroom, EPAG chair David Martyn, a German and Russian studies professor, presented the committee’s progress.

Committee members are soliciting and organizing suggestions from faculty for a curricular development plan. The committee, said EPAG chair David Martyn, hopes the plan will take into account the mission of a liberal degree, will address imbalances of student to faculty ratios between departments and will seek to promote faculty diversity.

EPAG is also developing a more detailed proposal that would change how the college deals with the positions of departing faculty. Under the current system, if a Geology professor retires or takes a position at another college, the geology department customarily is allowed to hire a replacement. But under EPAG’s proposal, the geology department would be required to submit a justification and application for keeping the position. If their proposal was rejected, then the geology department and any other department could compete for the “open line” the following year. This system, Martyn said, would provide a way of distributing faculty to academic departments deserving of growth.

But some faculty worried that these plans would transfer power away from the faculty toward the administration and that the plans could lead to departments acting to horde faculty positions even when it means retaining subpar faculty.

“If people are coming up for tenure,” biology professor Dan Hornbach said, “departments may make certain calculations based on whether they think the position may be returned to them.”

“I’m worried,” mathematics professor Danny Kaplan said, “that we’re putting into place a process that will remove the ability to make sensible administrative decisions and will fail to lead us anywhere productively in terms of the overall curriculum.”

Kaplan called for EPAG to make specific recommendations about which programs to strengthen and which programs should be scaled back.

“All the criteria that I’ve seen,” Kaplan said, “are so vague that they can be interpreted in any way whatsoever.”

But the political complication of asking EPAG, a committee with seven faculty members, to make recommendations on the relative merits of different departments led some faculty to question whether the advantages of faculty autonomy were worth the disadvantages.

President Brian Rosenberg said that it was the administration’s role to limit inter-departmental squabbles and that while he would allow the faculty’s discussions to “play out,” it is his responsibility to ensure that these politics do not adversely affect students.

“We have to ask ourselves,” President Brian Rosenberg said, “what the odds are that any individual faculty committee is likely to consider institutional interests-in a very good sense-over individual departmental interests.”

Economics professor Sarah West suggested that the administration should hold a central role. “Doesn’t the college pay the provost to be the holder of vision for curriculum?” she asked.

But this question was more than rhetorical for Hornbach.

“I think what you need to do is to read your Macalester constitution,” he told West. “The faculty has the primary responsibility for the curriculum . and I don’t think we should abdicate that responsibility in any way.