By Brian Martucci
Macalester often touts a low student-to-faculty ratio in an effort to attract students seeking the experience of a small liberal arts college. The college, however, has traditionally lagged behind peer schools in its student-to-staff ratio, a statistic that receives less attention, but which students could feel on a daily basis.According to Treasurer David Wheaton, Macalester?TMs student-staff ratio, 5.5 to 1, is currently the highest among the top 40 most competitive liberal arts colleges in the U.S. Carleton, by comparison, has a ratio of 4 to 1.Macalester currently employs about 330 staff members, a title that includes any employee who is not a member of the faculty. Carleton, with 1,900 students, employs 470 staff members.But figuring out which departments suffer the most from thin staffing compared to peer schools is harder than it seems.According to Wheaton, staff plans vary from college to college, making comparisons between different colleges difficult. To further complicate comparisons, many schools contract out some basic services like security, food, and accounting to outside agencies. Employees from private contractors are not considered college staff.?oeBecause of all this, it?TMs hard to pin down where shortages are most acute,?? Wheaton said. ?oeHowever, the long term outlook suggests that we need to add positions in general.??Historically, Macalester has had a higher student-staff ratio than most of its comparison colleges. ?oeBack in the ?TM70s and ?TM80s [when the endowment was performing poorly], we didn?TMt have very much money to spend, and as a result we were understaffed,?? Dean of Students Laurie Hamre said.According to Hamre, this trend continued through the 1990s, even as the value of Macalester?TMs endowment skyrocketed, because most of the new capital went straight to sorely needed infrastructure upgrades, new buildings and new faculty positions.A high student-staff ratio means that the staff members who do work at the college may be asked to do more than their counterparts at other schools.?oeWe notice the shortage of staff a little more these days because current Macalester students are more engaged on campus than their predecessors and demand more support for student organizations and programming,?? Hamre said.?oeWe could probably use at least one more staff person in every division of Student Affairs,?? she said.The endowment?TMs recent growth should begin to translate into new on-campus staff positions. The endowment?TMs value has increased 12 percent in the past year and now stands at $524 million.?oeIt?TMs easier to fill the gaps in our departments now that the endowment is performing better,?? Wheaton said.According to Hamre, the two separate restructurings of Student Affairs over the past two years will ultimately translate into five new staff positions. This year?TMs budget is the first since the 1990s that will actually create new jobs at the college.The issue is a pressing one for many of Macalester?TMs employees. According to Director of Campus Programs Brian Wagner, the average Campus Programs employee works over 50 hours per week.Wagner said that while most of Macalester?TMs employees are satisfied with their jobs, heavy workloads have spurred some to consider leaving for other schools.?oeThe constant pressure that comes along with hard work burns people out and impacts their relationships with students,?? Wagner said.Poorly staffed departments like Student Affairs are often forced to delegate clerical and support duties to higher-paid staff members with many already-existing responsibilities. Wagner suggested that his department would benefit from the hiring of a full-time coordinator who would perform secretarial and accounting duties.Understaffing also forces the college to choose which programs it must cut in order to keep employees?TM workloads manageable and make room for the newer programming it periodically needs to keep ahead of its comparison schools. ?oeWhen we make decisions about which programs to keep, which to cut, and which to create, we have to assume that we will have no new resources coming to us for the foreseeable future,?? Wagner said.The Information and Technology Services (ITS) department has been especially understaffed in recent years. Compared to similar departments at 61 other members of the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges (CLAC), of which Macalester is a member, Mac?TMs ITS division was in the 30th percentile with 21 employees.The average number of Information Technology staff members at CLAC institutions is 29.ITS Associate Director Ted Fines expressed doubts as to how quickly this problem could be corrected.?oeThe good news, in the long term, is that [President] Brian Rosenberg is aware that this is an issue,?? he said. ?oeBut in the short term, we?TMre going to continue to be understaffed.??The only exception to this general trend of understaffing is the Development Office. According to Director of Advancement Tommy Bonner, the Development Office has hired six new employees in anticipation of the $150 million capital campaign scheduled to begin in June.While the college?TMs current student-staff ratio may be a disadvantage, the college has no plans to radically alter its staffing structure. According to Wheaton, the college prefers to remain comparatively light on staff because understaffing is an easier problem to fix than overstaffing?”it simply requires hiring new staff to fill in gaps where they exist rather than making difficult decisions about what jobs must be eliminated to cut expenses.Furthermore, keeping fewer employees on its payroll allows the college to pass some savings on to its students in the form of increased financial aid and more comprehensive programming, according to Wheaton.Although it is difficult to discern an exact cause and effect relationship between the two, Wheaton noted that Carleton?TMs annual discount rate would be nearly as high as Macalester?TMs if it did not have to pay an additional 140 staff members.?oeIt?TMs better to be lean than bloated,?? he said. ?oeWe have an efficient operation here, and that ultimately translates into a better experience for our students.??