Faculty objects to report's financial focus

by Julia Levy | 11/15/00 6:00am

A bulky 34-page Academic Planning Committee report labeled, "Confidential Preliminary Report" was publicly discussed for the first time during Monday's faculty meeting -- once again unleashing questions and concerns about what the report signals for Dartmouth's future.

The report has been in the works since the fall of 1999 and Dean of the Faculty Edward Berger who sits on the Academic Planning Committee said it "looks at the big picture."

The faculty members who talked to The Dartmouth yesterday said the big picture and broad-reaching scope of the report led to the heated conversation at this week's faculty meeting.

English professor Donald Pease, who spoke against some parts of the report at the meeting compared the general apprehension among faculty members to the student uproar when the Initiative was released in February 1999.

"You know how anxious students become over the Student Life Initiative," he said. "There's a related anxiety when faculty confront change. That anxiety translates itself into strong questions."

Berger said there is no time frame for implementing the goals the report addresses.

"It's not an implementing report," he said, calling it instead a "fundraising" and "development" report. "It's intended to raise our sights for a fundraising campaign."

He said if the necessary sums of money are raised in the next major College capital campaign, Dartmouth could have a slightly different feel. However, he emphasized that many of the changes in the report have been a long time in coming and are just a statement of Dartmouth's national evolution.

Berger said Dartmouth started transforming 40 to 50 years ago. "It started demanding more from faculty. Right now we're just seeing that pattern becoming more and more manifest."

Report lingo

The report is broken down into five categories and 18 subcategories that address topics from creating an ideal learning environment to enhancing facilities and the academic environment.

Although it touches on many of the essentials of Dartmouth College, the language is generally broad -- and similar to the Student Life Initiative in that it does not enumerate exactly what it means when it uses words like "reestablishing," "enhancing" and "strengthen."

The report, overall, aims for wide-sweeping changes in the way Dartmouth approaches learning, research and funding academics, even though it does not specify what to expect in the future, fails to mention very concrete plans of action and does not describe when aspects of the plan will be implemented here at the College. Also, throughout the report, it compares Dartmouth with its peer institutions.

"The collective task now is to continue driving Dartmouth forward, in a context where our competition has multiplied, and where population growth and relative wealth have created greater competitive challenges as we work to attract the top students and faculty around the nation," the report states.

The report proposes hiring "40 new scholar-teachers into our faculty." In addition to these new faculty members, the report says Dartmouth should make motivational tactics like good facilities, as well as competitions and "venture funds" to reward outstanding faculty.

It proposes the institution of a new Center for Teaching, which will "provide faculty with support in their pursuit of the best methods for teaching, helping them refine tested methods and create new ones."

It calls for increased interdisciplinary programs, including making bridges between Dartmouth's undergraduate and graduate programs.

"Graduate education must be viewed as a means of increasing the overall quality of our institution," it explains, referring to specific graduate programs like the electro-acoustic music program and the Comparative Literature graduate program that have provided "richer" Dartmouth life.

Similar to the World Cultures Initiative, this new College report focuses on diversity, claiming that "Dartmouth is in the early stages of building a truly diverse and inclusive campus." It seeks to raise the endowment for financial aid and increase the numbers of minority and foreign students and faculty on campus to add to "cross-cultural learning that today's strongest colleges and universities must povide."

One of the greatest focuses of the report is on research -- throughout, it emphasizes that solid research bases, by undergraduates, graduates and faculty -- is crucial to Dartmouth as it seeks to gain increasing credibility and opportunity in the academic community.

It also stresses inproving and updating the College's physical spaces, pointing out that may of the buildings are already at their full capacity and are not meeting Dartmouth's demands.

"This will be one of the most active construction periods in Dartmouth's history, beginning with accelerated attempts to address the serious residential and social needs on the one hand and the urgent demand for academic space on the other," the report states, listing off residential, dining, athletic, infrastructure and academic projects the Planning Committee saw in Dartmouth's future when drafting the report.

In a section called "Dispelling Myths," the report explains that many of Dartmouth's characteristics, such as size, location, and research-capabilites, can be seen as both advantages and disadvantages. It urges the College to take advantage of these attributes.

"We can be preeminent in particular areas as long as we are careful to focus our attention and investment, and leverage the resources inherent in key graduate and professional programs," it says. "As we build critical mass in some places, however, we also need to appreciate that individual highly accomplished faculty members can bring significant attention to Dartmouth, casting positive light on the institution as a whole."

Although the report, in general, emphasizes science and technology as the main areas where Dartmouth wants to enhance its capabilities and programs, it also has a section that praises the arts at the College, proposing additional space, an interdisiplinary "writers program" and possible graduate programs to push the arts programs further.

Initial reactions

According to Berger, who did not anticipate the faculty unrest before Monday's meeting, part of the worry may have resulted from the wide-reaching goals of the report. He suggested that the report should possibly be broken down into two separate reports.

He said, "each and every department faculty member is focused on their particular situation," and explained that although some members of the faculty may disagree on certain aspects of the report, others are universally accepted as important progress for the College.

He said he teaches one course at the College with 140 students -- pointing out that Dartmouth has a high student to teacher ratio compared with its top competitor institutions.

"I didn't come to Dartmouth to teach large classes," he said. "I think that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to create the reality out of the myth."

In addition to purely expansionist moves like hiring new professors and building new, larger facilities, Berger said it is important to change with the times. He said the "good old days" of liberal arts education saw many students going on to law, medicine and business school. Now, however, students pursue a different group of careers and the favorite majors do not resemble the chosen paths 20 or 30 years ago.

English professor Donald Pease was the professor most vocally opposed to some aspects of the report -- although he emphasized his support for its measures to increase diversity and encourage lateral apointments of faculty members.

However, he said he opposed the section of the report that proposes building bridges between professional schools and the arts and sciences faculty.

"There is a difference in the purpose and the mission of the College of the arts and sciences and each of the professional schools," Pease said, using phrases like "moral consciousness" and "civic and ethical responsibility" to describe the goals of undergraduate college and the word "vocational" to describe graduate schools.

John Walsh of the Physics department said a potential link between graduate and undergraduate programs and research will not hurt the College.

"Dartmouth has been committed to doing whatever we do very well," he said. "We're not changing to graduate education in lieu of undergraduate."

Computer Science professor Scot Drysdale agreed: "I'm not sure it marks a change in Dartmouth's academic goals. My reading is it's asking how can we best accomplish things that have been Dartmouth's goals for some time. It proposes some moderately substantial changes, but I didn't see it as changing Dartmouth's overall goals."

None of the professors said they believed -- as some have worried in recent months -- that Dartmouth is forsaking its "college" tradition for a new "university" atmosphere, although all acknowledged that Dartmouth is, in essense a research institution.

However, Drysdale said the report might be advocating the improvement of some departments to greater degrees than others.

"I saw it as trying to advance all areas, whether it's doing it equally I'm not sure," he said. "At this level of detail, it's hard to tell what's being proposed."

The general concensus was that there remains a long way to go before the community will understand the report's implications or what changes the College will see in the future as a result. Berger suggested that the large all-faculty meeting setting may not be the best place for substantive discussions.

Additional meetings have been scheduled as a follow up to this Monday's meeting, but Berger could not predict when the Capital Campaign itself would be announced or when changes would start going into effect.