Wright seeks to improve faculty-to-student ratio

by Matt Lewis | 5/10/02 5:00am

Proposals outlined in a report released last term by College President James Wright underscore deficiencies in the size of the undergraduate and graduate school faculties and the need to bolster faculty recruitment and retention efforts.

Presented as part of ongoing reforms to improve scholarship and teaching in Wright's "Strategic Plan" -- which outlines his long-term goals for the College -- the suggested measures would increase efforts to enlarge the number of Dartmouth faculty members, which would effectively reduce the student-to-faculty ratio.

Provost Barry Scherr said that the administration's goal is to build the faculty by 10 percent of its current size. The new faculty positions will be funded largely by a massive capital campaign according to Dean of the Faculty Jamshed Barucha.

The student-to-faculty ratio calculated at the start of Fall term was 8.8 to one. According to U.S. News and World Report, Dartmouth's student to faculty ratio currently ranks 17th among all other national universities.

Wright said that the proposed increase in the faculty focused more on improving educational opportunities for students rather than Dartmouth's national reputation.

"I think that student to faculty ratios are numbers that can become abstractions, and I think that it depends more on what the faculty does in the field," Wright said.

Scherr added, "It also has to do with how we're perceived in the outside world. If the ratio got too far out of line, we would clearly be seen as a less strong institution."

The proposed faculty increase would relieve some of the pressure that has produced larger classes in popular departments, which Barucha said has been particularly prevalent in the relatively new computer science department.

"There are some emerging areas in interdisciplinary studies where we think we need to have more faculty, and we would like to provide students with more opportunities for one-on-one work with faculty doing research or creative work," Barucha said.

The strategic plan also pointed to raising faculty salaries that in effect would boost the College's competitive edge in recruiting and retaining faculty members. Barucha said that undergraduate arts and science professors receiveat least 98 percent of the mean salary paid by peer schools.

"We are doing well in terms of faculty compensation, but we still have more to do in order to be competitive," Barucha said.

Scherr noted that some of these peer schools included in figuring the mean salary have larger graduate programs that tend to attract higher-paid professors.

Dartmouth's rural location also complicates faculty recruitment. While the primary and secondary school system and small-town environment attract professors with children, some faculty spouses often have trouble finding professional positions in an area where opportunities are limited, Barucha said.

"Start-up packages," which provide resources for a newly hired professor's initial scholarly or creative work, will also be improved under the strategic plan.

"Our startup packages are very competitive, but we have to be vigilant because startup offers around the country are going up very quickly," Barucha said.

Despite the growing amount of funds that will be diverted toward the faculty, Barucha maintained that tuition will not be significantly impacted.

Most funds will be appropriated from a massive capital campaign that the College will undertake some time in the near future, Scherr said. The campaign will center on compelling alumni donations, especially from those that have lost contact with the College.

Other funding sources will likely spring from corporations or fellowship grants. Barucha said that professors are essential for procuring these grants because they define its substance and purpose.

"We seek to hire faculty members who aspire to be very active in and leading contributors to their fields and who quite naturally just love to work with students," Barucha said.

Graduate programs were also identified as in need of more faculty members to improve education and remain competitive in attracting qualified students.

Distinguished professor posts embedded in the plan will reward faculty members for high achievement while attempting to attract influential scholars to the faculty.