New faculty dean informs campus of advising, course eval. changes

by Dax Tejera | 11/5/04 6:00am

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a multi-part series on the College's senior administration and the issues facing Dartmouth today and in the future.

The Dean of the Faculty oversees the curriculum and faculty of the college of arts and sciences. With an $80 million budget, the dean deals with faculty hiring and retention issues and monitors the budgets of Dartmouth's 40 academic departments. Aside from the three-quarters of the budget allocated for faculty compensation and support staff, the dean's office finances equipment needs for all courses, faculty startup costs and off-campus programs.

Following the resignation of Dean of the Faculty Michael Gazzaniga in June after a no-confidence vote from the faculty, Carol Folt was appointed to a two-year interim term. Now in the midst of her sixth month in office, Folt spoke with The Dartmouth about the issues at stake in her administration.

Academic Advising

Academic advising has long been an issue of contention at Dartmouth, and Folt said she acknowledges that students have identified a wide variation in advising quality. She also said the faculty have expressed concern with the issue and are committed to improving the system.

"Dartmouth [has] maintained its commitment that all faculty will participate in advising," Folt said, citing peer institutions that hire staff advisers instead.

Because "people felt they needed more support with advising," Folt praised the appointment of Cecilia Gaposchkin as assistant dean of pre-major advising. She said it will remain a personal commitment of hers to make sure adequate resources will be allocated to make for a better advising program as Gaposchkin aims to bring students and faculty together to work on "advising as a team."

Course Evaluations

Dartmouth is the only Ivy League school without a standardized course evaluation system. Instead, departments can decide whether they will offer course evaluations. Those that do can also decide who, if anyone, has access to that information. Folt said Dartmouth finds itself in this situation because it began evaluating courses before many of its peer institutions.

But over time, Folt said that professors have come to realize that standardization would benefit the institution. According to Folt, faculty committees are beginning to design an evaluation that will include both common and individualized components. The science division, Folt said, has already agreed on a standardized form currently being tested in the Thayer School.

"I'm pretty optimistic that in a relatively short period of time we'll have an evaluation form that has a central comparative piece but which also retains an individual part that can be tailored for each class," she said.

When asked whether changes in the course evaluation system will include greater transparency and access for students, Folt could not offer certainty.

"We haven't really thought about that aspect of their use yet," she said.

Faculty Research

In addition to a unique course evaluation system, Dartmouth also stands alone among its Ivy peers in boasting an emphasis on undergraduates with professors who are experts in their field. Folt, like many other administrators, believes this to be a redeeming quality of the institution.

"I think Dartmouth's unique flavor is that is has faculty who are excellent scholars and could find a home at any institution in the country -- in the world -- and are also enthusiastic in the classroom, deeply involved in developing curriculum and teaching their own courses and dedicated to their students," Folt said. "That's an unusual and powerful combination."

Folt said she believes professors can balance their demands for teaching "without sacrificing their scholarly activity."

"I don't believe we have to separate teaching from scholarly activities," Folt said. "Scholarship informs their teaching, and their teaching informs scholarship."

Folt said that Dartmouth works hard to sustain this duality with lowered course loads for faculty and resources made available for off-terms. She acknowledged that professors must continually be provided a chance to learn and research.

"You really do want a faculty that is continuing to stay very current because the kinds of courses that they teach and the way they teach are going to be much more effective. We would be really shirking our mission if we thought we had to start favoring one type of scholarly activity over the other."

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