Folt ends first term as permanent dean

by Phil Salinger | 5/30/06 5:00am

Carol Folt's first term as permanent dean of the faculty is coming to a close, and many of the same initiatives she set out to accomplish two years ago when Folt assumed the position as interim dean are still underway. Since Folt became interim dean, her priorities as dean have included alleviating class and departmental overcrowding, improving faculty compensation and furthering Dartmouth's status as an elite liberal arts institution.Folt said that her appointment as permanent dean did not change her agenda since she had approached the interim deanship by focusing on the College's future without being influenced by her uncertain future. Indeed many of her goals, especially with regards to faculty hiring and compensation, would have continued had she not been named permanent dean and will now continue under her leadership.

Folt is the first woman ever to hold the position of Dean of the Faculty. An ecologist, biologist and award-winning teacher, she said that having a woman serve in her position should be meaningful for all at Dartmouth.

"I think it's great probably for women students, men students, women faculty and men faculty to realize that any one of us can assume leadership roles," Folt said. "It's just the changing face of higher education."

According to Folt, who was named to a permanent five-year term this March, the overcrowding problems in the economics and government departments have diminished some over the past few years, as both departments' faculty and course offerings have grown at a greater pace than has the number of students enrolled in those departments' classes.

Folt identified hiring new professors and retaining current ones as the two biggest challenges to solving the problems of overcrowding.

Currently about 15 percent of students major in economics, but the economics department only accounts for five or six percent of the permanent faculty at Dartmouth, department chairman Jon Skinner said.

"There are some departments with lots of faculty and not so many students and some departments with lots of students and not so many faculty," he said.

Skinner lauded the Office of the Dean of the Faculty for its help with this issue, which he said entailed authorizing the department to offer more courses and also to hire more professors. He said that the increased number of economics classes has enabled the department to avoid 200-student lecture classes, but added that more could be done.

The Office of the Dean of the Faculty has a hiring budget given to it by the Board of Trustees, and the office must then allocate that budget across different departments. For the economics or government department to expand more rapidly, Skinner said, either the Trustees would have to decide to solve the problem quickly and allocate more money for hiring, or the Dean of the Faculty would have to allocate more of the given budget to the overcrowded departments.

The economics department hired four new professors this year -- three will come this fall and the fourth will come in the fall of 2007 -- but Skinner said the department could not make offers to every candidate it wanted to hire.

"The way you hire five more people is you make 10 offers," he said. "If the dean's office decides to allow us to make ten more offers then we could certainly expand."

Folt's goals of increasing faculty compensation have also been advanced over the past few years. Dartmouth's compensation of full and associate professors has reached the median of the College's peer group, but compensation of assistant professors has not.

Folt has been and is setting up infrastructure that she hopes will further increase faculty compensation, improve the College's ability to retain the professors it already has and broaden the scope of the liberal arts education Dartmouth provides.

Her office has established a new deanship, the Associate Dean of the Faculty for Arts and Sciences, currently held by professor Lindsay Whaley, which will focus on facilitating interdisciplinary study throughout the College. Folt hopes to make it easier for professors to embark on interdisciplinary study, saying that it can currently be difficult for professors to pursue research outside of their own departments because they cannot avoid responsibilities to their department.

Thanks to a gift of approximately $10 million, the dean's office has also established two new distinguished chairs designed for professors in emerging and innovative fields of study. The first chair will be granted in the field of digital humanities, Folt said, and the search for a person to fill that position is underway.

"Every scholar sees the artificiality of a disciplinary or a departmental barrier, yet administratively sometimes those [barriers] are real," she said.

The dean, who referred to herself as an "interdisciplinary" biologist, also said that if the goals of increased interdisciplinary study at the College are realized, professors will create interlinkage throughout many parts of the institution, which will help Dartmouth keep those professors in Hanover.

These goals aimed to expand and retain the faculty and knock down departmental walls are part of a greater attempt to increase opportunities for Dartmouth students in Hanover and abroad while at the same time decreasing class size.

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