In light of cuts, profs. stress faculty retention

by Laura Bryn Sisson | 11/23/09 11:00pm

Dartmouth professors already routinely receive job offers from other institutions, and discrepancies in salaries, staff support or facilities which may follow on the heels of what could be $100 million in budget cuts over the next two years could tip the hiring balance to Dartmouth's disadvantage, according to several faculty members interviewed by The Dartmouth.

Some institutions have remained financially healthy despite the recession, government department chair John Carey said.

"One shouldn't delude oneself into thinking the marketplace is totally frozen," mathematics professor Dan Rockmore, chair of the Committee on Priorities, said. "Good people can always move."

One whispered suggestion for cutting the budget that tenured faculty members take voluntary pay cuts has been met with mixed reactions, faculty members said.

Computer science department chair Thomas Cormen, who said he used to support pay cuts, said he has changed his opinion because of concerns about faculty retention.

"The College has spent a lot of effort over the last few years to bring faculty pay to where it should be, and I understand the administration's concern about losing faculty quality if there were pay cuts," he said.

Although he said he was personally willing to take a pay cut, Russian department chair John Kopper, who has two children in college, said a salary reduction would be financially difficult. Other professors are in similar situations, Kopper said, noting that many young faculty members have children in day care, while older faculty must care for aging parents.

"Many are willing to, and many would prefer not to," Kopper said.

If tenured faculty do not receive pay cuts, they could contribute voluntarily to the Dartmouth College Fund, Cormen suggested.

Kopper said that facilities maintenance is also "crucial to faculty retention," particularly in the sciences. He noted that the College must finish the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center to remain in line with peer institutions.

Faculty searches could be halted if necessary.

"Searches I know about that were authorized to move forward in the fall are still going on," Rockmore said.

Professors were also concerned that non-tenure track faculty may be subject to layoffs.

"They are as valuable to our teaching mission as the tenure-track faculty," Kopper said.

College President Jim Yong Kim, in a previous interview with The Dartmouth, said that the "great faculty" has to be preserved in order to "be sure that this is not something that does any kind of lasting damage to the Dartmouth experience."

The budget cut will require "serious downsizing," however, vice president and strategic advisor Steven Kadish said in a Nov. 18 e-mail, and future layoffs may include the elimination of faculty positions, Kadish later explained in an interview.

"Layoffs are not the first things on the table," Kadish said at the time. "We're trying to look at the parts of the budget that are not layoff-related first, things that would make us more efficient.

The College could also implement the planned budget cuts by reducing course offerings. Courses with low-enrollment or those considered non-essential are most vulnerable to cuts, Cormen said. Departments in the humanities, whose classes are more likely to have low enrollments, may feel "more vulnerable" to such cuts than other departments, Kopper said.

Cormen also suggested that the College reduce the size of its administration.

"We have a large administration here, or it seems large, and undoubtedly there are some pretty inefficient processes somewhere in that administration," Cormen said.

Although faculty members have submitted between 70 and 80 suggestions to the budget reduction web site, there is little consensus on an optimal solution, Rockmore said.

The Committee on Priorities, which communicates faculty opinions about budget issues to the administration, has not discussed anything specific yet, Rockmore said.

The Committee on Priorities, whose next meeting will occur on Dec. 3, will meet frequently in the future, Rockmore said.

Fundamentally, Dartmouth must adapt or risk failing, according to Rockmore.

"I think people should understand that what's at stake here is the viability of the institution," he said.

But faculty worry that cuts necessary for survival may strip Dartmouth of its institutional identity.

"We want to preserve the same thing that President [Jim Yong] Kim does: the Dartmouth experience, and that means its core, the curriculum and much more than that," Kopper said. "Whether it's the basement of the [Hopkins Center for the Arts] where you have studios and workshops and so forth, or the [Dartmouth Outing Club], a functioning gym, practice rooms, all of that is part of Dartmouth."