Mastanduno talks faculty recruitment in meeting

by Roshan Dutta | 5/19/14 6:47pm

Debate over low student interest in the humanities, the College’s difficulty in attracting new faculty, the role of professors in campus social life and initiatives to strengthen undergraduate teaching marked the academic year’s final faculty of arts and sciences meeting, which took place Monday afternoon.

A lengthy annual report by Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno anchored the two-hour meeting.

Increasing resources given to faculty recruitment and retention, constructing new facilities and renovating old buildings and creating a campus social environment that promotes Dartmouth’s intellectual goals comprised three of the priorities presented in Mastanduno’s annual report.

Mastanduno said that the College’s biggest academic strength is its balance of liberal arts teaching and academic research, but as a result of its broad offerings, departments require more faculty members to meet student demand.

“We are like a restaurant with all these menu items, and students can order anything on the menu — and with special majors, even stuff off the menu,” Mastanduno said. “We used to do only replacement hiring with very few new hires.”

He discussed new hiring under the faculty cluster initiative, which was announced last fall. The initiative will create groups of professors, with some supported by an anonymous $100 million donation received earlier this spring, to teach and research cross-disciplinary issues.

Mastanduno said that the College must pursue “diversity hiring” to ensure a wide range of academic offerings.

Dartmouth must also commit to finding new faculty that meet its high standards, he said, noting challenges to recruitment like the College’s remote location and limited research funding.

While research costs have increased, federal funding has decreased, Mastanduno said, and researchers face difficulty filling the gap through institutional funds.

Mastanduno said that departments have struggled to match compensation demands of potential hires. Another challenge, he said, is that many potential hires are part of dual-career households in which both members must find employment.

Funding should also be used to renovate and construct buildings, he said.

The College planned to open the North Campus Academic Center, a facility intended to house a number of health care delivery projects, in 2015, but the project stalled and stopped, Mastanduno said. He mentioned plans to create a center focusing on the interaction of society and the environment, but he said that the Board of Trustees has not yet discussed it.

Mastanduno said that administrators want to renovate existing buildings, including the Hopkins Center, buildings on Dartmouth Row and the Fairchild complex.

“Renovation isn’t as sexy,” he said. “Donors don’t like it as much, but looking at those buildings I saw a renovation plan is really needed to create a space so that we can put funds towards a new science and social science building.”

Mastanduno also emphasized that faculty members must reject compartmentalization between academic and social life.

“I hear from students wondering how they’ll perform in class on Thursday given what they did Wednesday night, but I never hear them thinking about how they’ll go out on Wednesday nights given the homework they have for Thursday,” Mastanduno said. “We’re part of a campus-wide social contract, and we have to help change this.”

Later in the meeting, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris presented her report, saying that the Class of 2018 will be “supersized” compared to previous classes.

Following a 14 percent drop in applications, Laskaris said the department took several steps to ensure a high matriculation rate and improve future admission cycles, noting increased student outreach and promoting the College’s efforts to address sexual assault.

“We had faculty, students and alumni working to make sure that we are very aware that we have issues and that we are trying to fix them, but also that we celebrate the very extraordinary work that goes on on a daily basis,” she said.

Laskaris said that around 95 percent of incoming students had at least two academic interests. Faculty members, however, expressed concern at the low percentage who were interested in the arts and humanities — 9 percent of incoming students indicated a primary interest in those areas.

“It’s important to note that students express primary, secondary and tertiary interests and that these interests shift as students move through the school,” Laskaris said.

In an interview after the event, music department chair Steve Swayne discussed this lowered interest.

Students’ hesitation to commit to studying the humanities, Swayne said, may stem from a belief that some majors are intrinsically more employable than others.

“One of the things that students and parents don’t seem to understand is that the link between academic major and future career is tenuous at best,” he said. “The notion that a liberal arts college needs to be a pre-professional training environment seems to be misplaced. That’s a larger marketplace issue that we need to address.”

Computer science and mathematics professor Peter Winkler said in an interview that he thinks cluster hiring is an effective way to improve the College’s quality of teaching and research.

College President Phil Hanlon delivered a brief introduction, and Spanish and Portuguese professor Rebecca Biron, the chair of the committee on priorities, emphasized the importance of technology-based learning, living learning programs and campus climate in her report.

The faculty did not address opening course evaluations to students at the meeting.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!