Replacement to NRO option does not pass faculty vote

by Megan Clyne | 5/23/16 5:45pm

Yesterday afternoon, around 100 faculty members, in their last faculty meeting of the 2015-2016 academic year, voted to not change the non-recording option, approved the continuation of the Jewish studies program and a five-year plan for faculty compensation.

College President Phil Hanlon commenced the proceedings, followed by chemistry professor Dean Wilcox who reminded the assembly of procedural rules.

Faculty members first discussed a proposal to replace the NRO with a satisfactory/D/E option, which would yield students a “satisfactory” mark for grades of C- and above. This mark would not be included in students’ GPAs, but it would count toward graduation and distributive requirements. If students earned a D or below, that grade would be recorded and reported. Students who used the satisfactory/D/E option would be allowed to change their choice before a certain withdrawal date. As with the current NRO, the satisfactory/D/E option would be available for up to three courses at Dartmouth. Departments and programs could choose which courses would be permissible for election of this option. The proposal failed by a vote of 51-40.

A survey conducted by the Committee on Instruction about this option received 102 responses, of which 68 members agreed, 16 disagreed and 18 provided alternate methods of replacing the NRO. After receiving an overwhelming response in favor of the satisfactory/D/E option, the COI wrote a proposal in favor of the new grading policy that was agreed upon unanimously the Committee of Chairs.

Computer science professor Devin Balkcom presented concerns from other faculty members, who have said that the NRO creates an unhealthy focus on GPAs and is too frequently offered, which decreases student motivation. Other faculty members said they were in favor of the NRO because it allows for exploration in subject areas that students might not otherwise experience. All Ivy League schools currently offer similar grading options.

Faculty members also unanimously passed a vote on the continuation of the Jewish studies program. Many associated faculty members have wanted to establish the 20-year-old program as a permanent one.

Finally, the Committee on the Faculty — which keeps faculty up to date on the growth rate of faculty compensation — issued a motion to increase the Dartmouth faculty’s average level of compensation.

Faculty compensation at the College should be benchmarked against its peer schools, government professor Stephen Brooks said. He argued that in a market system, an institution should not decide to have its own pay rate without reference to its competitors.

Brooks said that the compensation lag creates adverse effects. In a memorandum to the faculty of the Arts and Sciences, the COF estimated that the College could close the compensation gap between Dartmouth and the U.S. News and World Report top 20 schools by spending an additional $5.4 million to the budget for faculty compensation. The report further said that $5.4 million constitutes only 0.6 percent of Dartmouth’s current operating expenses, which amount to about $900 million.

A motion to close the compensation gap over a five year period was unanimously passed by the faculty members present.

In addition to the voting, eight faculty members who are retiring this year were recognized. Together, these professors constitute an aggregate 200 years of service at the College.

Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno also said that over the past year, Dartmouth has begun gearing up for a capital campaign. He said that the financial and reflective endeavor both increased College funds and givens faculty and staff an opportunity to think about institutional goals.

“If you’re going to spend people’s money, you better have a pretty good idea about what you’re going to do with it,” Mastanduno said.

Mastanduno also discussed Dartmouth’s dual dedication to research and a liberal arts education, its academic environment and the integration of technology into the College’s future.

He acknowledged that many people are dismayed that Dartmouth has dropped from an “R1” to “R2” research institution according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, which ranks doctoral universities by their research output. He noted that it is troubling that the College can spend its “start-up budget” for initial research funding in a given year by hiring just two scientists.

Mastanduno identified two goals he has for the College over the next 10 years.

The first goal is to provide the best liberal arts education and be second to none. Despite widespread backlash toward the liberal arts, Mastanduno said that many fields seek students who are holistically trained and critical thinkers.

To fulfill this goal, Mastanduno identified five core requirements that the College should target. These include: a focus on undergraduate research, emphasis on technology-enabled learning, the development of innovative programs, a diversification of both faculty and curriculum and an increase in academic advising opportunities.

“These are the kinds of things you could look for in a capital campaign when the overarching goal is to provide the best education,” he said.

Mastanduno said his second goal is to create a scholarly research profile at the College, even though Dartmouth operates on a smaller scale than many other research institutions. He noted that, in order to cultivate more scholarship, the tenure system must be reevaluated.

It is an “extraordinary privilege” to be considered for lifelong positions after only six years of working at the College, Mastanduno said. He said that faculty should think about whether six years is an appropriate amount of time prior to consideration for the tenure track, and whether all faculty have the fairest chance to obtain tenure.