College faces peer pressure

Maren Schiffer

Who uses the Panel of 14– and for what? According to Director of Development Jed Schwendiman, just about everyone with some sort of authority on campus.

“All branches of the administration as well as faculty look at this group as a default comparison group … In many ways, the panel is used for all kinds of decisions across the board. Often, it is turned to for financial decisions, or at least gauging how we compare. We don’t necessarily want to be in the middle of the group, but we also don’t want to be an outlier — unless it is for an extremely positive reason, like unique sustainability programs that other schools don’t offer,” he said.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn finds the Panel of 14 useful when handling issues specific to his position.

“In my case, I have a distribution list of my counterparts, i.e., the chief academic officers, at the other 13 colleges, and I often put questions to that group about how they handle particular issues (e.g., family leave policies). Also, each year, we compile a comparison of faculty salaries at different ranks at each of the 14 institutions in order to make sure that Whitman continues to offer competitive salaries.”

Though most students know little about how the panel is used, it is sometimes a key informer for administrators when making controversial changes on campus, like the recent switch to a smaller course load for faculty.

“When faculty voted to move to the five course load, they looked at this group. In fact, very few schools on the list still had a six course load — maybe one or two,” said Schwendiman.

There are also many other panels considered when the administration or faculty is making important decisions. For example, Whitman often compares itself to other Northwest schools. In addition, the admissions office looks at an overlap group, containing schools that Whitman students are frequently admitted to.

The Panel of 14 is often turned to first for information, but whatever data it provides is never the deciding factor.

“Comparing Whitman to [Panel of 14] schools is like doing your homework. We gather information from them, then use this information to see where Whitman stands in comparison. But of course everyone interprets that information differently,” said Schwendiman.

Kaufman-Osborn agreed.

“I don’t use the Panel as the basis for any decisions, although I do often use it as a reference group,” he said.