Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Third course not the charm for Whitman faculty

Whitman faculty, feeling the stress of large course loads, advising and overseeing senior theses, are working on a proposal to decrease their teaching load.

A proposal from the Feasibility Study Committee would decrease faculty workloads from three courses each semester to three one semester and two the following. The committee is surveying faculty about the plan, which would put Whitman on par with schools such as Kenyon College and Bates College. Discussion will continue at the next faculty meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4. If approved, the transition would take place over a number of years.

“The normal teaching load is three classes each semester,” said chair of the committee and Associate Professor of astronomy Andrea Dobson. “What we want to do is make it so teachers teach three classes one semester and two the next, with credit for things like experiential trips counted. The three-three system was made a long time ago and is outdated.”

The current faculty schedule does not account for extra advising, senior theses and one-on-one interaction. Because of this, many professors spend a great deal of time on work they do besides their classes.

Professor of classics Dana Burgess, however, sees potential problems in this proposal.

“We won’t be able to offer as many special courses,” he said. “We’ll have to offer and preserve courses that serve our major programs; additional courses will be less likely to be taught. There is also a danger of increased class size.”

A cut in courses may make it more difficult for students to sign up for the classes they want when they want them. Either the number of courses would decrease or the number of faculty would increase.

“If we need to hire more faculty, money would be an issue,” said Dobson. “We’re trying to figure out how to shuffle resources. We don’t want this to negatively affect the students.”

The current economy would also make a transition more difficult.

“I think most of us are for the three-two schedule because we could do a better job teaching and/or doing research,” said Professor of geology and environmental studies Bob Carson. “But I think this is the wrong time to do that because financial times are tight. I do not believe most departments can go with fewer classes; it’s hard to imagine.”

Professor of sociology Michelle Janning believes the switch would make for more meaningful interaction with students.

“The most important reason I support a switch is because I think it is good for our students,” she said. “We faculty interact with students every day, and it would be good for us to be better able to model work-life balance to our students. And, it is better for students to have professors who are satisfied with their jobs because the professors have time to meet the needs of their students effectively.”

Burgess, however, worries that only some students will see those benefits.  He believes that professors may spend more time helping seniors with theses and seminars rather   than aiding first-years in their adjustment to Whitman academics.

“I think the biggest danger is the upper college will get preference over the lower college,” he said. “We have a good core program but I think it will be a challenge to make sure instruction in the lower college continues to improve. When class size increases, writing instruction decreases.”

In spite of potential difficulties ahead, Burgess believes that a switch could end up being for the better.

“I think it’s a challenging moment,” he said. “I think as long as it can be done carefully it can be for the good.”

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