Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

3-2-1, go! votes Whitman faculty on 3-2 work load

The faculty voted yesterday overwhelmingly in favor of allowing individual academic departments to offer a 3-2 course schedule, following an extended campaign by the Feasibility Study Committee to reduce professor course loads from three classes each semester to three one semester and two the next, or from six courses per year to five.   Proposed schedules will still have to pass through additional faculty vote.

According to Andrea Dobson, associate professor of astronomy and chair of the faculty, the transition, which was about three years in the making, will also be implemented over a number of years.

“Departments have already put forth ways in which their course loads might be reconfigured to make this work,” she said.   “They’ll now be invited to update those. It won’t be an automatic that each department will then go to a five-course load next year. One of the things we’ll look at is [whether we will] be able to meet all the requirements that are necessary for the current students.”

Proponents of the shift argue that with their current workloads, professors are unable to devote enough time to advising and research. The role of professors has also become more demanding both inside and outside the classroom, said Bob Withycombe, professor of rhetoric and film studies.

“When I started here in 1980, I taught six classes the same way I do now, but I suspect no one ever imagined that there would be a course like Semester in the West or that the geology department would do four-day weekends out in the country every semester,” he said.

In an open letter to the faculty sent Tuesday, Nov. 3, and signed by members of the Executive Council, ASWC outlined concerns that moving forward with a 3-2 schedule will negatively impact students, resulting in fewer options and larger class sizes.

“We came into this conversation late, admittedly, but in many respects it’s because we didn’t have access to that conversation beforehand,” said senior ASWC President Nadim Damluji.   “So here we did something that looks a lot more drastic than it is by stuffing faculty mailboxes with a letter on the day of a vote.”

Senior Jordan Clark, ASWC vice president and student affairs chair, said the letter was motivated by ASWC’s desire to join the discussion, not because of wholesale opposition to the transition.

“We weren’t condemning the 3-2 move; we were just saying, ‘Look, we’d like to be a part of this discussion and we know you’re having the vote today, but here is our concern,'” he said.

Citing an interim report released by the Feasibility Study Committee in May, the letter states that transitioning to a 3-2 schedule will lead to a 17 percent reduction in the number of courses Whitman offers, with an equivalent increase in class sizes.

“As students, we feel an increase in class sizes would negatively impact the dynamic and quality of in-class discussions: the current strength of which separates Whitman College from many of its peer institutions,” the letter argues.

Dobson said the figure of 17 percent was taken out of context, and that accommodations will be made to ease the transition.

“We’re not simply going to cut 17 percent of the classes,” she said. “That’s not going to happen. There are ways to make this work without making it harder for students to get into classes.”

Among these ways is offering less popular courses in alternate years, Dobson said.   She added that increasing some classes by a few students would not seriously alter the learning experience.

“There are some departments where if you increase the class sizes a little bit, it won’t be a big deal,” she said. “If your class went from 15 to 17 people, it’s not going to be fatal. There are some departments that would actually drop things, rearrange them and make them more efficient.”

Withycombe thinks the transition is in Whitman’s long-term best interest, but worries that smaller departments like rhetoric and film studies will be unable to incorporate the reduction in faculty course loads.

“I work in one of those departments that cannot make the move to a five-course load given our current staff, so I am one of the minority departments. My anxiety has always been, how do we deal with an issue with the kinds of constraints that have been put on it?” he said, referring in part to the need for curricular changes to remain as budget-neutral as possible.

With the vote passed, the Board of Trustees is meeting this week to discuss implications for next year.

“I know that there’s some disagreement even amongst the trustees, as there is amongst the students, about whether this was a good idea,” said Michelle Janning, associate professor of sociology.   “I think we’ll see there are going to be a lot of conversations that need to happen between faculty and students about how this is going to happen.”

An advantage of the transition is that departments that didn’t previously map out course offerings more than a year in advance will now be asked to do so, Dobson said, which should help counteract some students’ frustration when planning their programs or preparing for study abroad.

Janning predicted that as the transition takes place, students and faculty will be able to reach a successful compromise.

“There are ways to accommodate students without sacrificing the things that came out in the letter from ASWC,” she said.

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