Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Sociology department keeping up with reduced courseloads

At the beginning of this semester, the sociology department faced a dilemma: with three professors on reduced workloads and one on sabbatical, how could they continue to provide the full slate of courses their students required?

Credit: David Jacobson

The solution involves a section taught by President Bridges.

“I was bound and determined that we were not going to take a loss in our course offerings,” said department chair Keith Farrington. “No one in the department was more determined. I was the chair, so it fell on my shoulders to make sure that we were able to offer our full range of courses.”

Assistant Professor of Sociology Helen Kim, who is currently teaching two courses, was relieved of two for maternity and one as compensation for teaching a first-year Encounters section. Professor of Sociology Bill Bogard left this year to take a pre-scheduled sabbatical, and Michelle Janning, who took up the post of assistant dean of faculty last year, is on her second year of administrative leave.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Gilbert Mireles, who currently teaches or coordinates four courses, also requested a one-course reduction to prepare for the impending birth of his first child.

“Whitman College has a family leave policy which is fairly generous and helpful to young professors who are having families. I’ll be able to take a one-course reduction for one year,” said Mireles, who plans to return to a full courseload next semester. “In my experience, the policy impacts the attractiveness of the school for young faculty who routinely take advantage of family leave.”

The four requests for reduced loads arrived on Farrington’s desk last year. As he described, the department chair does not have absolute power to assign leaves.

“All these policies reside within the Dean of Faculty’s Office,” said Farrington. “We are given the opportunity to say whether we support a colleague’s sabbatical. It’s not ever really a controversial decision, as faculty members typically use sabbatical leaves to get professional work done.”

Farrington explained that he had no trepidation about granting all the requests at once.

“Several of them are parental leaves, a pretty typical benefit in a lot of progressive occupations,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re not hampered a bit.”

Though Farrington was initially worried, he and the other professors eventually found a way to reshuffle teaching responsibilities so that no courses would be lost.

Janning, who only teaches two and a half classes due to her responsibilities as assistant dean of faculty, also feels that the reshuffling was successful.

“In our department every year we are down a certain number of classes. Some are automatically replaced, but most require a request for replacement from the provost’s office. Some are internally replaced, which was part of our department’s agreement upon receiving an additional tenure line a few years ago,” she said. “We agreed to replace five courses internally every year, and shuffle those around or not offer them, in exchange for another member of the department.”

Credit David Jacobson

Eleven and a half total courses were left in flux by the four leave requests. Of those, five were internally replaced as per routine, and a further five were taken by Brooke Neely, a new visiting sociology professor, who is covering both Kim and Janning’s loads.

“We had to figure out how to staff that extra class,” said Mireles, referring to the one course he gave up this year. “Keith Farrington was very supportive. He took over the class I would have been teaching, Crime and Delinquency, so students aren’t missing out. He’s taught that before, so it worked out nicely.”

Additionally, five environmental sociology classes were left uncovered with the resignation of professor Kari Norgaard, though all five were taken up by newly hired Jesse Abrams.

The final course left uncovered was filled by President George Bridges, who decided to return to his old subject of sociology in a limited capacity.

“As president, I have little time in my schedule for intellectual exchanges with students and, quite frankly, I have missed them,” said Bridges, who teaches Crime, Law and Punishment this semester. “I am pleased that my efforts have assisted the department, but my contribution is small.”

Though she asserts that the department has proven fully capable of teaching its normal load even with its reduced staff, Janning says that certain conditions have been “exacerbating the problem.”

“Last year was the first year the teaching load went from 6 courses to 5 courses, so the number offered was reduced,” she said. “Add that to high enrollment in last year’s class, and last year Principles of Sociology had 52 students. That’s too many. This year is back to normal, and I can already tell it’s better.”

For his part, Farrington is confident the department can continue as usual.

“We’re a very teaching-oriented department; we care about our students and their well-being,” he said. “It was a very important agenda item to make sure that we made up for everything that we lost, and I can say I’m very confident that we did.”

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