Dean of the Faculty

III. Expanding Our Reach in Ideas

To keep Amherst at the forefront of higher education, we confront the escalating challenge of new fields, new ways of organizing knowledge, and new information technologies. These pressures have led to expansion and often a centrifugal proliferation of specializations in the universities and colleges with which we compete for students and faculty. The CAP believes that Amherst can best maintain its stature and distinctive character through modest growth governed by more robust processes of integration. At a time when college faculties are perceived to be less and less capable of attaining such cohesion and therefore less capable of self-governance, the spirit and energy with which the Amherst faculty has supported the current planning process convinces the CAP that they will continue to show leadership in this direction.

In an open curriculum, it is the composition of the faculty that determines the landscape of courses available, the distribution of courses taken, and ultimately the shape of each student’s education. Faculty appointments are our principal means of defining and refreshing our identity and our educational goals. Maintaining an innovative, broad, and deep curriculum is essential if we are to continue to attract and retain high-caliber teacher-scholars in critical fields. The CAP proposes a change in Amherst’s academic culture in which innovation has come largely through academic departments’ exclusive attention to their own needs. Departments have reported to us a range of needs—in integrating knowledge between disciplines and in responding to students’ evolving interests, learning styles, and disparities in preparation—that are beyond their individual capacity to meet.

The CAP therefore recommends that growth in the faculty occur primarily, though not exclusively, in response to college-wide needs and that departments receive added staffing in return for the commitment to provide courses that meet these needs. If we understand faculty full-time equivalents (FTEs) to be equal to four courses a year, it becomes possible to allocate FTEs by halves or quarters. To anticipate a discussion from Section V, the 2 FTEs recommended for writing pedagogy are equivalent to 8 courses a year, which might be offered by a range of departments and taught by humanists, social scientists, or natural scientists who have undertaken to develop writing pedagogies in their disciplines. That undertaking would over time strengthen the integration of the curriculum and send a powerful signal to students about the capabilities and responsibilities of the liberally educated person.

In what follows we make recommendations about general areas of curricular need. These include attention to areas supporting new interdisciplinary ventures that strengthen departments too small at present to contribute to college-wide curricular needs, that broaden transnational study, and that otherwise diversify the faculty’s ranks. Later in the report we also make recommendations about specific pedagogical goals related to writing and quantitative reasoning as well as global and community-based learning. Before we do so, however, it is vital to address issues of governance upon which any distribution of resources depends.