III. Expanding Our Reach in Ideas

3.1 Faculty Governance

Our mission remains to bring the most talented students and faculty into a colloquy that will inform critical thinking, lifelong learning, and responsible action in the world. To achieve this result, we must rededicate ourselves to expanding the universe of ideas in this exchange by seeking first-rate faculty and supporting them in their scholarship or artistic creativity. The allocation of appointments is the most enduring investment the College makes in its future and requires the faculty’s best professional judgment of the needs of the College as a whole. The recommendations outlined below include devoting substantial resources, particularly in the form of new faculty positions, to a wide range of educational goals, most of which transcend the mission of any single department or program. In order to achieve these vital goals, the College will need to integrate these new undertakings with the programs of the individual departments that will house the faculty. A strengthened mechanism for deliberating upon and implementing collective decisions is essential to sustain Amherst’s academic excellence in future years.

This mechanism should be compatible with the needs of our departments, the self-governance of the faculty, and the values of the institution as a whole. The faculty shows resolve to tackle difficult decisions straightforwardly, even as students are expected to take responsibility in navigating the open curriculum. By modeling such responsibility, we also inculcate it.

The mechanism we propose is, simply put, that the faculty establish academic priorities to guide the allocation of additional faculty positions and that departments make formal agreements with the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) to teach courses serving those priorities in return for additional allocations of faculty lines. The CEP will serve as the central body for assessing curricular needs and recommending the allocation of FTEs. Working in close collaboration with the CEP, the Dean of the Faculty will be charged with monitoring the system to ensure that departments live up to their commitments.

For example, if a department is granted an FTE of which one-half is for a new specialization and one-half to meet needs that are not strictly departmental (e.g., in writing, quantitative reasoning, or community-based learning), the department will agree to provide two courses a year in the latter. The new person hired will have no special responsibility unless that function is incorporated into the profile of the position. The department will benefit from the addition of a full-time colleague and from the ability to teach the specialization needed, but with the concomitant obligation to provide two courses a year that serve the designated purpose.

Our aim is to stimulate departments to apply their energies to the broad educational needs of students by bringing departmental interests into close alignment with the interests of the College as a whole, as determined by the faculty. In this way, the faculty will commit itself to creative solutions for stubborn pedagogical problems and untenured faculty will be protected from bearing the brunt of this burden. The system also helps departments make the case for additional faculty lines where only a partial FTE can be justified to support a new specialization. The proposed mechanism will give departments clear understandings about their college-wide obligations and allow the faculty to maintain its central deliberative role in overseeing its expansion and in determining the shape and vitality of Amherst’s liberal arts curriculum.

We expect that our recommendations, if adopted by the faculty, will guide the CEP over the foreseeable future as it assesses new curricular initiatives and weighs proposals for new faculty lines. Nevertheless, we can be confident that the future also holds ideas and challenges that cannot be anticipated today. It is equally important to realize that even without expansion, the College is entering a period of greatly accelerated hiring because of retirements, during which the recommendations of the CEP will reshape the faculty for decades to come. To conduct informed oversight of the curriculum and the continuing renewal of the faculty, the CEP will need to sustain the same kinds of ongoing dialogues with Amherst’s departments, programs, and interdisciplinary groups, as the CAP has over the past year. The CEP will need access to institutional research on students’ pathways through the curriculum. And it will also need access to information about departments’ short- and long-term needs on a par with the synoptic information provided to the CAP. A recently appointed half-time researcher/coordinator will help the CEP manage these tasks. We also urge that departments and programs keep on file with the CEP planning documents that outline their current and anticipated needs, with the option to revise and replace these documents as often as needed. The CAP was specially created to study the long-term needs of the College and strategies to meet them; such planning is and ought to be an on-going and central mission of the CEP.