III. Expanding Our Reach in Ideas

3.4 Strengthening Existing Departments

Our departments must be strengthened to support curricular innovation in established fields and to ensure that Amherst continues to attract outstanding students and faculty. The nature and complexity of the demands placed on instructors have changed significantly since the faculty was capped at 165 FTEs in 1987. All areas of study have expanded and new areas of study have emerged. Students have become more heterogeneous in their preparation. New technologies have multiplied occasions of contact between teachers and students, and students have availed themselves of growing opportunities to work with faculty outside the framework of regular courses and semesters. The College has high expectations of the scholarly and creative contributions that faculty should make to qualify for advancement to tenured rank. And the burden of administration, largely borne by the faculty, has expanded dramatically as we have sought to make our procedures more equitable and to enlarge the opportunities available to members of our community. The combination of intensive teaching, research, and service that is the norm here is exceptional and has steadily encroached on the ability of departments to cover essential courses and provide expanding breadth in offerings. Some departments report that they adequately address only the needs of relatively specialized students. Others have been relying for protracted periods on non-tenure-track appointments to cover essential courses. In some fields, faculty are left to teach more students at incompatible levels of skill and motivation than can credibly be done.

Some of these needs will be met as departments go through the normal renewal process and evaluate the merits of incorporating new lines of specialization rather than retaining old ones. In addition, the allocation of new FTEs for college-wide purposes will create opportunities for departments to add new faculty lines. So, for example, a department willing to accept the obligation of teaching four courses to serve the college-wide needs described above might thereby “earn” a new FTE to enrich its own curricular offerings. Nevertheless, we do not believe that all needs can be met by reallocating existing resources. In particular, we note that additional faculty would be needed to reduce the size of some of our largest courses, including introductory or “gateway” lectures, or to offer more science classes for non-scientists to help ensure that all Amherst students graduate with additional exposure to the sciences.

We also anticipate additional investment in faculty positions in the studio arts, theater and dance, film, and/or music. Discussions of priorities in these fields have been particularly complex because the traditional arts departments are not the only ones that address these subjects. The tenor of campus-wide discussions of these challenges makes us confident that there is vigorous support for our colleagues in the arts as they work to reach agreement on their collective priorities. We assume that these efforts should soon be augmented by at least one faculty position. In addition, we hope that such efforts can be coordinated with an enhanced integration of the Mead Art Museum into the academic life of the College.

8. We recommend that 4 new FTEs be reserved to meet existing departmental needs.