Professors engaged in a lively discussion on faculty growth at Thursday's meeting of the Arts and Sciences Council, eventually passing a resolution against cutting the size of the faculty.
The resolution came as a response to a report presented last month by a task force headed by Professor of Public Policy Studies Philip Cook. The Cook report evaluated the feasibility of four options for addressing projected budget shortfalls in Arts and Sciences. Given the available options, the task force concluded that, in a worse-case scenario, the best way to balance the budget may be to cut up to 50 faculty positions.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe insisted at Thursday's meeting that such a large cut of the faculty would never occur. "Fifty [cuts] is not ever something that we're going to ask for," he said. "It is, in fact, not conceived by me, my staff or [Provost Peter Lange]."
Chafe said he and other officials would explore various measures before making any cuts. He nevertheless acknowledged the possibility of further reducing the number of faculty searches in coming years. Searches were already down from 42 in 2000-2001 to 32 last year.
In light of the budget debate, the executive committee of the Arts and Sciences Council produced Thursday's resolution, which passed with about a two-thirds majority.
"I think it's useful for the council to go on the record [in opposition to faculty cuts]," said Professor of History John Richards. "This is a bad idea. Think of something else."
The resolution originally did not express such strong opposition to decreasing the faculty size, but instead left the door open for cuts as a last resort. Over the course of the afternoon's discussion, however, professors passed an amendment expressing the position that the faculty should not be reduced in size at all.
A number of faculty members offered dissenting perspectives on the resolution. Some said it was too weak of a response to a report they felt outlined an argument for cutting faculty; others worried the resolution was too strong.
"Really, it does look a little self-serving to come out as strongly as this resolution does," said John Staddon, James B. Duke professor of psychological and brain sciences.
After the amendment to strengthen the resolution passed, another motion was submitted to state that the size of the faculty should be allowed to increase as needed. Although the motion eventually failed by a large margin, faculty members engaged in a spirited debate over the clause.
Those opposed argued that growth in itself should not necessarily be a goal of Arts and Sciences and that the issue should not be addressed in the context of the resolution on the Cook report.
"We're sounding like the Durham City Council," Staddon said. "Do we really think that growth is always better?"
However, other faculty members remained concerned about the long-term prospects of growth in Arts and Sciences.
"Voting [against the motion] means that we'll live with no growth or that we think no growth is an okay thing," said Jane Gaines, professor of English and literature and director of the film/video/digital program. "What about the future...? Where did growth go?"
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