The independent news organization of Duke University

Smaller faculty, better professors

Arts and Sciences� decision to approve only 24 faculty searches and thereby decrease the faculty size makes sense if it results in fewer, better professors, but if the funds do not exist for more faculty hires, then the resources must be spread among all of the A&S divisions.

In the context of ongoing efforts to maintain a stable faculty and budget, Arts and Sciences has approved 24 faculty searches this year. This marks an increase of four from last year but still lies significantly below the more than 30 searches that had been approved in earlier years. Even though the University will conduct more searches, the actual size of the faculty is expected to decrease, in accordance with goals set by the Provost’s office.

Since the majority of faculty at the University work under the umbrella of Arts and Sciences, this conscious contraction of faculty searches over the past two years will ultimately lead to a smaller faculty at the University.

Administrators say they want to cut the size of the faculty slightly because they are working from a bottom-line budget and must spend a certain portion of it on capital improvements and resources. If the faculty is smaller, Arts and Sciences will be able to attract and retain better professors and the area will be able to grow at a more reasonable rate than it did throughout the ’90s—or so the administration’s theory goes.

Certainly faculty development should be a priority and having fewer faculty members allows the University to entice better, more prominent professors with higher pay. But if administrators must make a choice between devoting funds to faculty positions and capital improvements, then they need to support all of the areas of Arts and Sciences equally as they make those decisions.

The 24 faculty searches are distributed fairly evenly among the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, but it does not appear that resources devoted to capital improvements are distributed as evenly.

In recent years the University has seen far more building projects devoted to space for science and engineering than for the humanities and social sciences, and even accounting for contributions to those projects from the Pratt School of Engineering, the balance of Arts and Sciences resources is still off.

It’s true that facilities matter far more for faculty in the natural sciences than in the humanities—you don’t need fancy labs to hold a seminar discussion. But if Arts and Sciences is willing to make the tradeoff between hiring more faculty members and spending money elsewhere, then it needs to treat its divisions fairly. Many of the seminar rooms on campus are less than adequate, and the University is short on classroom space in general, as several of the smaller classes are currently held in seminar rooms in residential space.

Overall, Arts and Sciences is correct in pursuing a smaller, stronger faculty, especially given the budgetary constraints it constantly cites. But if a certain portion of the money truly cannot go to hiring and must be dedicated to capital improvements and resources, then Arts and Sciences has to follow through on that logic and dedicate appropriate, if not equal, funding across its divisions.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Smaller faculty, better professors” on social media.