Faculty Discuss Meeting Time, Budget Cuts, Athletics, Anthem

The faculty assembled in the Red Room on the evening of Tuesday, May 2, for its last and perhaps shortest meeting of the semester to discuss budget cuts, vote on a change to its long-standing meeting time, and more.

The faculty assembled in the Red Room on the evening of Tuesday, May 2, for its last and perhaps shortest meeting of the semester. The main agenda item was a debate over whether to reschedule the meetings for an earlier time of day next year, but much of the additional discussion surrounded the impending budget cuts.

The meeting was presided over by President Michael Elliott and Provost and Dean of Faculty Catherine Epstein.

The first item on the agenda was the question of whether to begin faculty meetings earlier in the day going forward. They have traditionally begun at 7:30 p.m.

Elliott seemed to suggest that he expected a lengthy debate, but the faculty was in near-unanimous agreement that the meetings ought to begin earlier. 114 faculty members voted in favor of the motion to change the time, while only 13 voted against.

During a brief debate before the vote, which was conducted using small scraps of paper, professors suggested that the motivation behind the time change was fostering equity among faculty members.

Professor Nicholas Horton, of the mathematics and statistics department, read a quote from a 2018 external review of Amherst policy.

“At a point in the college's history when it is striving both to achieve greater diversity within its faculty and to be more attentive to work-life balance, it seems problematic to schedule faculty meetings at 7:30 in the evening,” he said, reading from the report.

After being met with widespread nods and expressions of approval, Horton continued. “It's surprising that there is not a greater sense of urgency to amend the practice,” he said. “It seems misaligned to the realities of the contemporary workplace.”

Despite the expectations for a protracted debate, no faculty members rose to challenge the motion.

Following the vote and a few housekeeping reminders, Elliott briefly discussed the budget process.

Elliott pointed to the recently-announced decision to eliminate to-go containers at Val as one measure that was being taken in the spirit of financial belt-tightening.

“This was a decision that we reached not only because of the financial implications of to go containers, which are less about the containers themselves than the excess food … but also out of a sense of stability,” he said.

A short time later, the faculty returned to a topic of discussion dating back to the faculty’s previous meeting on April 4: The Athletic Department's decision to hire new assistant coaches despite the administration’s commitment, as part of the budget-reduction measures, to only fill positions “critical to the college’s mission.”

Philosophy Professor Alexander George pointed to the fact that salaries for certain assistant football coaches had not been provided by the school but had instead been raised by the head football coach.

“Is that a thing?” he said. “Could I go out and raise money?”

“No,” Epstein quickly retorted.

Economics Professor Jessica Reyes continued the line of questioning, repeating a similar question to one she raised last month.

She claimed that she had recently seen around 10 job postings for assistant coach positions, and questioned whether these salaries would also be paid with external funds from outside the college’s operating budget.

Epstein responded that the positions were normal, are part of the operating budget, and had been filled amid the budget concerns because they were essential to the college’s mission.

“We believe those positions are core to the mission of the college,” she said.

The discussion then turned to faculty compensation. Professor of Economics Adam Honig pointed out that the faculty had experienced three straight years of inflation-adjusted salary decrease, and asked whether it could expect another.

Elliott responded that, though the budget process remained uncertain, the college’s financial circumstances make it “very unlikely”  that faculty salaries would keep pace with inflation.

Reyes then rose again to ask the final question, inquiring whether the faculty would be open to a debate about whether or not to play and stand for the national anthem at commencement.

In response, Elliott said that he did not believe the commencement program was a matter of faculty governance. He did state, however, that he had already decided to scratch the anthem from the 2023 ceremony.

He described the anthem as “a little out of place for a very international student body and given our mission.”

There were no more questions, so Elliott gaveled the meeting closed after just over 30 minutes—very short for faculty meetings, which can often span multiple hours. A seemingly appreciative faculty filed, bubbling with laughter, out of the Red Room and into the waiting night.