This high percentage is comparable to other schools in the 2000-2001 academic year, such as Swarthmore, with 81 percent, and Wesleyan, with 78 percent. Williams had 68 percent tenured faculty in 1998-1999.
“A tenured faculty is a strong faculty,” Raskin said. The College has a trustee-imposed cap of 165. As of last year, the College employed 125 tenured faculty members.
President Gerety said that most tenure-track professors at the College get tenure. “It’s not automatic,” Gerety said, “but it’s very usual that everybody is promoted.”
According to Professor of Economics Walter Nicholson, who chairs the Committee on Priorities and Resources, professor salaries at the College are comparable to other schools at every level. The salary per faculty member overall, however, is much higher because of the number of professors at the College that are tenured.
Gerety admitted that a “salary paradox” exists.
“It depends on whether we’re getting our money’s worth,” Nicholson said. “That’s the relevant question.”
Acting Treasurer Peter Shea said that financial costs should not be the overriding factor in the decision for giving professors tenure.
“The quality of faculty should not be measured in such terms,” Shea said. “While it is true that a mature faculty will have a higher compensation than a younger, untenured faculty, the resulting benefits to the institution and the students are enormous.”
“Tenure should be given based on the quality of the individual’s teaching, research and community service, not on cost,” he added.
Some professors note that the high percentage of professors on tenure can be a deceptive figure.
“I think Amherst is a place that really allows you to broaden your interests,” Raskin said. “It really depends on the department, but one can always teach a new elective. There are people who’ve totally switched fields.”
“One of the strengths in our faculty is that it’s flexible,” Raskin added.
Associate Professor of Religion Jamal Elias agreed that the high percentage of tenured faculty “doesn’t create any real curricular problems.”
“Some people might argue that it makes it more difficult to make quick changes to the curriculum, but any such concern is greatly exaggerated,” Elias added. “An intelligently administered institution such as Amherst College is necessarily conservative in the reallocation of resources from one program to another, or in the creation of new ones.”
The consequences of denying tenure would not be good for the morale of the faculty, according to some professors.
“It is always better to have faculty on tenure line than not,”Associate Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies Michele Barale said. “Stability is a good thing and lack of tenure does not create stability.”
With a large amount of tenured faculty who stay for many years, the College can hire less new professors.
“In my opinion, these things have their natural course that we’re following,” Raskin said. “There are values in having older … and younger faculty.”
In recent years, there has been a slight increase in the number of retirements due to the generation of hires from the sixties, according to Gerety. Raskin said that she believes this is a “normal course” and the College is doing much hiring right now with seven, seven and 10 faculty hires in the last three years.
“There are some departments where age distribution is toward the upper end,” Raskin said. “They are doing some responsible planning, and I encourage that.”
“The College has a very generous phased retirement plan, and in recent years many faculty have been taking advantage of it at sixty,” said Professor of Russian Jane Taubman. “The College should hire in anticipation of pending retirements-and unexpected departures, as well-in the last several years we’ve, unfortunately, had several deaths of active teaching faculty … The College hasn’t calculated that possibility-I think they think we’re all immortal.”
Barale said that she believes having older faculty members at the College is a great advantage. “Older faculty are shrewder,” she said. “They have long perspectives; they have better ‘nonsense’ detectors, developed, honed sharp over the years.”
“They know where the dead bodies are hidden-probably in the cellar floor of your dorm,” Barale joked.
Because of their experience, Barale said, “They are good mentors of younger faculty.”
Like some other professors, Barale said that it is necessary to look beyond the numbers. “The question is not one of age but rather one of intellectual curiosity-of which we have much here,” she said.
Elias added that he did not believe the high number of tenured faculty is a problem because of the College’s thorough selection process. “Amherst College has long had a sane and laudable attitude in the hiring of faculty: we work on the premise that we only hire the best possible candidates,” Elias said.