With the release of the Curriculum Committee’s Draft Report last Wednesday, it’s time we reflect more deeply on how the curriculum affects the nature of our college experience. Although not directly related to the curriculum, the college should seriously consider hiring more professors. While Amherst does have an adequately-sized faculty for the number of students, the increasing pressures involved with being a professor means that the same number of professors that worked in the past may be too few now.
Hiring more professors would make office hours more accessible, increase the number of elective courses to choose from and allow for greater faculty diversity.
Right now, the demands on our professors are increasingly overbearing, including responding to hundreds of emails, attending committee meetings and writing recommendation letters on top of their main roles as teachers and researchers.
With an increase in faculty members, each professor will have to spend less time on administrative duties. Each professor will also have fewer advisees and be able to devote closer attention to each student in addition to the Draft Report’s proposal to balance the number of advisees each professor has. While increasing the length and number of advising meetings would be ideal, the hours required of professors currently with more than 20 advisees makes this somewhat unfeasible.
One of the main factors that contributes to the excellence of the Amherst student is a close connection with professors. Yet, professors are pushed to a limit where they are forced to overwork or neglect other responsibilities.
With the other demands professors have, office hours become harder to access. In the External Advisory Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Excellence (EACDIE) June 2016 letter to the Committee of Six, “many students, especially first generation college students, simply do not know what office hours are about or how to take advantage of them.” Reducing access to professors may disproportionately affect those already disadvantaged.
If the time and attention of faculty are strained, each department must focus on finding enough professors to teach core courses for the major instead of electives that non-majors may take or first-year seminars. According to the report, 21 percent of all humanities majors who graduated the past 10 years never took a course in science or math; this percentage is even higher for women. Some students feel deterred from certain majors simply because there are not enough professors within the major.
In addition, hiring more professors would allow for the college to diversify the faculty to match more closely the diversity of the student body. The current low diversity in faculty and staff means fewer diverse members for sponsors of sports teams, faculty support in student activities and committees and resources for students to reach out to for help in various ways. The feeling of belonging that the school works hard to achieve among students does not extend to simply having students of many different backgrounds. This goal should be reflected in our professors as well.
A “learning goal” proposed in the draft report is to “broaden intellectual and creative horizons.” Professors can be resources for students to become more aware of the educational opportunities at Amherst and how to expand on them outside of the classroom. However, a greater number of professors would facilitate making this goal a reality.
Hiring more professors would take a large amount of resources and initiatives, but it may be an essential step to maintain the academic quality as well as the interpersonal relationships that makes Amherst so special.