Conversations with Faculty

Shortly before Fall Break I met with about 70 faculty members over lunch to discuss resource allocation and strategic planning at the university. Provost Joyce Jacobsen got things rolling by describing the planning process underway with department chairs, and then professors from various departments contributed to the conversation.

How can we be sure that we have the right mix of visiting, tenure-track and other continuing faculty? We certainly don’t want to focus unduly on how many students a teacher has in class, in contradistinction to the quality of the teaching. One of the great strengths of our educational program is the advanced work that students are able to conduct with their professors. Various faculty talked about the importance of mentored research, and the importance of small tutorials or labs for this purpose. Do we need more long-term continuing faculty to deepen this strength? In some fields, do we need more graduate students, or graduate students with enhanced support?

How does the university acknowledge co-curricular work by professors? Wesleyan has taken steps in recent years to reward service, but are we doing enough to encourage teachers to create a learning community beyond the classroom? Do we create too many administrative burdens for faculty, and, if so, how might we reduce these without undermining the faculty’s role in governance? How do professors who are not on the traditional tenure system participate in governance and in campus learning?

On the subject of financial aid, we discussed the “erosion of the middle class” and how that is affecting the student body we enroll. Are there salutary changes to our financial aid program that might address this? We also talked at some length about the ways in which work/study obligations may undermine a student’s ability to take full advantage of educational opportunities, and also how expectations for summer earnings may place undue burdens on students and their families. How to address this without creating new problems?

As expected, we talked more about questions than answers – but this seems appropriate given the long-term work that lies before us. I came away from the lunch reminded how fortunate Wesleyan is to have such an engaged group of scholar-teachers ready to dedicate their talents and energy to benefit of their students and the advancement of their fields. With boldness, rigor and practical idealism, they make alma mater strong.