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Faculty hiring push shrinks classes

Joe Trombello | Friday, April 16, 2004

A hiring push that began in 1993 has translated into a lower faculty-student ratio – and fewer large, anonymous classes – despite sizeable increases in student enrollment over the past decade.Suggested in Notre Dame’s 1993 strategic plan, “A Colloquy for the Year 2000,” the push to bring in more full-time instructional faculty members has allowed the University to compensate for the enrollment jump – from 7,610 undergraduate students in 1992 to 8,261 students in 2002.Faculty hiring has more than kept pace, rising from 608 in the 1990-91 academic year to 760 members in the 2002-03 academic year. As a result, Notre Dame showed the biggest reduction in the country in its faculty-student ratio over the same ten-year period, said vice president and associate provost John Affleck-Graves.The 2002-03 U.S. News and World Report’s student-to-faculty ratio for Notre Dame was 12.74, in comparison with the 1992-93 tally of 13.28. The ratio considers the number of full-time students and the number of full-time faculty members.”We’ve made significant strides,” Affleck-Graves said, but added that students should not expect their entire experience to be one of small classes. Departments and colleges differ on class size and number of teaching faculty, and some disciplines lend themselves better to larger classes, he said. To this end, he said that students should expect a mix of mostly small, but sone occasionally large, classes.”It’s a trade-off,” he said. “You have to have a couple of classes that are bigger and in return we’ll give you lots of small classes and [some] one-on-one opportunities.”Affleck-Graves said that some departments often experience more teaching pressure in given years than others, based on the number of faculty available and the number of students who major in a particular discipline. However, he added that the process usually corrects itself with time.”Every year there is teaching pressure and teaching slack in some departments, but it usually corrects itself,” he said.He noted that a rise in the number of faculty who teach at other universities on a visiting basis has meant that some departments have less faculty members to work with in a given year, and he also said that departments often using adjunct professors or graduate students to “correct temporary imbalances” in teaching loads.While Affleck-Graves said that the University has not had to rely more heavily on adjunct or graduate student teachers in recent years, he noted that more adjuncts than graduate students are used to teach courses in comparison with a decade ago.Professors in several departments that have traditionally housed large lecture courses said that they have seen varying degrees of decrease in class sizes over the last decade.Xavier Creary, a chemistry and biochemistry professor, said that he is currently teaching a 145-person section of general chemistry that averaged around 250 students six years ago. He noted the general chemistry class size was even larger 25 years ago- around 700 students- and that increased hiring and more sections have reduced class size.Creary said, however, more work needs to be done.”There is still a need for support for these sections in the form of small tutorials and recitation sections which are not offered to all students,” he said. “The total number of faculty in our department has increased by only a few over the last 20 years. This means that other areas, such as graduate courses, receive less attention than in the ideal situation.”In the Mendoza College of Business, while many introductory courses like accounting or marketing are relatively small with a number of sections offered, the Department of Management offers only one section of its introductory course that currently enrolls about 220 students.Course instructor Tim O’Leary said that despite the large class size, there is still plenty of opportunity for students to have more individualized instruction. “The size ranges depending on the semester and it is hard to tell if it is increasing or decreasing,” he said. “We haven’t had any overcrowding issues that I am aware of and we get plenty of time meeting one-on-one.”Within the College of Arts and Letters, some departments like political science or economics see relatively high enrollment in their introductory courses. The four introductory political science courses often average around 70 – 85 students, while one section of an introductory Principles of Microeconomics course has approximately 270 freshmen and sophomores enrolled this semester.David Russo, the instructor for the large Prin-ciple of Micr-oeconomics section, said his department simply does not have the staff necessary to create smaller sections. However, he said he believes that the class, in combining large lectures with smaller discussion sections, still works. “The introductory courses in economics have, for many years, been large – large lectures, with small discussion sections,” he said. “I think it works. We don’t have the staff to teach the total number of students in those three [sections] in ‘small’ classes.”Layna Mosley, assistant professor of political science and the teacher of an introductory International Relations section this semester, said that the sizes of her introductory sections have rem-ained constant at 85-95 students. Although she said the department has made new hires, she said more students have chosen to major in the discipline.”The size of my introductory courses has remained fairly constant over the last few years … the class usually is full, or close to it,” she said.Mosley noted her department intentionally keeps the introductory courses below 100 students by using multiple sections, but she said that this strategy also means that fewer upper level courses can be offered as the faculty are deployed teaching the introductory courses.Affleck-Graves said that because of the hiring push, he does not anticipate the number of faculty members to show much growth in the next decade.”In general we feel that the next decade is not going to be a decade of significant growth in the faculty,” he said. However, he said the Univer-sity is striving to create more opp-ortunities for undergraduates to work on an individual basis with faculty on research projects, and he said he anticipates a greater number of these opportunities to occur in the next decade.”We’d like to move more toward [giving] more undergraduates the chance to work one-on-one with a professor,” he said. “We’re trying to find creative ways to do that.”