Author: Juliet Suess
Occidental hired 10 new tenure or tenure-track professors in eight different departments. These 10 hires mark the most tenure appointments in one year for the last five years, according to Dean of Students and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jorge Gonzalez.
Eight faculty members are also leaving the college, either due to retirement or personal reasons, resulting in a net gain of two new professors.
“We are very fortunate to be able to make progress,” Gonzalez said. “At this time, many schools are not able to make this type of progress but we are, and we are very fortunate.”
The college hired new faculty in Art History and Visual Arts (AHVA), Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA), chemistry, cognitive science, economics, history, mathematics and kinesiology.
Currently the student-to-tenure-faculty ratio sits at 15-to-1. Gonzalez said he would like that ratio to be closer to 13-to-1, which would require the college to increase tenure track faculty from 140 to about 158, depending on student enrollment in a given year. The school’s faculty consists of 46 percent adjunct faculty members, according to Gonzalez.
Because tenure faculty are required to teach a full course load of five classes per year and advise students, some professors feel overwhelmed.
“Politics is a popular major, and we do find it challenging to serve teaching and advising needs with our reliance on adjunct faculty members,” Politics Department Chair Caroline Heldman said via email. “Adjunct faculty tend to be excellent teachers, but their job description does not include advising work and co-curricular projects and activities that make a liberal arts education the best form of higher education. This means that tenured/tenure-track faculty take on more work outside the classroom that could cut into the quality of their teaching and research.”
Despite this sentiment from some professors, Spanish and Linguistics Department Chair Robert Ellis does not feel his department is unequipped to deal with its academic responsibilities.
“Right now, in my department, I think we are adequately staffed to serve our students in the classroom and in advising,” Ellis said. “Both the Spanish and the linguistics portions of our program have been steadily growing over the years. This year we hired a new, tenure-track professor of Spanish linguistics. This has helped us tremendously, as we are now able to offer more Spanish and linguistics courses and thus better meet the increasing student demand for these fields.”
Professor of chemistry Michael Hill said that not only has his department gained two new hires, but also the department has benefited from the addition of adjunct or non-tenure track faculty members. He used the example of Professor Mike Gray, who teaches Chemical Thermodynamics.
“Most departments have to hire someone for whom that is their specialty,” Hill said. “Because of our location here in L.A., we were able to find someone [Gray] who is a chemical engineer, who is an expert in chemical thermodynamics. We can use that faculty line to put money into a more emerging field… In the end, it probably works out better for the students.”
But while some professors appreciate the additional adjunct professors, Sociology Department Chair Richard Mora believes more effort should be dedicated to tenure and tenure-track faculty.
“What Oxy students and alumni value most about their time at Oxy are their relationships with faculty, amongst others,” Mora said via email. “Our students and alumni value the education, the mentoring, the advising and the recommendations that they receive from tenure track faculty and adjunct faculty. That is why spending on tenure track hires needs to be approached as a worthy investment and not as an expense.”
Mora said that adding more tenure-track faculty members would be better for both students and faculty.
“Adding tenure track faculty allows the college to better serve students, who are deserving of faculty members who work full-time at Oxy and are more readily available to them semester after semester,” Mora said. “With new tenure track hires, under-staffed departments can better serve their majors and those students taking department courses to meet their Core requirements. Moreover, with new tenure track hires, departments can expand their curriculum and, thus expose students to more scholarly areas within the discipline.”
Furthermore, he believes that because of the importance of the academic relationships between student and faculty, alumni would likely be able to raise the money for adding more faculty.
“I am certain that many Oxy alumni would much rather gift in support of the faculty’s commitment to students than gift to the general fund or not gift at all,” Mora said.
Hill and other faculty are part of a committee that is looking at the ratios of students to tenure faculty and how to better improve the ratio. They will have preliminary findings in the next few weeks.
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