Posted on 28 March 2012.
For the next two weeks, Susan Zurbuchen will be busier than usual.
On top of her regular class load and the responsibilities that come with her role as chair of Butler University’s Arts Administration program, she is taxed with finding enough time to schedule half-hour appointments with each of her 35 advisees.
The two-person Arts Administration department shares the burden to accommodate students with faculty members across the university who all face growing program sizes, a competitive faculty line addition process, a tight budget and demands for faculty to contribute to Butler’s core curriculum.
The result of these challenges is a delicate balancing act for university administrators, deans, program chairs and faculty to maintain department sizes that comfortably serve both the students and faculty.
“It is indeed a balancing act,” Zurbuchen said. “For us, the most important thing is to serve the students.”
A university-wide glimpse at the ratio of a program’s size to its number of full-time faculty reveals the Arts Administration program is among the most strapped, along with Communication Sciences & Disorders, Psychology, Journalism, Marketing, Biology and others.
But determining Butler’s overall faculty stress-load is much more complicated than just simple division, said College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Jay Howard.
“If we want to be true to Butler’s identity and mission, then you’ve got to think more broadly about head count,” Howard said. “It’s about their contribution to curriculum as a whole, and it’s a value judgment.”
Tiny programs that appear to be breezing by with a high number of full-time faculty for how many students major in that area, such as Religion or Media, Rhetoric and Culture, aren’t sitting idly by though.
Professors in these areas contribute to the core curriculum.
Howard said that the religion professors also are among the most internationally recognized at the university, which contributes greatly to Butler’s reputation and level of prestige.
LAS has a unique staffing challenge because of how many of its programs are imperative to having a unique and diverse core curriculum, Howard said.
Foreign languages and the natural sciences, both in LAS, are areas that have a low number of full-time faculty for the amount of students who need to take their classes in order to complete Butler’s core.
Most Butler students need to take one natural world class and at least six hours in upper-level foreign language courses, which can sometimes strain faculty in these programs.
To prepare for next fall, the university is in the process of hiring four more instructors and adjuncts to help carry the load, said interim Provost Kate Morris.
Individual departments are in charge of determining what they will contribute to the core, even though there are overarching university initiatives in place, she said.
A goal in the core is that 80 percent of it be delivered by tenure-line faculty members, Morris said. That goal has not been reached.
Morris said the percentage of courses taught by tenure-track faculty varies across divisions of the core and that she did not have specific numbers.
Howard said he thinks this goal is a “tall order” and that it would be more realistic to stress having 80 percent of the core delivered by full-time faculty instead.
The goals create a tension between two things that the university values, he said.
“Tenure-line faculty are typically the best experts and the ones teaching the upper-level courses,” Howard said. “If you’re taking them out of those areas and plugging them into the core, who are we going to have teach those courses?”
Carmen Salsbury, chair of the biology department, said things have improved, but, historically, her department has not been able to keep up while balancing core and major class offerings.
“We’ve been able to keep the problem at bay a little,” Salsbury said. “Unfortunately, you’re sometimes faced with the dilemma of what to do. Do you move faculty from a core section into a major section and hope that someone picks up the slack in the core? You don’t want to have to do that.”
Since it is strapped for time, Salsbury said her department is not able to offer as many upper-level electives as students might want to see.
Biology professors also are not able to keep up with the demand to serve students who are interested in completing independent studies or research projects.
Salsbury said she has been lucky to have three instructor lines in her department’s budget for the past 10 years, but as the program grows, she said she thinks another full-time faculty member will be useful.
“Something is going to give soon,” Salsbury said. “We’re right on the brink.”
The process of adding a full-time faculty member to a department’s budget is competitive, Howard said, since there are limited resources.
“The reality is resources are finite,” Howard said. “You’ve got to make hard choices.”
Faculty requests are made in early spring, discussed by the deans, and approved or denied by the provost.
“No one gets everything they think they need,” Howard said. “It’s about trying to keep the big picture of the university in mind. You have to be sensitive to the needs of other colleges.”
If the university is not able to fund another full-time faculty member in a department, the department could hire an adjunct professor to help out.
In a program like arts administration, Zurbuchen said she is very grateful to hire talented adjuncts to help lighten her course load as well as help diversify her students’ learning.
“It’s important that our students get multiple perspectives,” Zurbuchen said.
For biology, managing faculty is a little harder. Salsbury said she usually does not use adjuncts because they are difficult to find.
“It can be a great educational, experience because adjuncts bring something different to the table,” Salsbury said, “but they have to have the proper background and expertise. It’s hard to find a random biologist out there that’s not already engaged.”