Butler hires new faculty to compensate for student growth

Photo by Samantha Lilly. 

JESSICA LEE | STAFF REPORTER | jelee2@butler.edu

One goal of Butler 2020 is to expand the undergraduate enrollment to 4,600 students. Currently, there are 4,458 undergraduates.

To compensate for this and future growth, Butler University hired more professors.

For the year of 2016, the ideal size was 1,100 first-year students to begin growth. However, the first-year class was much larger than expected, at 1,255 students.

Jay Howard, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said President James Danko and Provost Kate Morris prioritized academics throughout this growth process.

“When we realized we were going to have a record incoming first-year class, we realized we needed more courses to be offered. We needed more seats in classrooms,” Howard said. “Immediately the provost began working with the deans to figure out where do we need those people and those courses to be offered in the curriculum, and began right away [asking,] where do we need to add faculty to be able to make sure we have all the courses necessary for the first-year class.”

This year, more First Year Seminar professors were needed, but when the class moves on as sophomores, there will need to be more Global and Historical Studies professors. GHS is not a sophomore-exclusive course, but most students take the six-credit requirement sophomore year.

Howard said for cases like GHS, it is better strategy to move a part-time faculty member who has already proven to have good classroom skills to full-time.

“Because our core curriculum is rather unique by its very interdisciplinary nature, it’s difficult just to pull somebody off the street who’s not familiar with that course structure and say, ‘here, go teach eight sections of GHS,’ without them having been integrated into the program,” Howard said.

LAS made a proposal and is waiting for approval to add a faculty member to teach GHS next year. A brand new professor, though, will only teach one section of a GHS course.

For courses like organic chemistry — a required class for lots of science  — Howard said a new professor can teach the material easily because it is generally the same at other universities.

Howard said they already hired a new professor to teach organic chemistry for the upcoming school year.

Stuart Glennan, associate dean of LAS, helps manage faculty and the core curriculum, which is largely taught in the school of liberal arts and sciences.

Glennan said hiring new faculty members is a better solution than adding more sections to a current professor’s standard schedule, which is called an “overload.”

“That takes them away from other things they’re supposed to do,” Glennan said. “We don’t think in the end that is good for quality or for the sanity of our faculty to ask them to do more.”

Currently with about 350 faculty members, the student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1, meaning there are 12 students to every one faculty member.

If the university was to reach its goal of 4,600 students, faculty will need almost 50 members to maintain ratio. With the low ratio, class sizes are smaller.

Namitha Vellian, a first-year pre-pharmacy major, said even though the student body has increased, she has not had a problem with class sizes.

However, Vellian is competing among her peers for the 125 seats in the pharmacy program. Instead of taking the PCAT, a specialized exam taken to qualify for pharmacy colleges, Butler pre-pharmacy majors are reviewed by GPA, written assessment and an interview. If accepted, Vellian will start pharmacy school her junior year.

“When it comes to competition, that part is a little more nerve-wracking because there’s more people, but it’s also great to have more pharmacy people around,” Vellian said. “It’s more common that you see a pharmacy major around than any other major. I don’t really mind it. Also, a lot of people are in the same boat as you, which makes it a little more comfortable; you just have to focus on yourself and you’ll be fine.”

Vellian said it is important to keep the small ratio.

“That’s a main attraction as to why people come to Butler,” Vellian said. “The student-to-teacher ratio is something that’s really not common at big schools like IU and Purdue. I know a lot of students who have transferred to Butler this semester because they want to get away from that setting.”

Vellian said by keeping the low ratio and smaller class sizes, it is easier to build a personal relationship with professors, making it more comfortable to ask for help.

Greg Shufeldt is a newly hired assistant professor in the political science department. He said a low student-to-faculty ratio and smaller class size is also attractive to professors.

“It’s a selling point for faculty, but it’s just the best practice,” Shufeldt said. “We can do our jobs better in smaller classes. Research shows that, teachers know that, students enjoy that, parents know that. As we let more students in — which is great, it’s great that we’re growing — being able to keep our class sizes small is big.”

In an email, Shufeldt added  there are benefits to student growth.

“While I think it is perhaps natural to worry about what might happen to Butler as it grows, I think it’s also worth keeping in mind the possibilities that growth might offer,” Shufeldt said. “More students — from different backgrounds, representing diverse interests and experiences — might lead to new student groups on campus, students might identify new issues on campus or in issues in the campus that they are passionate about to get more engaged in fighting for.”

Shufeldt used to teach at University of Arkansas-Little Rock, where his introduction classes had around 45 students. Here, his classes are around 20 students.

Shufeldt said bigger classes tend to be more lecture-focused with more tests and less discussions.

“It changes how you assess student performance,” Shufeldt said. “You tend to do more tests, more objective quizzes where there’s right and wrong answers. As opposed to small classes, you can do papers, you can do activities, you can create assignments…. They take more time to grade, but they’re more rewarding in that you get to see student growth — ‘Oh, they get it!’ or ‘Oh, they didn’t, I did not do a good job on that.’ In smaller classes, you’re able to work toward that higher level of learning.”

Howard said hiring new faculty members “keeps the curriculum invigorated” with fresh perspectives.

“As a first-year faculty here, I was like, I get to do research with students, I get to do this, I get to take a class of students to Chicago, I get a group of students that don’t realize that my jokes aren’t funny yet,” Shufeldt said. “I get all of these new opportunities that I might look at Butler differently if I’m here in 30, 40 years, whereas that freshness is really inspiring.”

When hiring new faculty, Howard said he ensures potential professors understand the commitment to Butler teaching.

“Whenever I’m interviewing full-time faculty for hiring,” Howard said, “I always tell them, ‘I need you on day number one to hit the ground running and be a good classroom teacher and I expect you to get better at over time.’ That is something I’m very blunt and direct about. At Butler, we value classroom teaching, we take it seriously, we want to hire people who value teaching and want to be valued for being effective teachers.”

Shufeldt said the main focus of Butler professors is to teach rather than write books and articles like it may be at other universities.

“I think on average, the type of professor that teaches at Butler is somebody that is driven predominantly by teaching,” Shufeldt said. “That’s what we were hired to do, that’s where the focus is, that’s the primary means that we are evaluated, that’s what’s used for whether we get promotion and get tenure. Most people are here because we value teaching.”

Howard said research is an aspect of the faculty role is that includes students, especially undergraduates.

Shufeldt said it would be easy for him to incorporate students into research projects because of Butler students’ initiative.

“From a standpoint of wanting to promote student research, it’s easier when I think students are capable, but also they’re curious,” Shufeldt said. “That makes my job so much easier, if I can just work on giving you the tools to ask those questions, as opposed to I need to sell you on why research is important. Students already come to our classes with a passion for human rights or for justice or for equality or for free-market solutions. Whatever it might be across the spectrum, they’re bringing the passion and interest.”

Shufeldt taught a research and analysis class, where students collected data and wrote original research papers concerning their topic of choice.

“I cried on the last day of class in the fall because they’re just so engaging,” Shufeldt said.

Two of his students are presenting at the Undergraduate Research Conference in April.

“Butler students should take a sense of pride in how much natural ability they have and if they’re willing to put it to work, I have not experienced students who are smarter,” Shufeldt said.

As for the next incoming class, Glennan, the associate dean of LAS, said it will be smaller than the class of 2020.

“We overshot a little bit this last year,” Glennan said. “It was acknowledged because we have limits to how much we can effectively grow in terms of the faculty we got and classroom we got, that we really need to be a little smaller next year.”

Glennan said it is difficult to predict the exact number of the next class due to multiple factors — changes in higher education such as FASFA and application processes, marketing strategies, programs’ reputations — but they are looking at the data available to be as accurate as possible.

Howard said Butler is currently in a “sweet spot”, with a good balance between a small liberal arts school but having the opportunities of larger university.

Glennan said they are looking for a “stable pattern” in student population, which, according to Butler 2020, will be a steady growth toward 4,600 students.