The College of William and Mary Faculty Assembly discussed increasing freshman classes by 50 students to help alleviate budget shortfalls at a meeting Tuesday.
College Provost Michael Halleran noted that although the College could potentially see an increase in stimulus money over the next fiscal year, the base budget would still lag by at least $6.7 million.
Assembly President and physics professor Gene Tracy stressed a need to explore more sources of revenue and cost-saving.
“We’re going to fall off a cliff in a year unless we figure out ways to increase revenue,” he said. “We may even have to suspend the freshman seminar program until we’re back on solid footing, in order to free up faculty resources. I’m not advertising doing away with freshman seminars, I’m just facing reality.”
Other faculty expressed reluctance toward eliminating freshman seminars, with economics professor Will Hausman referring to them as “a signature of the College.”
According to Halleran, one option to recover a portion of the lost funds would be to increase the number of incoming freshmen by approximately 50 students in each incoming class.
“One [argument for increasing class size] is money; that is the main driver. We have an enormous shortfall coming upon us,” Halleran said.
He noted that a budget deficit could limit the salaries of new professors and place constraints on hiring, especially with no promise of a raise in the near future.
“If the trade-off is somewhat more students or fewer faculty, I’ll argue for the former any day of the week,” Halleran said. “Friends elsewhere in-state are happily opening their doors — [University of Virginia] is talking about adding 1,500 [new students] over the next few years.”
Assembly Vice President and sociology professor Kate Slevin disagreed.
“Arts and sciences would bear the brunt of this,” she said. “Fifty more students means three and a half more freshman seminars, more academic advisors, and students are already expressing huge pressure about getting into [general education requirements because of class limit constraints].”
Chemistry professor Lisa Landino agreed, noting that an increase in students would put further stress on labs.
“We don’t want a situation where a student with an aspiration to go pre-med can’t get into a necessary lab class because we don’t have time or space,” she said.
Faculty members, including Tracy, instead pointed to the athletic department, questioning its funding.
“One thing that will engage the faculty is if there is a serious look at the athletic program,” Tracy said.
Currently, $1,000 of a student’s tuition is allotted to the athletic program each semester.
“There is already an egregious student fee to athletics,” business professor Todd Mooradian said. “One undergraduate has to work three full-time weeks just to pay that fee.”
Overall, though they recognized the pressures of increasing class size, faculty members mostly agreed that admitting 50 more students each year could increase both revenue and quality.
“Another benefit of increasing class size is producing more alumni, who are hopefully giving more back to the College,” law professor Alan Meese said.
Meese noted that the Marshall-Wythe School of Law has already increased some class sizes from about 175 to 215 over the past few years.
Mooradian said career services would also benefit from an increase in class sizes, explaining that certain companies do not come to the College for career expos because of its relatively small student body.
Halleran added that a 50-student increase to new freshman classes is a little less than a 1 percent difference and would not risk the quality of the student body.
“Our applicant pool is still, statistically, very strong,” he said. “An additional 50 admitted students would probably have zero percent impact on potential quality.”