George Mason Law School

Temporary faculty keep classes small

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September 24, 2010

12:21 AM

The College of William and Mary is recognized as one of the top small public universities in the country. But how small can it stay, and for how much longer?

Class sizes appear stable, but the number of classes offered by the College has shifted. The number of classes in the school of Arts and Sciences has diminished by 14 percent in recent years. In the 2006-2007 academic year, 1,112 classes were offered. Currently, only 962 classes are available.

Despite the nation-wide economic recession and budget cuts, the College is dedicated to maintaining small class sizes, according to Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda. Nevertheless, the number of tenured faculty has suffered.

“What has been a challenge is continuing to have a large proportion of classes taught by tenure-eligible and tenured faculty,” Strikwerda said. “Because of the budget cuts, we have had to cancel some searches for tenure-eligible faculty over the last two years.”

This problem is not limited to the College. According to Strikwerda, Harvard University stopped searching for tenure-eligible professors three years ago.

The College has not completely called off its search, however. The arts and sciences department currently has 24 active searches for tenure-eligible faculty in progress.

“[In] comparison [to] many other institutions, we’ve continued to hire at a reasonable rate,” Strikwerda said.
With the cut in tenured faculty, the College has looked to temporary professors to keep class sizes small.

“We have been able to use temporary faculty to keep class sizes the same,” Strikwerda said. “Given the very large budget cuts that we have absorbed over the last three years, I believe the leaders of the College deserve a lot of credit for shielding our core educational mission from the effect of the cuts.”

According to Strikwerda, his office, alongside department chairs and program directors, works to limit the number of larger classes. Statistics provided by the dean’s office show that there are only 29 classes in the School of Arts and Sciences with 100 or more students — this represents 3 percent of total classes. The largest percentage of classes, 31 percent, consists of 10 to 19 students.

These numbers are an improvement from years past, according to Susan Donaldson, chair of the English department.

“When I first came to the English department at [the College], both the upper- and lower-level English courses were often quite large,” Donaldson said.

In the early 1990s, the English department established a policy limiting literature classes to 30 students. Freshman and senior seminars were also capped at 16 students. The English department grants professors the ability to include a few extra students, although it tries to maintain reasonable class sizes.

The English department offers one class, Literature and the Bible, which can reach over 100 students. According to Donaldson, this class does not require any substantial essays from its participants.

“The main reason why the English Department is determined to keep seminars at 16 and literature classes at 30 is that all of our classes are writing intensive,” Donaldson said.

Classes of such large numbers make it difficult for students to participate, as well as receive the proper help from professors on writing assignments.

“The English department is committed to making it possible for active student participation in class and for faculty to pay close attention to student writing,” Donaldson said.

Although the recession has hit the College hard, class sizes and enrollment appear to be relatively unaffected.

“Our undergraduate enrollment has only gone up about 2 percent over the last three years,” Strikwerda said.

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