For any of you who know me, this statement is going to be rather obvious: I’m a
theater major. I practically live in Ford Hall. I have all my classes in this building, some
thing that is unheard of with
in many other departments at this school. I take the majority of my classes from the same two professors, both of whom I think of as mentors and parents.
I know that for other small departments on campus, this is roughly the same story. I, for one, love my theater education at Linfield for precisely these reasons. However, there is one large problem that looms over the description of my major as presented above.
The problem is that the department is forced into it’s size as a result of unfair policies.
Specifically, I mean the way in which the school hires new faculty and doles out money to departments seems to be a backward system that involves the smaller departments getting pigeonholed. In my opinion, the system is rather similar to what Dawn Nowacki, chair of the Department of Political Science, said that if a department teaches classes with more students in them, they are given a higher priority when it comes to hiring new faculty. If a department teaches classes with smaller numbers, it is not given the funding to grow.
All right. The logic seems simple enough on paper. However, there’s a fairly clear problem. Many departments offer small classes, such as my theater classes, in which I’ve never seen more than 20 students and the vast majority of which have less than 10. I know this same story is true for other small departments. I also know these departments desire more faculty to teach their students more effectively.
Perhaps some of you are seeing the Catch-22 in this situation. Without more faculty to teach the classes, there can’t be more students in them, but without more students in the classes, the departments aren’t given the funding to hire more professors. Thus, departments such as theater and political science cannot grow for years until the school does as a whole.
When I first heard this from my political science professor, I wondered if I was overreacting and maybe it was just a problem that was isolated to one department. But in talking to other people from other departments, it seems to be an issue that several areas are chaffing under.
Associate Professor of Theatre Arts Janet Gupton agrees that this is true. Eight years ago, the new theater building, Ford Hall, opened providing a state-of-the-art theatrical venue to the campus. New facilities led to an increase in students taking classes and deciding to be majors in theater, but the number of faculty remained the same. Gupton also noted that while larger departments need funding for faculty and equipment, a larger theater facility requires an increase in its operational budget as well. Especially for departments that are trying to get accredited.
Accreditation is a stamp of approval that demonstrates that a specific institution is meeting national standards of excellence in its field. Many departments do not want to earn accreditation, since once it has been documented, it must be maintained. This leads to a department losing some of the autonomy that it would have otherwise.
However, for departments such as theater that aspire to become accredited, understaffing is a large problem. To receive the approval, it must have a minimum number of full-time faculty teaching in the department. Theater currently has two. Guess how many are needed for accreditation? Just one more.
“While faculty numbers aren’t the only thing holding back the department from accreditation, it is the hardest thing to get around at the moment,” Gupton said.
You’d think that the administration would want to help out the departments that are so close to achieving the national program recognition. And to be fair, I’m sure the school does. But it needs to provide the money and support to the smaller departments to effectively do that.
Needless to say, a story
such as this begs the question of where the funding comes from. We all know Washington’s don’t grow on trees. And I’m naïve enough to think that every department should get everything it wants all the time. I do think, however, that the college could put funds away toward hiring additional staff members. And then there is spending money on things that, I think, are frivolous — like watering the grounds every single night.
My point is that small departments are deprived of the ability to grow at Linfield, at least for the moment. Class size is the reason why. I think that rather than being based on simple numbers, the growth in faculty should be on a need basis. This may seem simple, but if a department needs more staff it should receive it.
Of course it can’t happen over night, but a department that desperately needs another professor shouldn’t have to wait two decades to get one. How else can Linfield provide the very best education possible?
I’m very happy with my experience here, but I know, too, that times are changing and departments need to change along with them. It may not seem like much, but the growth of even one faculty member adds years of knowledge, training and experience to a department and ensures that Linfield is always at the top of its game.
Matt Sunderland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.