APC Report—May 2021
Academic Planning Committee Report
17 May 2021
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Timeline and Agendas for AY 2021-2022
Academic Planning Committee
Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment
Restructuring within the Academic Affairs Office
Issues in Teaching, Workloads, and Department/Program Leadership
Senior Year Experience (SYE) Compensation
Uneven Class Sizes
Unbalanced Course Schedule
Size and Structure of Majors
Coordination of Event Planning and Capital Budgeting
Selection and Training of Department Chairs and Program Coordinators
Review and Adjustment
Feedback Link [Campus Feedback for Academic Planning Committee]
In December 2020 the Experience St. Lawrence Task Force submitted its final report and recommendations on how to put St. Lawrence on the path to financial sustainability to ensure that the University could thrive and continue to innovate in an increasingly challenging higher education landscape [ESLU TF Report]. From the report it is clear that we must plan proactively and strategically to address the likelihood of a shrinking and more diverse undergraduate population and structural budget deficits, while remaining true to our mission. To move forward on a sustainable path, we must reorganize ourselves to ensure the most efficient allocation of resources to achieve our educational goals, with decision-making processes and a culture that enable adaptability and change along with transparency and faculty agency, to offer a rigorous, forward-thinking liberal arts education in an era of constrained resources.
Central among the challenges we face is the possibility that, as our existing structural deficits are compounded by a declining prospective student base, the overall number of St. Lawrence faculty may need to decrease over the next three to five years and beyond. We have implemented new academic programs, a vital step in increasing prospective student interest in SLU, but we must anticipate that this will blunt but not overcome a decline in enrollment and thus the need for reductions in overall full-time faculty numbers. Because the scale of this need will be dependent on overall student enrollment, we cannot predict with certainty what the overall size of the faculty will be in the future, but we know that having well-defined and transparent processes in place to plan and implement changes will help us to make them as wisely as possible, regardless of scale.
The academic restructuring plan described below is intended to be a key part of this process. Through more centralized planning, our academic programs will allocate and manage resources collaboratively, in ways they have not done before, to serve our students better semester-to-semester and over the coming decade. Through this new process we can manage any reductions in overall faculty size strategically, as faculty leave the University or retire. In short, these changes will enable us to make necessary reductions solely through attrition, intentionally, with a long planning horizon, while ensuring the strength and richness of our academic programs and continuing to innovate.
To address the challenges facing St. Lawrence, the ESLU Task Force recommended a reorganization of academic departments into three to six larger units with the goals of allocating SLU faculty more strategically, managing our curriculum and activities more efficiently, and fostering innovation and interdisciplinarity [ESLU TF Report, 5]. The process to design a new academic structure that would realize these goals began with the Restructuring Working Group (one of the sub-committees of the Task Force) that met from June to November 2020. In its report to Faculty Council and the Board of Trustees the RWG’s first recommendation on restructuring was to centralize academic planning functions in the Academic Planning Committee. Faculty Council approved the formation of the APC as a University committee in November 2020 [RWG Report]. The APC researched these questions further in spring 2021, gathering information and perspectives across a range of faculty individuals and groups, to inform the recommendations below. We see these structural changes to the organization of Academic Affairs as pathways to increased financial sustainability, flexibility, and innovation.
To achieve the goals of allocating faculty resources more strategically, managing our curriculum and academic activities more efficiently, and continuing to foster innovation, the APC recommends the following action steps to be implemented for fall 2021:
1. Develop the role of the Academic Planning Committee.
Key areas of responsibility: long term planning for academic programs and faculty staffing (range of programs, position requests, workload, release time).
1. The APC will serve as the “hub” of a new three- to five-year planning process, with the new Academic Communities (see #2 below) as its “spokes.”
2. The APC will create and maintain the University’s three- to five-year academic plan, to encompass curriculum, programs, and staffing; will serve as the clearinghouse for planning at the department and community level, providing data for that planning, maintaining expectations for regular submission of formal plans for streamlining majors/minors, maximizing space use and student access to courses through coordinated scheduling, and optimizing allocation of faculty lines.
3. The APC’s initial report will be issued in mid-May to SLU faculty and the BoT. In summer 2021, the APC will gather feedback on the report and its recommendations and share a summary of that feedback in mid-August 2021.
2. Form FIVE Academic Communities of chairs and coordinators: Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Arts, and Interdisciplinary.
Key areas of responsibility of these communities: cross-departmental coordination of course scheduling, operating and capital budgeting, divisional faculty development, campus event planning and scheduling, and development of shared position requests.
1. Departments and programs will choose one Academic Community to join in AY 2021-2022 by August 2, 2021. First meetings of the Academic Communities will begin the week of August 30, 2021.
2. The members of the Academic Communities normally will be department chairs/program coordinators.
3. The Communities will meet three to four times per semester to coordinate this planning, convened by the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and the Associate VP for Planning and Academic Administration.
4. The Communities also will be sites for ongoing discussions of the recommendations of this report and further academic planning.
3. Establish the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment.
Key areas of responsibility: faculty development activities; trans-divisional innovation in pedagogy, curriculum, and grant-seeking; departmental and University assessment of student learning.
- Faculty Director of the Center, with half-time teaching and half-time administrative responsibilities, will be appointed.
- The Director of the Center will take on some faculty development and assessment responsibilities from the ADFA, allowing the ADFA to co-chair the APC and coordinate the activities of the Academic Communities with the AVPA.
4. Restructure positions and duties in the Academic Affairs office.
a. Restructuring of administrative roles in the Academic Dean’s and Registrar’s office, including the addition of the Directorship of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment and clerical support, will allow the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Associate VP for Planning, supported by the Dean of Academic Affairs, to act as co-conveners of the Academic Communities, providing the Communities and APC with data needed for planning and implementing policy guidelines and reporting.
b. Hire a FT clerical position in the Academic Affairs Office to replace the .5 position lost to Advising and add .5 to support work of Academic Communities and Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment.
5. Address issues in teaching and administrative staffing and workloads to improve efficiency and equity.
- Unsustainable and inequitable SYE compensation model
- Uneven class sizes across the faculty
- Unbalanced course schedule across times of day and days of the week
- Staffing challenges posed by number and structure of some major requirements
- Need for greater oversight of the selection and training of department chairs and program coordinators
6. Review the efficacy of these changes in AY 2022-23 and adjust, as needed.
- Prior to the fall 2021 semester, the APC will provide to the campus a timeline for assessment and feedback on the new structure, with dates and processes identified, so that the faculty may consider changes to the restructuring plan.
- The charge and membership of the Academic Planning Committee is scheduled to be reviewed by Faculty Council in summer 2021. Following this evaluation, we anticipate that further review will be undertaken periodically as needed by the committee itself or by Faculty Council.
- An initial review of the efficacy of the new Academic Communities will be undertaken by the APC following the pilot in AY 2021-2022.
TIMELINE & AGENDAS FOR ACADEMIC YEAR 2021-2022
Agenda for Restructuring Recommendations, AY 2021-2022
Pilot the divisional model of Academic Communities, beginning in August 2021
Establish timeline and process to evaluate the AY 2021-2022 pilot restructuring plan
Reorganize duties and responsibilities of APVA, ADFA, and clerical staff in Academic Affairs
Establish Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment; hire Director
Develop plan by which Academic Communities might evolve, if desired
Agendas for APC and Academic Communities, AY 2021-2022
The Academic Planning Committee and the Academic Communities provide the University with new spaces for discussion and decision-making. Both are sites that are not “institution-wide (which is too broad)” or solely “within a department (which is often too narrow)” [ESLU TF report, 10]. In our recommendations here, then, we are proposing that AY 2021-2022 be used both to implement key changes and to discuss other important changes that need to be made. We fully anticipate that not only will we need to make adjustments after the pilot year, but also that the restructuring proposed here will need to remain flexible in the coming years.
- APC—Work with AVPA and the Dean to develop a new process for capital planning and requests for fall 2021
- APC—Form the Academic Communities and hold initial meetings—August 2021
- APC—Work with Faculty Council to schedule a faculty meeting in early September to discuss this report and its recommendations
- APC—Staffing decision-making for AY 2021-2022
- Solicit information from Academic Communities and departments/programs on staffing needs in three- to five-year cycles beginning in AY 2021-2022
- Solicit pre-position requests in May and full position requests in early July 2021
- Report on staffing recommendations in mid-July
- Gather information on current norms in faculty workloads within departments and programs and within and across Academic Communities
- Review current policies and practices in granting course releases
- Establish process to address significant backlog of uncompensated SYEs
- APC—Deliver annual University Academic Plan to Faculty Council, January 2022
- APC—Develop clearer policies and enforcement for course releases, minimum class size, workload issues, course scheduling
- APC & Academic Communities—Discuss and make recommendations on curricular offerings and course schedules
- Academic Communities—Plan more strategically and collaboratively on events, purchasing, and capital requests, where appropriate
This report is a follow-up to the Academic Restructuring Working Group’s 12/3/20 report. Our recommendations here are the result of the Academic Planning Committee’s work from December 2020 to May 2021. In its weekly meetings, the committee reviewed current problems in Academic Affairs (along with the future pressures we anticipate) and discussed potential solutions. It quickly became clear that there was no one-size-fits-all academic restructuring that would address all of these issues. We see three main kinds of changes we can make: changes to the structure of Academic Affairs, changes within the faculty governance structure, and policy changes. In addition, we are aware that we must consider informal structures, such as existing collaborations between some department chairs to set course schedules, as well as academic support structures as we seek strategic balance. Finding strategic balance is a first step; keeping it will be an ongoing process.
The committee solicited feedback from faculty across campus in a variety of ways. A faculty caucus in January 2021 introduced faculty to the perceived need for academic restructuring. The committee hosted four open faculty forums in the following weeks, in addition to one forum specifically for junior faculty. In conjunction with the Experience SLU Task Force, the committee held an information session for faculty, with Steve Hietsch and Florence Hines, in February, so that faculty would have a better collective understanding of the budget pressures and admissions challenges the University faces.
In addition, members of the committee discussed restructuring ideas and concerns at three department chairs and program coordinators meetings in spring 2021 and met separately with some smaller groups of chairs and coordinators. Members of the committee have also had a number of conversations with individual faculty, and an open-ended survey has allowed all faculty to submit ideas and concerns anonymously (or not). In all of this, our objective has been to listen carefully and widely to faculty and staff, not to build consensus for a model for restructuring.
The APC gathered ideas and perspectives on possible organizational models in Academic Affairs during spring 2021. While a few faculty members expressed interest in organizing ourselves into thematic clusters, more faculty members wanted to retain departmental and/or disciplinary identities and units in some form. The APC did not see these two models as mutually exclusive in our current or future academic structure. Many faculty members already participate in interdisciplinary departments/programs and in interdisciplinary teaching and research collaborations within and beyond departments/programs.
Additionally, a number of issues emerged from our conversations, surveys, and emails over the past semester. Many people expressed the desire for clearer, more transparent policies, benchmarks, and/or guidelines on issues such as faculty workloads, staffing and position requests, and course scheduling. Many also expressed the desire to see policies, benchmarks, and/or guidelines more consistently enforced. In response to questions from the APC about the potential benefits of forming academic units or communities between individual departments and the dean’s office, a number of chairs and faculty members saw potential to collaborate on event planning, position requests, capital requests, and/or course scheduling. Some also expressed enthusiasm for better opportunities for innovation in curriculum and pedagogies. In our recommendations we have sought to address these hopes and concerns.
- ACADEMIC PLANNING COMMITTEE
The charge of the APC is to chart the strategic direction of the University’s academic programs and staffing and maintain a University Academic Plan that will be updated annually. In its work, the APC will be guided by the continuing need to maintain an outstanding and rigorous liberal arts academic program, built on the foundation of diverse intellectual traditions, while also exploring the frontiers of knowledge and inquiry, serving the interests and needs of current students and anticipating those of the future, and reflecting the University’s social values. The yearly University Academic Plan will include recommendations regarding the creation of new programs, additions, reductions, or changes to programs, and the allocation of new or replaced faculty lines over multiple years.
- Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and one faculty member as co-chairs (elected from the faculty on the committee by a committee vote)
- Dean of Academic Affairs
- Associate VP for Planning and University Registrar
- Faculty member from Faculty Council
- Faculty member from the Academic Affairs Committee
- Faculty member from the Institutional Strategy and Assessment Committee
- Five representatives from Academic Communities—For 2020-2021 only, Faculty Council nominated at-large members. Beginning in AY 2021-22 a member from each of the five Academic Communities will represent the Academic Community on the APC to help coordinate strategic planning for different areas of the curriculum. Community representatives will normally serve two-year terms.
- Associate Dean for Academic Advising Programs
- Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion
- Associate Dean for the First Year
- Associate Dean for International and Intercultural Studies
- Director of Institutional Research, ex-officio, also co-chair of the Assessment Committee
- ACADEMIC COMMUNITIES
In its December 2020 report, Experience St. Lawrence: The Task Force on Institutional Structure, Policy, and Planning recommended that “St. Lawrence must have standard ways of measuring the investments it is making” in faculty in order to “align this with the current and future needs of students.” [ESLU TF Report, 10] In order to measure we first must have relevant data and a shared understanding of the issues. The creation of the APC and the Academic Communities is a major step toward reaching such a collective understanding of issues and a structure and process for addressing them. We expect the meetings of the Academic Communities to improve communication and planning beyond individual departments and programs.
The proposed Academic Communities for the pilot year 2021-2022 are: Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Arts, and Interdisciplinary departments/programs. Departments and programs will choose one Academic Community to join to allow sufficient time and continuity of membership to discuss the complexity of the issues noted in this report. We recognize that individual departments and programs and individual faculty within those departments and programs may have interests that overlap across several Academic Communities and anticipate opportunities to meet and talk across Academic Communities and to revise Community memberships during and after the pilot year.
The ADFA and AVPA will solicit Academic Community membership preferences by August 2, 2021 and convene a first meeting of the member chairs and coordinators of each of the five Academic Communities beginning in the last week in August 2021. The ADFA and AVPA will schedule three or four additional meetings of the Academic Communities in the fall and spring semesters.
One of the APC’s goals in establishing Academic Communities along roughly divisional lines as a pilot for AY 2021-2022 is to increase the opportunities to build wider understanding of current norms in workload, pedagogies, and practices and to collaborate on pooling budgets for planning events and on making capital requests and other purchases more strategically.
Meetings in the first parts of the fall and spring semesters will focus on course scheduling for the coming semester, capital planning and budgeting, and event planning with shared budgets. Mid- to late-fall meetings will discuss possible opportunities for shared capital requests and other budgeting issues. The academic communities also will discuss workload norms and curriculum, pedagogy, and staffing issues, such as senior-level mentored research, teaching introductory courses, academic and clerical support for programs, and other ideas generated by the communities. The goal of these meetings is to better understand how we are currently doing our work and to think through ways that we could improve teaching and learning and our use of resources.
- CENTER FOR INNOVATION IN TEACHING AND ASSESSMENT
Another recommendation for restructuring in Academic Affairs is to establish a Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment with a faculty Director. The Center will address several important needs—to provide a site for further interdisciplinary collaboration beyond the Academic Communities and to take over some of the duties of the ADFA in faculty development and departmental and University assessment. The Center will be an incubator for course and program development and grant-seeking. The Director will work with the Faculty Development Committee and the ADFA to develop mentoring networks, workshops, and May College programming. The Director, the ADFA, and the Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion will organize monthly trans-divisional lunches to provide time and space to generate ideas and to have conversations beyond the Academic Communities. The Director also will work with the ADFA and the Director of Institutional Research as a member of the Assessment Committee on departmental and University assessment activities and use assessment data to inform conversations on faculty development and pedagogical and curricular innovation.
- REORGANIZATION WITHIN THE ACADEMIC AFFAIRS OFFICE
To allow time and space for more centralized strategic planning, budgeting, and work with the Academic Communities, changes to the positions of the ADFA and the AVPA are required.
As part of restructuring in the Academic Affairs Office, the current ADFA’s duties regarding faculty development and departmental and University assessment will become part of the portfolio of the new faculty Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment. Moving some of the responsibilities for faculty development and assessment to the Director of the Center will allow the ADFA to devote more time to working with Academic Communities and strategic planning. The Director of the Center will report to and work closely with the ADFA.
To fully realize the AVPA’s responsibilities for strategic planning, budgeting, and administration in Academic Affairs, the day-to-day duties of the Registrar will be realigned. We expect that details of this realignment will be worked out in summer 2021.
- ISSUES IN TEACHING AND ADMINISTRATIVE STAFFING AND WORKLOADS
As noted above, many faculty said that they want clearer policies, benchmarks, and/or guidelines on faculty workloads, staffing and position requests, and course scheduling, and expressed the desire to see policies, benchmarks, and/or guidelines more consistently enforced. Discussions within the Academic Communities will help us all understand current norms and practices across departments and programs. Information and data from the Academic Communities will help the APC in the development of clearer policies and practices and their consistent and equitable implementation.
The main issues identified by the APC to date are:
- An unsustainable and inequitable SYE compensation model
- Uneven class sizes across the faculty
- An unbalanced course schedule across times of day and days of the week
- Staffing challenges posed by the number and structure of some major requirements
- Uncoordinated and inefficient planning and budgeting for events and capital requests
- A need for more consistent and transparent processes for selection and training of department chairs and program coordinators
Senior Year Experience (SYE) Compensation
Adopted in 2003, Senior Year Experience courses and independent studies provide fourth-year students with credit-bearing, mentored research and capstone experiences to culminate their education at SLU. We know from student surveys and discussions with faculty that SYEs have brought increased rigor and integration of learning to seniors, and that SYEs are some of our most satisfying experiences as teachers [2016 SYE survey summary]. While not required for graduation in all majors, SYEs have proven to be high-impact and valuable experiences for both faculty and their SYE students.
At the same time, the SYE compensation policy has been a point of concern since adoption in 2003 and has been reviewed multiple times since the economic downturn in 2008. In 2010 the Recession Response Phase One Task Group reviewed the policy and ended monetary compensation for tenured and tenure-track faculty doing independent SYEs to reduce the strain on the budget. Since then, there have been three additional reviews—by the ADFA Alison Del Rossi in 2016, by the Academic Affairs Committee in its report to the Strategic Budgeting Committee in 2018, and by the APC in 2021—all of which reached similar conclusions. Our faculty are accruing more SYE course releases than we can afford to cover, with a substantial number still untaken. The reasons faculty are not able to take earned course releases vary—mostly enrollment pressures in their departments or programs and limited access to adjunct and visiting faculty replacements.
Under our current SYE compensation policy, tenured and tenure-track faculty members earn a 0.25 course release (CR) for a 1.0-unit independent SYE completed, even if the student earns more units for working on the project (a two-semester SYE with a student still earns only 0.25 CR for the faculty member). Additionally, once the Dean’s office notifies faculty members of their accrual of four 1.0-unit SYEs and their eligibility for a CR, faculty members have ten semesters to take their CR before it expires.
As of May 2020, approximately 600 units of uncompensated (and unexpired) SYEs have been completed. Therefore, at least 150 CRs are currently owed to faculty. Our faculty members are generating about 147 uncompensated SYEs per year, which equals about 37 CRs. We estimate that about 15 SYE CRs are taken per year, meaning that faculty are taking fewer than half of the SYE CRs earned in a given year. The backlog of uncompensated teaching by SLU faculty is a liability for the University and requires a multi-pronged solution.
Additionally, departmental policies and practices regarding the delivery and compensation for independent SYEs vary. Some departments require their majors to complete an SYE, others do not. Nineteen out of forty-two departments or programs require an SYE course or independent study for majors or minors. Of those nineteen, six majors (BIOPHYS, GEOPHYS, GS, MLL-ENG, NEUR, PHYS) and one stand-alone minor (EUR) require an independent study SYE. Several departments have cut an SYE requirement from their majors because they could no longer staff them (ECON, PCA). Several departments have reduced their overall teaching load to accommodate senior research students, but not all department members regularly supervise independent SYEs every semester (BIOL, CHEM). This variation means that both students’ and faculty members’ access to the benefits of mentored research is unequal across majors and departments.
Clearly, we need to adjust how we compensate faculty for teaching SYEs and rethink how we deliver them. In what follows, we propose a new compensation model while recognizing the need for further discussion of the delivery methods at the department/program level and within Academic Communities.
To address both the sustainability of SYE compensation and the inequities of access to the benefits of SYEs, the APC recommends the following:
- AY 2021-2022 will be a year of transition to a new, more sustainable SYE compensation policy.
- Faculty who complete a fourth SYE in summer 2021, fall 2021, and/or spring 2022 and are thereby eligible for a CR will consult with their department chair and the ADFA about whether they would be willing to accept monetary compensation at $500/SYE unit, rather than a CR. If not, they may bank the CR for future use.
- SYE CRs that are already planned for fall 2021 and spring 2022 may be taken in AY 2021-2022 or banked for future use, if the faculty member, department chair, and the ADFA agree.
- Uncompensated SYEs earned before fall 2021 may not be banked for future CRs and instead will be compensated at $500 each over three years. The total cost would be approximately $351,000 (600 + 102 = 702 SYEs through spring 2021 x 500 if no faculty member accepts monetary compensation for 2021-2022 SYEs completed). Payouts should be spread over three years, beginning with the CRs closest to expiring. The Dean’s and Budget offices should explore the possibility that some restricted funds, earmarked for student research, could be used to cover some of the SYE payout expense.
- In AY 2021-2022 the APC will ask Academic Communities and departments and programs to review their SYE requirements with the goal of defining an equitable and sustainable model of SYE opportunities for students and compensation for faculty going forward, with a number of questions in mind. What are the goals and criteria for senior year experiences? Should there be common goals for SYEs across majors and departments/programs? Will a department/program’s current model of mentored research be sustainable under the changes proposed for AY 2022-2023 (see below)? If not, what are some alternatives? Are there equity issues of access to the benefits of mentored research among the department’s majors and/or faculty members? If so, why and how might they be addressed?
- An additional question raised by the APC’s review of SYE data is, should student access to independent SYEs be limited? Put differently, are SYEs the best and only culminating senior experience for every student? Could we design a range of senior experiences for students, not all of which require work beyond a faculty member’s teaching load?
- A transcript analysis of 2020 graduating seniors revealed that 57% of graduating seniors (514 x .57 = 292) completed an SYE (either an SYE course or an independent SYE). Of the students completing an SYE, 17% completed more than one (292 x .17 = 49).
- Additionally, 80% of our students graduate with more than one program (meaning, combined majors, multiple majors, major/minor combinations), a 25% increase since 2000.
- These two trends suggest that the demand for SYEs could continue to increase rather than decline, unless we rethink how we offer and staff senior-level mentored research and experiences. SLU now offers students a range of experiential opportunities—internships, summer fellowships, off-campus study, and SYEs among them. Therefore, the APC wondered if departments that require SYEs for their majors/minors could be flexible about how students complete them and/or if we should allow students to do no more than one independent SYE. We wondered if there is sufficient value to the student in doing multiple SYEs to outweigh the cost to the University.
- In AY 2021-2022 the APC and Dean’s office will begin to work with Advancement to develop a plan to support senior-year experiences more broadly and more equitably for both students and faculty. We know that senior year experiences have great value for students and faculty. We need to find additional funding to support them.
- In AY 2022-2023 department/programs will no longer be able to factor SYE mentoring into anticipated workloads of faculty. In other words, the required number of independent SYEs must be completed and release time approved by chairs and the ADFA, before release time may be taken.
- In AY 2022-2023 SYE policy will shift to requiring eight completed independent SYEs to earn one CR. We expect to continue to offer the possibility of taking $500 in compensation in lieu of banked CR time for each SYE unit completed.
The goal of this change in policy would be to reduce uncompensated SYEs sufficiently that all CR time earned could be taken within the time frame allowed in the policy (ten semesters) and to reduce the total cost of delivering senior-level research experiences for students.
- Potential savings are difficult to estimate at present because a number of factors are in play—whether some departments and programs decide to change their SYE requirements and/or how they are delivered (e.g., offering senior research seminars with more than five students), how many faculty members choose to take the monetary compensation rather than bank time toward a course release for independent SYEs, and whether a given course release must be covered by another faculty member teaching an overload (currently paid at $3500/unit) or by hiring an adjunct (currently paid at $5100-5900/unit). After AY 2023-2024 the APC will review the SYE compensation model of eight independent SYEs/CR. APC will also review any changes made by departments and programs to their policies to assess their sustainability and equity and will recommend any further changes needed at the departmental level.
Uneven Class Sizes
In looking at the issue of uneven class sizes more carefully, the APC identified three main problems:
- There is an inequitable distribution of introductory and advanced courses (created in part by some faculty refusing to teach certain introductory courses). Among the consequences of this inequitable distribution is increased workload in terms of the number of students (typically higher for introductory courses), and potentially lower course evaluation scores (lower-level courses tend to receive lower evaluations, on average).
- In addition, some faculty consistently teach large classes or have many students, while others consistently teach small classes or have fewer students.
- This also leads to uneven student advising loads.
We do not see small class size per se as a global issue at SLU [ESLU TF Report]. For instance, there are certainly legitimate reasons why some upper-level courses geared toward the major are small but necessary, and we know other classes have space and/or equipment limitations (i.e., lab and studio courses). Likewise, new special topics (SPTP) courses may fail initially in attracting enrollment and need time to develop an audience. Historically, the bulk of our low-enrolled courses were in the now-closed graduate Education programs and staffed largely by adjuncts, an issue which has since been resolved. If we exclude courses in the teacher certification program, which will end in spring 2022, 25 out of 978 courses had enrollments of fewer than five students.
As we tackle the class size issue, we must be mindful of our liberal arts mission and the value prospective students place on close engagement with faculty, weighing these alongside the very real financial challenges we face. We think that given the small scale of this problem, the most effective way to address it is to engage with and support chairs in finding solutions to specific cases of persistently low-enrolled courses and low course caps. Acknowledging the difficulty that chairs and coordinators may face in addressing issues related to specific low-enrolled classes, we envision a central role for the AVPA and ADFA in helping chairs strategize about how best to work with their faculty on the relevant issues to support change.
Given our scarce resources, we offer the following thoughts on how to strive for a more equitable distribution of faculty workload and for meeting student demand, both of which may factor into our consideration of position requests. The class size graph below provides chairs with some approximate data for identifying problem areas that the department needs to address. While we know that demonstrating robust class size is not the only factor leading to successful position requests, it is one factor for consideration. For example, the APC could encourage departments to consider ways to increase class size in cases where the department is consistently falling below the University average, in order to strengthen the likelihood of future position requests being successful. In many cases, simply expanding the lower- to medium-size course caps by even a small number could make a great difference. Also, certain specialty courses might not need to be offered every year, but could be offered every other year, in order to increase enrollment.
Note: Labs and independent studies are not included in this graph; small SYE seminars are.
We recommend that chairs, working with the AVPA and ADFA, use the data to help them to implement departmental policies that seek to balance teaching loads within the department by strategically staffing the larger introductory classes, to avoid scenarios where any faculty members consistently teach only small upper-level courses or SPTP courses. Perhaps those whom the department determines must solely teach small upper-level or SPTP courses by necessity could contribute in another way, if they consistently (over a period of three to four years) cannot meet a set number of overall students taught (to align with average class size across the university). We believe that with the data and appropriate metrics for assessing teaching load (not enrollments in individual courses but enrollments by faculty member and department over time), as well as the oversight and support of the AVPA and ADFA, chairs and their departments will be able to strategize about how best to balance teaching loads within departments and across campus.
Another factor that plays into the course size issue is the over-reliance of some faculty members upon a certain room or building in which they feel comfortable (and typically in which they have an office). This works both ways: some departments feel ownership over the rooms in a building with rooms that seat 30, but they cap their courses between 16 and 20, thus using a larger room inefficiently. Others rely on smaller seminar rooms in the building they prefer, which leads to their courses (which are in demand) being capped at lower-than-ideal numbers.
We need to build a culture in which faculty recognize that, other than rooms such as labs/studios with a specific designated purpose, the classrooms on campus are university classrooms and need to be allocated as such. The Registrar’s Office has tried assigning rooms under this philosophy, but the pushback from some areas is considerable. The Registrar’s Office will need to be empowered to have the final say in making classroom allocation decisions, guided by university needs, after appropriately considering all classroom requests.
Unbalanced Course Schedule
To achieve a balanced course schedule that provides the most choice and flexibility for students and that employs faculty teaching time most effectively, the Registrar’s Office must be empowered to push back on schedules that arrive unbalanced in terms of days, times, and room requests.
Previous research and discussion with chairs in 2019 indicated the need to spread the course schedule out across class time slots using all five available days. This would allow us to increase the selection available to students at any given time, and to increase the likelihood of faculty being assigned the most suitable classroom for any given class. Many departments and programs have since made concerted efforts to spread their courses more evenly across the schedule and to increase the number of MWF courses offered. However, the main problem continues with course crowding on MW and WF mornings in the 1.5-hour slots, particularly between 10:30am and noon. We use all classrooms during that one time slot and have demand for more. We propose a pilot for Spring 2022, wherein:
- We remove the option for MW or WF classes during the 10:30am-12pm slot. Understanding the pedagogical need for 1.5-hour class slots, we will continue to allow MW and WF courses during the 8:50am-10:20am slot and the afternoon slots.
- Departments must offer at least 30% of their introductory-level courses during MWF slots. Department chairs need to be mindful that faculty in their departments take turns teaching MWF classes, so responsibilities do not fall unevenly on pre-tenure or potentially marginalized faculty groups. The AVPA and ADFA will support chairs in ensuring a balance across days and time slots and equity across faculty in departments.
- Multiple sections of the same course may not be offered at the same time.
- Looking ahead, in fall semesters, introductory courses should only be offered in the TTh 10:10-11:40am time slot if there are additional sections of the same course in time slots available for first-years and/or the introductory course is intended specifically for upper-class students (such as sophomores who were unable to get into the course in their first year).
Size and Structure of Majors
Another issue the APC identified is that the size and structure of major requirements can pose staffing challenges. If, for example, a major requires courses in a particular sub-specialty that only one faculty member can teach, it may be difficult or impossible to offer courses that students need if a faculty member is on leave and not replaced. If fewer positions are replaced in the coming years, it will become increasingly difficult to staff our programs. It also raises equity concerns between departments, as departments that build more flexible majors may be disadvantaged when requesting replacement positions. In addition, large numbers of requirements make it difficult for departments to contribute to interdisciplinary teaching programs, such as the FYP and Sophomore Journeys, because the faculty perceive a need to prioritize teaching courses necessary for their major. This contributes to the large number of adjunct faculty in a flagship University program such as the FYP.
It is not the role, however, of the APC to adjudicate either the size or structure of majors. In particular, the APC lacks the expertise needed to evaluate such requirements. Instead, we offer these recommendations, acknowledging that further discussion of these potential solutions is needed. Therefore, we recommend the following.
First, the APC should require regular three-year staffing plans, updated annually. These plans would account both for anticipated leaves and interdisciplinary teaching. The APC's role would be to review these plans and to work with departments to ensure that they are able to adequately staff their majors and contribute to other University programs. The APC could develop prioritization criteria for position requests, based on these staffing plans and past teaching, that encourage flexibility in majors where appropriate and contributions to interdisciplinary teaching.
Second, the APC recommends the possibility of further empowering the Associate Dean for the First Year to request FYP staffing from departments, and similarly empowering the Director of Sophomore Journeys. This might take the form of strengthened APC staffing guidelines (above) or support from the ADFA in Academic Community meetings based on clear policies for expected contributions to the FYP and Sophomore Journeys at the divisional or departmental level.
Third, the APC recommends that we look into facilitating external reviews of majors and minors. External reviews bring an outside perspective to bear on our programs, one that has the expertise to offer feedback on major requirements. The APC could work with the Dean's Office to establish funding for such reviews, and to meet with departments upon completion of the review to discuss any possible or recommended changes. The Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment could aid in the review process by helping departments develop relevant assessment plans and providing data. The APC also could collate the results of multiple reviews to provide a more holistic view of our academic curriculum.
Coordination of Event Planning and Capital Budgeting
In our current model, academic programming (guest speakers, events, etc.), as well as capital requests, are highly decentralized and planned primarily at the department/program level.
Since most departments/programs have a limited budget for events, faculty often spend a great deal of time and energy lobbying for pooled support from many different budget lines across campus. The result of this system is a patchwork of events across campus which rarely maximizes a centralized calendar and often requires a faculty member to be the main event planner, administrator, accountant, and lobbyist for an event that ideally would appeal to a broad constituency
The capital request process is also decentralized at the department/program level, which creates a challenge in determining which needs are of greatest importance for the university. Our current process does not encourage collaborative strategic planning for capital requests at the divisional level, since individual departments and programs often work in isolation from one another during the proposal process.
We propose that new Academic Community budget lines be created, and that the academic event programming and capital request processes be revised as follows.
Academic Programming Budget
For the pilot year 2021-2022, we propose that a portion of the operating funds in departmental budgets (but not gift or endowed funds) be pooled into a shared divisional fund for academic events on campus. The history of each department’s budget before this shift will be preserved, in case it is needed after the pilot year. Based on the Area Studies model which came out of the recession response budgeting process in 2009, these new divisional funds would be used to foster greater interdisciplinary collaboration and help streamline/centralize the event planning process across campus. Through a divisional funding model, we can ensure better use of the calendar, avoid competing events, and help maximize the impact of guest speakers and other academic programming across campus.
Divisional funds would pool the entertainment, business travel, and honoraria lines (that is, those regularly used to support events on campus) in departmental budgets into a shared account. Each Academic Community will identify departmental/program events that will continue to be regularly offered and set aside divisional funding to support them. With the remaining funds, faculty within each division would work through department chairs/program coordinators to propose funding for any additional events to the divisional Academic Community. This new pooled fund creates a larger budget line for interdisciplinary event planning and the ability for all events to be centrally coordinated and promoted across the entire division and university community.
Capital Planning & Requests
We propose that capital requests go from the department to the divisional level before forwarding on proposals to senior staff. Coordinated by the AVPA, divisional chairs/program coordinators would rank capital requests based on divisional priorities. The APC will develop a process and timeline for this capital planning before the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.
Selection and Training of Department Chairs and Program Coordinators
Because chairs play a pivotal role in implementing departmental and university policies, we also believe that the process departments and program employ to select their chairs/coordinators and the training new chairs/coordinators receive would benefit from further support and oversight from the AVPA and ADFA. The goal would not be to take decisions away from departments, but to ensure that all faculty in a department have an opportunity to express, in confidence, their hopes and concerns about prospective chairs, and that all tenured faculty have both the opportunity and the expectation to put their names forward to lead departments/programs in due course. The success of implementing many of the recommendations in this report will depend on well-trained chairs/coordinators who have the support to identify and address inefficiencies and inequities in their units.
- REVIEW AND ADJUSTMENT
The membership and charge of the Academic Planning Committee is scheduled to be reviewed by Faculty Council in summer 2021. Following this evaluation, we anticipate that further review will be commensurate with that of other standing committees involving faculty, undertaken periodically as needed by the committee itself or by Faculty Council.
An initial review of the efficacy of the new Academic Communities will be undertaken by the APC following the pilot in AY 2021-2022. This review will consist of two assessments: one of the department chairs and program coordinators who regularly meet as part of our Academic Communities, soliciting specific information on the format, efficiency, and utility of these meetings, and one of all faculty, soliciting broader perceptions of how the Academic Communities are linking us together. Any changes then proposed in response to this initial review must be approved by Faculty Council.
The Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment will convene an advisory board of faculty, one from each Academic Community. These faculty will establish guidelines for periodically reviewing the work of the Center and suggesting changes.
With the restructuring within the Academic Affairs office, the new position of Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Assessment will be a multi-year position, with the exact term to be determined. As the supervisor of the Director, the ADFA will conduct an annual review to provide feedback and work with the Director to set goals for the development of the Center.
Since January 2021 the APC’s surveys and discussions with colleagues on academic restructuring indicated some curiosity about the possibilities offered by restructuring, tempered by considerable concern and anxiety. This range of responses is only to be expected in the context of the upheaval in higher education and the current pandemic times, when we have only been able to engage virtually on these topics. The APC members are also keenly aware of the urgency and change that is required to return St. Lawrence to financial sustainability, to continue to attract a diverse, curious, and capable student body, and to provide a rigorous and innovative liberal arts education. We must proceed with some dispatch to address the key issues addressed in this report, while allowing time and space for discussion, evaluation, and readjustment.
Other small private liberal arts institutions are grappling with similar issues as we are here, and our recommendations, while specific to SLU, clearly parallel some of the work undertaken successfully at other schools. We believe that our recommendations address directly the need for broad representation, clear processes, flexibility, transparency, and accountability. The main benefit of the recommended changes to our academic administrative structures will be an organization that fosters more collaborative, efficient, and transparent processes to address issues and make decisions about how best to employ limited resources to provide an excellent educational experience for our students.
Evelyn Jennings and David Henderson, the initial Co-Chairs of the APC, would like to thank especially Cynthia Chapman, Professor of Religion and Co-Chair of the Arts & Sciences Administrative Reorganization Committee at Oberlin College; Laura Baudot, Associate Dean of the Arts & Sciences at Oberlin College; Karil Kucera, Associate Dean of Interdisciplinary and General Studies at St. Olaf College; and Penny Yee, Associate Dean of Faculty at Hamilton College for talking with us about their academic structures and restructuring. We also thank the Dean of Faculty at Union College, Jenny Fredricks; and the following Associate Deans of Faculty for sharing their thoughts with us: Janet Casey (Skidmore), Joe Rusinko and David Galloway (Hobart & William Smith).
Members of the Academic Planning Committee, spring 2021
Matt Carotenuto (FC), Shinu Abraham (AAC), Jeff Maynes (ISAC), Ed Harcourt (at-large member), David Henderson (co-chair, at-large member), Catherine Jahncke (at-large member) Evelyn Jennings (co-chair, ADFA) Karl Schonberg (VPDAA), Lorie MacKenzie (AVPA), Kimberly Flint-Hamilton (ADDI), Sarah Barber (ADFY), Elun Gabriel (ADAAP), Marina Llorente (ADIIS), Christine Zimmerman (ex-officio, Director of IR, co-chair Assessment Committee)
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