This year, because of a high number of faculty sabbaticals, a large selection of History courses temporarily became a thing of the past. And next year, students may have to write off many of the English courses they want to take. A total of 15 English professors, well over one-third of department's standing faculty, will go on sabbatical next year, either for one or both semesters, in the largest faculty leave from the department in many administrators' memory. This mass exodus comes at a time when English majors and other students have been running into larger English classes and been shut out of some courses because of a boom in majors and a faculty hiring freeze. Over the past seven years, the number of English majors has more than doubled, rising from 350 to 800. At the same time, the department has not been able to hire new professors because of budget constraints. The rash of sabbaticals is expected to make the problem worse. Several of the professors leaving next year are assistant professors who were hired three years ago and are given automatic sabbatical in their fourth year, either one term with full pay or a year with half pay. The other professors leaving have either received grants, taken time off to do research, or obtained administrative leaves from the University. Two other professors, John Anderson and David McWhirter, are leaving permanently after being denied tenure. To fill in the gaps, undergraduate Chairperson Alice Kelly said "we're hiring part-time people as much as we can," but added that the faculty freeze and budget cutbacks "puts pressure on the courses, and on the majors." "If somebody leaves we get somebody to replace them, but they haven't increased the size of our faculty," Kelley said. "It's not uncommon, as well, for people who have just gotten promoted to be ready for sabbatical." Assistant Professor Daniel Bivona, who will go on sabbatical in the spring term, said that while the departing professors are a measure of the success of the faculty, their absence also leaves the department "in a lurch." "People are winning competitive fellowships and are getting money to subsidize their sabbaticals and that's ultimately all to the good," he said. "But when you have close to 800 majors and you started out five years ago with 200 or 300 and you still have the same number of full-time faculty, it doesn't give you any room to expand." Of the professors hired the same year as Bivona, two are taking sabbatical with him next year, and the fourth is leaving the year after next. According to Bivona, "there were no hirings at the assistant professor level two years before the four of us were hired." "If there is an influx of people [hired] in a given year, three years down the line, most of them are going to vanish," Kelley explained. The absent faculty, according to Bivona, "would affect the number of course offerings and the chances of undergraduates getting into the courses they want." "I feel much more pressed than I used to to give my majors what they need." Kelly said. Several specific concentrations within the department are particularly hard hit, leaving many students working towards senior honors theses on their own. "Everybody in the nineteenth century is leaving, at least for half a year," said major and College junior Beth Goldstein. Even majors who are able to fill their requirements are finding the departure very problematic. "It makes it hard to find an advisor and get recommendations for graduate school when everyone that taught you is leaving," said major and College junior Andrew Beckwith. And majors have already been having trouble getting into the required 200-level and 300-level courses. "I've felt a lot of dissatisfaction this year," Kelley said. "Students are saying, 'Look, I can't get into anything.' " Even the lower double-digit courses have increased in size, partly because they are on the general requirements list. "Wharton is going to be requiring that their students do the general requirement list too," Kelly noted. "I'm a little nervous." The University's ongoing budget problems are making it even more difficult for the department to serve all of its students. One faculty member the department thought was coming next year has canceled to go to Oxford University, and that space cannot be filled until next year's hiring period because of budget restrictions. Furthermore, "the problem with hiring replacement faculty at the last minute is that you don't want to hire just anybody," Bivona added. Kelly said he hopes the department will be able to meet most of the basic needs of both majors and other students, but admitted it will take a deft allocation of resources. "It is very much like a small pat of butter and a big loaf of bread -- how far can you spread it?"Comments powered by Disqus
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