College Creates Five New Openings for Faculty Hire
Issue   |   Wed, 02/03/2016 - 01:22

President Biddy Martin announced at the Dec. 15 faculty meeting that the college will create the equivalent of five new tenure-track faculty positions.

Martin said the board of trustees decided to raise the college’s cap on full-time equivalents, also known as FTEs, by five. An FTE is a unit that essentially represents one open position for which the college can hire a faculty member. One FTE corresponds to teaching four classes a year. Alternatively, half an FTE can be allocated to a faculty member to teach two courses a year. FTEs can also be portioned out for other paid work, including research.

The current official cap is 183 FTEs. At the meeting, Martin said that she had suggested the raise in number to the board of trustees last October.

According to physics professor David Hall, who chairs the faculty Committee on Educational Policy, raising the FTE cap by five is a significant change. A single FTE demands a large sum of money, since it requires the college to pay a career’s worth of wages, so a relatively large amount of money of the college’s budget must be reserved to accommodate raising the cap.

FTEs are generally added to the pool at an incremental rate to accommodate the college’s growing enrollment of students. The college’s current policy on increasing the FTE cap is guided by recommendations laid out in a 2006 report published by the faculty’s committee on academic priorities. In the report, the committee recommended increasing the cap by 18 over time, with the explicit goal of bolstering diversity and interdisciplinary research among the faculty.

The Committee on Educational Policy plays a key role in distributing available FTEs among academic departments. Every time a department seeks to hire a new faculty member, it must submit a request for FTEs to the committee. The committee is charged with assessing practical needs, such as vacancies in important academic specialties and the need to accommodate increased enrollment in specific majors, as well as faculty diversity.

“An expansion would allow us to hire more faculty of color because it’s just hiring more faculty, and departments could — although I don’t know whether this is the strategy that they are going to pursue — look into new fields that are populated by people of color, such as postcolonial studies,” said Sam Keaser ’17E, a member of the committee. “That could potentially help even out the numbers without resorting to a policy like affirmative action.”

After reviewing the requests of each department, the committee makes recommendations to the president and the dean of the faculty on which departments should receive the available FTEs.

The issue of faculty diversity drew campus-wide attention last semester during and after the events of Amherst Uprising. The goal of accounting for diversity in the hiring process is laid out in the Committee on Academic Policy’s 2006 report, as well as the college’s strategic plan that was published last year.

“If you have the diversity of the faculty in mind, I think that growing the faculty is a much faster way to achieve that goal than to wait for retirements, for people to resign or for people not to get tenure,” Hall said. “I just think that if you want to change something faster, you’ve got to make space for it.”

The lengthy hiring process itself can present an obstacle to diversifying the faculty. From the FTE request to the date of hire, the process takes about a year and a half. FTE requests are evaluated through December into early spring. Once an FTE is received by the department, the department advertises open positions during the summer. Applicants are evaluated throughout the fall semester and chosen at the end of the semester or shortly after winter break. Those chosen candidates then begin officially working for the college in early July.

“[Raising the cap by] five in this context does seem surprising,” Hall said. “But we have to remember that the college is in a time in which many types of transitions have been going on, and I think one of the reasons that these five appear now is because there’s a genuine desire to diversify the faculty.”