Faculty Debates Financial Aid and New Course Numbering System
By Nihal Shrinath '12
Members of the College faculty gathered in Cole Assembly Room this Tuesday for the first faculty meeting of the spring semester. Two issues dominated the meeting: financial aid policy and the new course numbering system.

After the approval of the previous Faculty Meeting’s minutes, Dean of Faculty Gregory Call read the abbreviated minutes of the Committee of Six, which included the important detail that shifting to a three-digit course system as recommended by the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) had been approved. He also noted that the Committee of Six had discussed the proposed inclusion of College staff in the Committee of Priorities and Resources (CPR). In response, a professor representing the CPR read a statement, which said that while the faculty valued staff input and agreed that the staff should have a voice in the CPR, they are not certain the staff should have a vote in the CPR. She stated, “The CPR is a faculty committee, and rightly so,” and explained that it is not, as the Committee of Six suggested, about including all members involved in the College. The CPR is the main mechanism of faculty governance that steers the long-term mission of the College. President Tony Marx agreed that the inclusion of College staff in the CPR is a matter to be decided by the faculty.

In the President’s remarks, Marx welcomed the new Librarian of the College, Bryn Geffert, and thanked Dean of Students Allen Hart for his decision to fill the position vacated by former Dean of Students Ben Lieber. He also acknowledged Lieber for his service to the school during the past 25 years. Marx remarked that the College had embarked on a search for new faculty and termed this period as a “season of hiring”. The President also detailed the discussions occurring within the Class Scheduling Task Force, which entailed finding a way to get rid of certain Valentine Dining Hall “rush hours” and solving the problem of the under-utilization of classrooms. Last in his preliminary statements, Marx announced that the Lord Jeffery Inn will be renovated some time this spring at half the cost originally estimated.

Saving the most contentious issue for last, Marx explained the Board of Trustees’ decisions to maintain the College’s no-loan policy despite the faculty’s recommendation to rescind it. Assuring the faculty that he was mindful of their recommendation and of the Advisory Budget Committee’s (ABC) proposals, Marx announced that the community college transfer program would remain intact, with a cap of 25 students, and that the school would continue to admit international students at the same rate. Marx elaborated that the Trustees voted not to rescind the no-loan policy because they are concerned about the under-representation of the middle-income quintiles of students. He also re-iterated that the Trustees found that the College could meet the ABC’s recommended financial aid budget without compromising Amherst’s commitment to diversity. Marx also noted that Dartmouth and Williams, Amherst’s direct competitors, rescinded their no-loan policies.

Following these remarks, Marx gave the floor to Tom Parker, Dean of Admission to show preliminary data that seemed to validate the effectiveness of the no-loan policy in attracting students from these middle income quintiles and in increasing the academic quality of students. Parker’s data showed that after the instatement of the no-loan policy, the percentage of entering students in the middle income quintiles has increased, and the percentage of entering “level 1” high-performing students has increased across all income levels.

Many faculty members were concerned with the validity of this data. One professor pointed out that other factors could have influenced these changes, including outreach to middle class students and Amherst’s improving reputation across all income levels. Other faculty expressed doubts about details of the data, including quintile cutoffs and term definitions. One professor in particular did not think the data was significant enough and wished to discuss the overall impact of keeping the no-loan policy. Citing the across-the-board cuts in every other part of the College budget, the professor asked “Why is financial aid untouchable?” and “What are we not spending on by maintaining this financial aid system?” He emphasized the importance of maintaining academic excellence within the institution.

Marx responded that while Amherst has had to deal with budget cuts in many departments, the overall quality of education has not taken a hit, and Amherst has neither reduced academic support services nor have faculty hires ceased. He also clarified that the admissions data is preliminary but very encouraging and that this is a continuous discussion.

Later in the meeting, the issue of staff involvement in the CPR was again brought up. One professor exclaimed that it was fundamentally unfair that decisions regarding College staff were being made in the CPR, yet the staff was not being included in the decision.

The latter part of the meeting was a discussion on the decision to switch to a three-digit course system. CEP proposed this switch in concordance with the gradual switch to online registration and as a reaction to classes with numerous sections not having distinct permanent course numbers. A faculty member of the CEP explained the proposed three-digit course numbering system and recommended that departments, when deciding how to reassign course numbers, develop a hierarchy so that advising students on what classes to take would be easier. Many professors objected to the encouragement of hierarchical course numbering and wondered aloud whether this issue should be voted on by the faculty. Call assured them that each department would be able to decide how to arrange courses themselves and that this switch was purely logistical “housekeeping.”

Issue 17, Submitted 2010-03-03 05:01:51