Sunday, December 06, 2009

Faculty Ratios

Perhaps the most basic breakdown one can make of a college faculty is into the categories Natural Sciences / Social Sciences / Humanities. (Yes, one could naturally think of "engineering" as a fourth category separate from "natural sciences"; feel free to do so.) So here are some basic questions:

1. What is the faculty breakdown in your institution into these three categories?
2. Do you think that breakdown is appropriate?
3. What do you think the breakdown will be (or should be) ten years from now? Twenty years from now?
4. Do you think your administration is thinking in these terms? Do you think they have a plan to get there? (And if so, are they open about it -- is the faculty involved in these decisions?)

[These questions were inspired by a comment of Harry Lewis over at Shots in the Dark.]


Unknown said...

My university is split into those three categories plus a separate "biological sciences" category.

Harry Lewis said...

Every place is structured differently. What I was thinking of was what we call the Arts and Sciences faculty, i.e., omitting all the professional schools. As Michael says, we can include Engineering or consider it a separate category, but the Medical School, for example, is definitely out. And there are some ambiguities--is History a Social Science or one of the Humanities? (Social Science here.) What about Anthropology? But even rough ratios, and whether anyone is talking openly about what they should be, would be interesting to know. It's a serious issue here, because the faculty is shrinking, and retirement incentives have just been offered to make it shrink faster.

Geoff Knauth said...

The proper ratio is one that enables interdisciplinary thinking. A good campus has faculty who understand each other's disciplines and work together. CMU seems to shine in that respect. I was talking with an MIT professor a few years ago who had helped reshape MIT's offerings with a greater focus on core science. I asked him what he thought of the new SEAS. I expected him to scoff, as some MIT people I knew twenty years ago used to do when the words Harvard and engineering were put together in a sentence. No, he praised Harvard vigorously. He said Harvard was doing exactly the right thing. He noted that Harvard didn't have one biology department but six spread across different schools, including SEAS. He viewed that as a great strength in a 21st century of applied biology.

Thirty years ago I looked at the exam schedule at Harvard and saw "little" courses like Urdu and Sanskrit. I used to think, "Who studies this stuff?" Fifteen years later I married and learned that some of that "stuff" was at the core of civilization, that Proto-Canaanite and Proto-Sinaitic introduced the concept of an alphabet to human language. 4,000 years later Turing framed central questions in computer science in terms of alphabets and biologists described us with DNA.