For many students, the faculty’s rejection of the proposed expansion of Thanksgiving break served as a jarring introduction to the considerable influence that professors have in the governance of the College.
Though the initiative received the support of 57 percent of students in a survey, professors voted 47-28 against the proposal at a December faculty meeting, effectively killing the plan for the time being. The proposal’s rejection is the latest and most prominent manifestation of the substantial governing power the faculty has historically wielded on this campus.
The College’s tradition of robust faculty governance stretches back to Bowdoin’s very beginning, yet in the last 40 years the administrative powers of professors have become more complex and, some say, constrained. Given that the College’s administration no longer consists of only the president, the librarian, and the educators, today’s professors excercise influence differently than their predecessors.
Most of the College’s presidents over the 20th century were professors, most notably A. LeRoy Greason, Roger Howell, and William DeWitt Hyde. Hyde served during an era in which, as historian Charles Calhoun writes, "presidents of small colleges were still expected to conduct a senior course on ethics and philosophy." Of Bowdoin’s two presidents since 1990—current President Barry Mills and his predecessor Robert H. Edwards—neither have been professors, though Mills does have a doctorate in biology.
However, the faculty has never been primarily represented through the office of the president. Bill VanderWolk, a French professor and associate dean for faculty development, compared the structure of college governance to the divided federal government, "with the president and the dean being the executive and the faculty being the Congress."
Like the U.S. Congress, the faculty operates as a legislative body that convenes regularly to address the initiatives produced by a network of 19 committees.
Also like Congress, the faculty has limited and delegated powers; VanderWolk explained that while the faculty can enact many policy changes by a simple vote, "there are some areas where the dean and the president have final say, like a veto."
The power of the faculty is most exercised in the faculty meetings that take place on the first Monday of every month in Daggett Lounge. Associate Dean for Academic Affairs James Higginbotham estimated that there are 220 people eligible to vote at faculty meetings, and the Faculty Handbook states that each is "expected to participate fully" in them. However, Associate Professor of Government Michael Franz, the governance and faculty affairs committee chair, explained that attendance is "not required," nor is it recorded. As such, many faculty typically skip the meetings. For example, only 76 faculty members voted at the December meeting where the Thanksgiving break issue was decided, which Franz characterized as "higher than usual."
As the primary providers of a Bowdoin education, the faculty’s executory control encompasses many academic policies. According to Higginbotham, on "issues concerning the curriculum, faculty for the most part has the final say." The Thanksgiving break extension, for example, fell under the purview of the faculty because, said Franz, "having some impact on the academic schedule of the College is within the rights of the faculty."
Because financial decisions are, in the words of VanderWolk, a "trustee matter," the power of the faculty is generally circumscribed where money is involved. Although the faculty has no formal say over things like the creation of new campus buildings or tenured faculty lines, Franz said there is "nothing preventing the faculty from passing a motion recommending x, y, or z."
The authority that the faculty enjoys over academics is balanced by the presence of the dean for academic affairs, who is appointed by the president to be "responsible for all aspects of the academic program of the College" according to the academic affairs website. The position, which replaced what was then called the dean of the faculty in 1991, has traditionally been filled by a teaching member of the College; current Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd, is an active professor in the music department.
According to Craig McEwen, a professor of sociology and former dean for academic affairs, the elimination of the Dean of the College position in 1995 "concentrated all of the responsibility for oversight of the academic program" in the academic affairs office. Despite the administrative nature of her role, Judd stated in an email to the Orient that she was also expected "to be the scholar-leader and standard bearer of the faculty."
McEwen explained that compared to the dean of the faculty position, particularly under the tenure of Al Fuchs, the consolidated "academic affairs position diminished the sense that this was the faculty advocate." However, he made clear that "whoever holds that position is an advocate for the academic program and for the faculty as central to that academic program." Such is the dual nature of the dean as professor and administrator that Judd is expected both to support the faculty and, said McEwen, "to be in some sense a model for faculty."
Although VanderWolk characterized the dean for academic affairs as a "go-between" for the faculty and administration, her oversight power is considerable. First and foremost, she is responsible for setting the salaries of faculty members. Additionally, VanderWolk explained that the final decision on untenured appointments lies with the dean and the president. Despite this, Richard Morgan, a government professor and the faculty parliamentarian, states that "it is not usual for the president…to override a majority decision by a department about an appointment."
The role of the dean for academic affairs is one consequence of a long and gradual process of administrative expansion at the College. One hundred and three years ago, there was only one dean at Bowdoin, the newly created position of Dean of the College.
Today, there are three deans in the academic affairs office, nine deans in the student affairs office, and another nine in the Office of Admissions. This is a noticeable expansion from even 20 years ago, when there were only two deans in the offices of both academic affairs and student affairs, and just four in admissions. The increase over time betrays a trend of augmentation and consolidation of administrative power.
The vast majority of Bowdoin’s administrative expansion took place after 1965, as the College grew from an enrollment of roughly 950 according to Calhoun to 1,778 in fall 2011. According to McEwen, the increased size and complexity of the College necessitated a proportionate growth in student services. Where organized administrative entities were created to manage these services, they necessarily took responsibilities that had once been left to the faculty, but this was not primarily seen as an unwelcome usurpation. For example, Morgan—who began teaching at Bowdoin in 1969—acted as the pre-law advisor for 20 years in addition to his teaching duties before the position was subsumed by the Career Planning Center, a development which he says he "would certainly count...as a plus."
Bowdoin Student Government President Derek Brooks argued that the current proliferation of administrators stems from a recognition that "the amount of student services that is required is a lot more labor intensive." McEwen explained that "faculty today are significantly more involved in scholarship and artistic work than they were, with notable exceptions, in the ’60s and early ’70s, and that’s meant faculty have less time and energy to devote to administrative tasks."
This scholarly focus can also prevent professors from gaining the holistic viewpoint necessary for administration. According to a student familiar with the workings of faculty committees, "the faculty really have a narrow view of the world, they have their very specific chunk and they’re fighting to defend it…their number one thing is their educational field." While the dean for academic affairs does attempt to be both professor and administrator, McEwen said her freedom from a full courseload permits "thinking much more full time about the issues and so is advantaged in that sense."
In a Goldwater Institute study of the leading 198 public and private universities reported in The Baltimore Sun, the number of full-time administrators increased 39 percent from 1993 to 2007, while the number of full-time teachers and researchers increased only 18 percent.
Some in academia have argued that this expansion threatens to marginalize professors’ influence over key policies. Among these critics is Benjamin Ginsberg, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University whose anti-administration diatribe "The Fall of the Faculty" was released last year.
In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Ginsberg singled out the "cadre of professional administrators who...either have no faculty background or they decided early in their careers that their talents lay elsewhere." Such pure bureaucrats, argues Ginsberg, believe that "instead of an institution serving teaching and scholarship, teaching and scholarship serve the institution."
For its part, Bowdoin has made a point of retaining a role for the professor-administrator. Higginbotham is just the latest active professor to fill the seat of associate dean for academic affairs, and the new faculty development deanship is a true half-time position in which VanderWolk says he tries "to every day split his day" between the dean’s office in Hawthorne-Longfellow and his faculty office in Sills Hall.
The growth of administrative complexity at Bowdoin has, unsurprisingly, mirrored a growth of procedure. Morgan observed that "procedures and rules for everything have just proliferated over the past 30 years." The 2011-2012 Faculty Handbook is 94 pages long, and contains seven times as many words as the entire By Laws of Bowdoin College. Much of the Handbook deals with the procedures for things like tenure, appointment, grievances and course development.
For example, the application for receiving research awards through the faculty development committee requires an abstract, a two-page narrative description, a line-item budget, a full curriculum vitae, and statements summarizing the anticipated outcome of the project, other sources of funding, and any previous awards received. Another example: During the 1980s there was even all too earnestly named Faculty Committee on Committees.
Professor of Government Paul Franco argued that this proceduralization was "part and parcel of Bowdoin becoming a more professionalized, larger place, less of an old boys’ network."
Despite its complex structure and national prominence, Bowdoin is still small enough that business can be conducted on the basis of personal relationships.
While the informality of these relationships can be attractive, McEwen said that "procedure matters as a way of managing to some degree the challenges that can come from such a closed system." Still, some have expressed concern that the growth of procedure forces the faculty to, in the words of Morgan, "spend much too much time contemplating our administrative navel."
The College has in fact tried to avoid just that. In 2008, the faculty passed reforms that eliminated or combined committees that, in the words of VanderWolk, "just didn’t meet very often and didn’t do much," and reduced the overall number of faculty committee slots from 140 to 90. Franz said the restructuring has given the faculty "a sense that their work is more meaningful," as well as allowing "faculty to get a break from committee service more often."
Despite this change and the many others that have come to Bowdoin in the last 50 years, the College has made a concerted effort to ensure that the faculty have a strong voice, if not the strongest voice, in determining how the College treats them and how they treat students. Looking back over his 42 years at Bowdoin, Morgan maintained that "as a separation of powers question, it balances about where it was when I came." VanderWolk agreed, saying that "the faculty has always had power, and they have just as much as they have ever had."