On Monday, October 3, Bowdoin faculty members gathered in Daggett Lounge for their second meeting of the school year. The meeting, which was led by faculty moderator Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger, covered faculty concerns about humanities enrollment and changes to course enrollment, among other topics.
One major topic of discussion at the meeting was the sharp decline in humanities enrollment in higher education, both at Bowdoin and nationally. Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon touched on the College’s plans to examine data that has been collected on humanities enrollment at the College.
“It’s data that we’ve been really planning on spending some time with … about the decline in the enrollment in the humanities nationally and what that looks like at Bowdoin,” Scanlon said.
Professor of History Patrick Rael raised some initial concerns about what he saw as a vague statement, asking for clarity.
“I’m just curious to know if anyone in leadership at the college has a direction on this … are they thinking about tentative moves that are in the works to address this?” Rael asked.
Scanlon then elaborated on the statement, laying out the College’s short-term plan regarding declining humanities enrollment.
“We’ll look at what some approaches might be … there aren’t any easy answers, but certainly we’re thinking about things that are intentional,” Scanlon said. “For example, how do we support faculty in fields where there is tremendous demand for them… [and] at the same time support faculty in the humanities who might have fewer students and advisees?”
Following this discussion, Professor of History and Associate Dean of Curriculum Dallas Denery spoke on the College’s future move away from Banner and Polaris to a cloud-based system called Workday Student. Initial planning for implementation will start in next fall and the new system will be rolled out in the fall of 2025.
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Michael Cato detailed the benefits of the switch to Workday Student.
“It was designed much more recently than almost all of the other software applications of its type,” Cato said. “All of the other solutions did not envision students using cellphones and smart devices to access them.”
Faculty members expressed misgivings about the potential switch, including Associate Professor of Psychology and Chair of the Philosophy Department Suzanne Lovett, who raised concerns about the future of class registration.
“One of the reasons we did such massive customization is because we didn’t want Banner to drive how we did registration,” Lovett said. “I’m already worried that this new program is going to drive how we do registration, instead of us doing it [in a way] that supports our students.”
In response, Cato talked about the importance of understanding what faculty would want the registration process to look like in the future.
“What are the values that are driving our current registration process?” Cato asked. “The more we understand that, the better of a position we are in to look at our potential options.”
Next, Rael spoke on behalf of the Committee on Teaching and Classroom Practice, specifically mentioning the committee’s focus on the stewardship of Bowdoin Course Questionnaires (BCQs), administering course development grants and adhering to intellectual property policy.
Associate Professor of German and Chair of the German Department Jill Smith asked for clarification on where the BCQs would be stored in the absence of Blackboard.
“Is there an archive for BCQs? Because for promotion and tenure, this is a really important question,” Smith said.
Ultimately, Dean Scanlon informed the faculty that BCQs will be stored on Canvas.
To end the meeting, Dean Scanlon raised concerns about the shortcomings of the pre-major advising system at Bowdoin. Scanlon worries that the current system does not do enough to support students coming to Bowdoin. To adequately address these issues, a working group of faculty has been discussing potential changes that could be made to the system.
“The current practices we’ve been employing are not really working well for our students,” Scanlon said.
However, the solution that was proposed—moving first-year course registration to an earlier point in the summer—sparked intense discussion among faculty.
On behalf of the Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA), Professor of Biology Jack Bateman outlined the two potential versions of this change.
The first version, which was most supported by the working group, entails summer advising and course registration being led by a small group of dedicated faculty advisors. This group of faculty would be compensated for their efforts and receive specialized training.
The second version, an alternative suggested by the Office of Academic Affairs, would be more similar to the current system, with all faculty advisors participating in an earlier registration period with their four first-year students over one day in the summer.
Professor of Government and Legal Studies Paul Franco, a member of the Curricular and Educational Policy Committee, offered his thoughts on the potential change.
“We were persuaded that the move to a summer calendar for advising and registration made a lot of sense and would be much better for students,” Franco said. “That’s really the bottom line … what’s going to be the best experience for students.”
Some of the benefits that Franco offered included the summer being a much less stressful time for class selection than orientation, giving students the ability to order books at earlier times for lower prices and less demand being placed on the Office of the Registrar at the beginning of the year.
The advising announcement brought up many questions from concerned and curious faculty members alike.
Associate Professor of Art History and Asian Studies Peggy Wang discussed the issue of compensation in the second option outlined by GFA, as it is technically outside of the college’s pay period.
“I’d like this discussion not to be [about] those who support students and equity and those who are against [supporting students and equity], but I’d just like to bring up compensation, considering [the advising period would be] part of the summer when I am technically not paid,” Wang said.
In response, Scanlon touched upon the relatively short period of time that faculty advisors would be working over the summer.
“We don’t plan to compensate [faculty advisors] if we [choose] the second [option]. What people estimated was that it took about one hour per student and maybe a couple of hours in addition for round two, so that wouldn’t be more than ten hours over the course of the summer,” Scanlon said.
The discussion was inconclusive, but there will be a faculty forum to further discuss the changes to pre-major advising from at 4:25 p.m. on Monday, October 17, in Daggett Lounge.