On Monday, November 7, Bowdoin faculty members convened in Daggett Lounge for their third meeting of the semester, where they continued discussions about changes to pre-major academic advising and declining enrollment in the humanities. The meeting, moderated by Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger, also covered potential changes to faculty and department meeting times, the October meeting of the Board of Trustees and the College’s transition to Workday Finance for budgeting and administrative financial planning.
Professor of Biology Jack Bateman presented the Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) Committee’s updated plans for pre-major advising. Bateman revealed that after discussion in last month’s faculty forum, the GFA decided that there would be no changes to the existing pre-major advising infrastructure for the 2023–2024 academic year.
Conversations around improving the pre-major advising system will continue, but no votes or motions will be held on how to improve the system until next semester.
Another related issue Bateman raised was about a future change to the Thanksgiving break schedule. Although many members of the Bowdoin community have called to make last year’s week-long Thanksgiving break permanent, this change would require that the two lost academic days be reappropriated elsewhere.
“Last year we had a full week break for Thanksgiving under extenuating circumstances, and there’s been interest in making that a permanent change to the calendar,” Bateman said. “To do that, we would have to find a way to make up [for] the two days that would be missed … we would have to move those [two days] to a different part of the semester.”
Part of a solution Bateman suggested was starting the first week of classes on a Monday rather than a Wednesday, a change that would also affect the pre-major advising schedule. The issue has yet to be resolved.
Monday’s meeting also covered the ongoing discussion of declining humanities enrollment at Bowdoin. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and John S. Osterweis Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Jennifer Scanlon shared her report on enrollment in the humanities to the faculty. The report revealed a substantial decline in the percentage of humanities and arts majors, down from 43 percent in the Class of 2004 to 26 percent in the Class of 2024.
“We can really look at this [data] and think about, what does it mean to be a liberal arts college in the 21st century?” Scanlon said. “Of course, we want our students to study what they want. It’s not that we don’t want our students to study certain things, but we do worry that the kind of national discourse about higher ed also has students and families feeling that they need to study certain things in order to be successful.”
Scanlon emphasized the importance of understanding the context underlying the shift away from the humanities and outlined several broad approaches to addressing declining enrollment.
“We have to think about this word that we don’t like to think about in the humanities in the arts: marketing,” Scanlon said. “How do we talk about ourselves to our students? How do we convey what it is that we do and really help build student passion for what we do?”
Scanlon argued that one way to address the decline would be to establish a stronger connection between humanities or arts departments and the Center for Career Exploration and Development (CXD) so that students are more familiar with career options for humanities and arts majors.
In keeping with the discussion of how students perceive and interact with educational opportunities, President Rose addressed his recent attendance at the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE) meeting in New York. Rose reported that one highlight of the COFHE meeting was an evaluation of survey results measuring the perspectives on the value of workplace skills versus the value of a liberal arts education of first year students at member schools.
“Two questions were asked, two categories they checked. The first is the need to develop workplace skills, and the second is the value of a liberal arts education,” Rose said. “Workplace skills, 70 percent of students checked the box; 30 percent [checked the box] on a liberal arts education.”
Rose then shifted his focus to the present economic situation and the implications of rising inflation for the College.
“We have a higher risk of more persistent inflation for a longer period of time and a higher risk of a recession,” Rose said. “The implications of that at least include higher costs for us here in terms of wages, in terms of food and energy. Together, those three components … are 85 percent of our budget, so it’s a significant issue for the College.”
Rose also identified the challenges that continuing inflation poses to the College’s ability to meet increased needs for financial aid and how inflation has diminished returns on the endowment.
Finally, Professor of History and Associate Dean of Curriculum Dallas Denery updated the faculty on the plans for the upcoming transition to Workday Finance, a financial planning software that will soon be utilized by the College’s administration.
“The implementation of Workday Finance is entering the final stages. It’s beginning testing and it will go live [on] July 1,” Denery said.
Denery noted that the software is not just for administrative staff members, as it will also be used for department budgets, grants and endowments.
To conclude the meeting, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Nadia V. Celis discussed the progress of the working group on faculty and department meeting times, saying that in the future, meeting times could be changed to accommodate the attendance of more members and promote equity.
The next faculty meeting will be held at 4:25 p.m. on Monday, December 5 in Daggett Lounge.