By Marshall Woodward
A culture of learning first and foremost derives from the relationship between students and academic faculty. Second only to perhaps the students themselves, professors serve as one of W&L’s greatest assets. However, Washington and Lee has currently put a freeze on hiring new professors, besides refilling vacant positions. On behalf of the Administration, Provost Wubah issued the following stance on the matter:
“At this time, the University does not anticipate the creation of new positions within the operating budget unless they can be funded entirely through savings that the position would generate, new funding from grants or endowments or reallocations. The financial model does, however, anticipate the creation of two faculty “bridge” positions in each of the next three years that will allow the University to address enrollment crunches in certain disciplines for a three-year period until the need subsides or reallocation within the undergraduate faculty can occur. In addition, it is anticipated that as Law School enrollment declines, fewer open faculty positions will be filled even on a temporary basis. Departments should work closely with their respective dean or vice president to develop the highest priority needs in requests while being cognizant that faculty and staff growth will be very limited in the coming years.”
Why is it that amongst a host of new buildings and burgeoning initiatives we cannot find room in our operating budget for the one thing that will benefit every student? A freeze on hiring new professors will surely be more detrimental to our students than not having a personal dean or a fancy resort to live in.
Enrollment is rising and changes in student demand are putting pressure on certain departments, like Environmental Studies and Geology. In some departments, no new professor positions will be created for the foreseeable future. We boast of our low professor to student ratio, yet we are focused financially on fringe initiatives rather than growing our faculty. Even those who obsess over our ranking relative to other universities cannot dispute that a high professor to student ratio, especially at a school our size, is both unattractive and a solvable problem. With a growing student body and a faculty that has ceased to keep pace, we must either hire more professors or, less realistically, decrease the size of the student body.
Many view this university as a marketable and profitable institution in which finances come first and where we can sell our product- a decreasingly but still outstanding education – via a brochure and a quaint tour of the Colonnade with some cute facts about Traveller. Yet Professors do not operate as employees; they are unique, highly trained educators that cannot and should not be streamlined to increase efficiency. Education at W&L is not rooted in New Gaines or even the Liberty Hall ruins. Our roots are in the professors we become close with, who trust us, teach us, and debate with us during office hours.
Even during freshman orientation, President Ruscio reminisced of the days when he majored in a professor, not a class. Success in education boils down to one simple relationship: that of the student and teacher. Why then, are we selling ourselves short, investing in facilities and rebranding, rather than the core of education? The current freeze suggests the administration has overlooked and discounted the true value of an outstanding faculty
If the school does not end its freeze on hiring of new professors, we could lose the unique character of the Washington and Lee professor and the tradition of strong teacher-student relations. W&L is a simple school; an intimate campus, whose social and moral cohesiveness is drawn from the values we are slowly letting loose. The first step we can take to ensure the future success of the University is to begin rehiring professors. Such a reprioritization would ease the stress on both students and professors, and help foster the culture of learning that has thus far enables the University’s success.