“We have but one rule - that every student must be a gentleman.”
— Robert E. Lee
A Plea to the Board: Start Hiring Professors

A Plea to the Board: Start Hiring Professors


By Marshall Woodward In 2008, Washington & Lee’s Board of Trustees  mandated that no more tenured professors can be hired.  This hard-line approach to the school’s fiscal policy leaves professors and students alike distressed in their workloads.  Professors must work more hours, department heads must rearrange class sizes as well as their scheduling, and students are impeded in the pursuit of both their major and the liberal arts.

The logic behind the Board’s mandate makes sense on paper.  As the student body does not grow, no new teachers need to be hired.  Yet the Board continues to misunderstand its own success, not realizing that the quality of the W&L student has increased year after year.  The student body’s average high school GPA and standardized test scores have both drastically increased since the school began admitting women in the late 1980s.  Since then, the school has become more selective in its admissions process, and consequently, more rigorous in its academics.

The Spectator interviewed Provost Wubah about the changing student body, the freeze on hiring, and the difficulty of course registration, especially in the Williams School.  Nearing the end of his second year directing the school’s academic policy, the Provost explained the struggles of rearranging professorships and creating new positions that did not violate the Board’s mandate.  In Provost Wubah’s eyes, the biggest problem with a freeze on hiring is that a qualified W&L student can take 18 credit hours as a double major within the Williams school, effectively acting like one-and-a-half students in terms of the credit hour metric. Wubah has empirically seen the number of hours faculty are forced to work increase in order to meet a rising demand for more determined students.

While all students pay a $44,660 tuition, this flat fee is the same for a student who takes an overload of 22 credits or the standard 12 credits.  Moreover, a student may be registered for 6 classes in the Williams School at one time, yet they still count as only one student. The registration process may be blamed on the university registrar, or the online process.  Ultimately, the problem has a simple and fundamental root- a university lacking a sufficient body of tenured and tenure track professors.

If we are going to accept more capable and determined students, the Board of Trustees should take into account the evolving student body and provide more professors. Hiring more professors is the most respectable act an institution can undertake and the most beneficial for students.  New buildings and athletic facilities are secondary, even superfluous, when compared to the essential obligation of a university- facilitate the intellectual pursuits and professional preparation of its paying students.

With more students double majoring than ever, and with more credit hours to their name, many departments have been strapped to fit interested students into their classes.   STEM majors and the Williams School specifically have wait-lists larger than the classes themselves, and with many students double majoring within the Williams School and the sciences, department heads must deal with very high demand.  Moreover, many departments, especially in the sciences, have had to let very qualified professors leave because they could not offer tenure track positions, despite the competence of these professors.

Most importantly, the freeze on hiring is threatening W&L’s existence as a liberal arts school.  The idea behind the liberal arts is quite simple- balance breadth in many fields to learn how to critically think, and study one subject in depth to become a specialist in their major.  The idea of being an “expert generalist” lay at the backbone of the product W&L sells to it students.  And with too few faculty, the school has failed to match production with consumption.  Provost Wubah refuses to limit the number of classes a student can take, or to limit how many majors a student can get: “The mission of this school is the education of its students, and I am in no way going to stand in their way.”  If a student can consistently  achieve a 3.5 grade point average while taking 17 credits, Provost Wubah sees no reason to hinder their academic pursuits.

With a bird’s eye view of all the departments constraints** and students needs, Provost Wubah must deal with the dilemma of reallocating the school’s resources under constrained conditions.  He has created “Bridge Positions”, which allow him to actively redistribute faculty by department.  Traditionally, when a faculty member retires, that position is retained by the department.  Now with the Bridge Professorship program, newly vacant professor positions are now at Provost Wubah’s discretion to reallocate, based on a careful analysis of which department are the most constrained and need additional professors to meet burgeoning student demand. This method has surely angered many department heads, but Wubah sees it as necessary in these stressed times.

The most incomprehensible part of the Board’s freeze on hiring is its willingness to spend money in every way except on academics, the cornerstone of Washington and Lee University's mission as an institution of learning. Three huge building projects run concurrently with the product of the most recent Capital Campaign (#WLUGIVEDAY), building a new International Studies Building, a new natatorium/athletics facility, and third year housing (which still will not be able to fit the entire Junior Class).  All of these massive expenditures look great on paper, making W&L a great product for prospective students and parents to buy into.  Yet we must prevent W&L from becoming another superficial university that focuses more heavily on admissions than academics, and aims to please prospective students more than those already enrolled.  This circular game of creating an idyllic university while not providing academic essentials is disturbing and needs to be changed.  If we can find the money to hire a dean for every grade, to throw fully funded SexWeek orgies, and to build a quaint third year housing village, we can surely hire more professors.   Otherwise, the Board of Trustees should consider cutting the number of students; that way, Admissions would not have to lie about how selective we are.

Rumors & Rumblings

  1. Washington & Lee will not lose its accreditation as a liberal arts institution, says Provost Wubah.  Despite circling rumors, the university is not in danger of losing its Carnegie Accreditation as a liberal arts institution.
  2.  There is the possibility that the Williams School will become an application based part of the school.  Though not at all administrators and professors are in accord, discussions have begun.  The Spectator would appreciate receiving both alumni and student opinion on the matter.


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