May 20–22, 2010

The Academic Affairs Committee received presentations and engaged in subsequent questions and answers around two distinct topics: the College’s ongoing reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the effect of the past year’s budget reductions on Dartmouth’s faculty and on academic programs in general. 

Every ten years the College undergoes a process of reaccreditation by NEASC. Heather Kim, director of the College’s Office of Institutional Research, is spearheading the process in the current cycle, which began in 2009. Heather met with the committee to inform members about the process and to discuss its purpose. The principal basis for NEASC’s evaluation is an internal appraisal by the College of its own strengths and weaknesses (essentially a SWOT analysis) now being conducted by a team of dean-level officers. This internal appraisal will culminate in a report of approximately 100 pages covering eleven specified “standards,” consisting of a discussion of the College’s strengths and weaknesses relating to each of these standards and a “projection” of actions and investments needed to achieve its goals in those areas. While the reaccreditation process nominally has both a “public purpose” of quality assurance and a “private purpose” of quality improvement, in the College’s case (where successful reaccreditation is almost assured) the effort is undertaken principally because it provides a rubric for self assessment and, ideally, a catalyst for improvement. A preliminary draft of the College’s self-study report will be available to the public on the College’s Web site in August or September 2010, and the final assessment and recommendations by the NEASC team (led by Amherst College president Anthony Marx) is expected to be published in spring 2011. In the meantime, alumni who are interested can access both the College’s self-study report from the 1999-2000 reaccreditation cycle and the NEASC assessment from that cycle here:

Professor of computer science and associate dean of the faculty David Kotz ’86 met with the committee to discuss the effects of the recent budget cuts on the faculty and the College’s academic programs in general. What began as a presentation on the topic by Professor Kotz evolved into a broader discussion regarding both budgetary issues and the general outlook of the faculty in the current environment, enhanced by the presence of four other Dartmouth faculty on the committee (Scot Drysdale, computer science; Peter Hackett ’75, theater; Brian Pogue, engineering; Lindsay Whaley, linguistics). As has been reported previously, tenure-track faculty were excluded from layoffs during the budget reconciliation efforts. However, as vacancies have occurred through normal turnover, in some cases they are being refilled more slowly than normal. With the total faculty having increased by approximately 60 positions (17 percent) during the past decade, neither Professor Kotz nor any of the other faculty members on the committee indicated that they felt this slowness to rehire was having any significant negative effect. The unfilled vacancies have also facilitated a suspension of approximately 40 courses during the upcoming academic year (or 2 percent of the approximately 2,000 courses typically offered); which of those courses are reinstituted later and which may be dropped permanently will be the subject of a future strategic review. Faculty salaries were frozen during the 2009-10 academic year (except for raises in conjunction with promotions) but the College has committed to a modest increase in faculty salaries for the upcoming academic year. By and large, other financial benefits that the faculty view as important to hiring and retention (such as a junior faculty sabbatical policy that is more liberal than most) have also been protected despite the College’s financial challenges. The overall objective has been to constrain costs while remaining competitive with peer institutions, particularly as the current environment has increased the poaching efforts by some institutions.

Hugh O’Reilly ’86 will chair the committee and Jay Miller ’82 will be vice chair in 2010-11.