Heavy Advisee Loads and Overflowing Classes: What the Faculty’s Vote to Delay Curriculum Changes Means

By Nicole DeJacimo, Managing Editor

At the Feb. 17 faculty meeting, the Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) proposed that the optimal student cohort size for incoming classes in the future will be around 640 students and the number of full-time faculty will be 220. The new strategic plan, which is tied to Gettysburg’s updated curriculum, will determine which academic departments will be expanded and which will face budget cuts.

New Curriculum Plans

The CRC, led by Provost Chris Zappe and associate professor of psychology Sahana Mukherjee, began meeting early last fall to update the Gettysburg curriculum as part of “Living our Promise,” the College’s new strategic plan.

In January, Mukerjee explained to the faculty that, when formulating this new curriculum, the CRC asked themselves, as professors, “Is this something you want to be teaching?”

Part of the proposal would be additional class year-specific seminars for sophomores and seniors, similar to First-Year Seminars. The hope is that these courses would provide “high-impact practices that increase student learning, belonging and attention,” said Mukherjee.

Some professors expressed worries that these additional courses would add to the faculty’s responsibilities to teach more classes and attend committee meetings. Music professor James Day questioned the feasibility of these new requirements and whether professors would have ample time to meet these expectations.

“We already do so much committee work and this new curriculum with the many seminars would require many more committees,” said mathematics professor Beth Campbell Hetrick.

Currently, the College has around 183 full-time faculty. Mathematics professor Darren Glass, a member of the CRC, noted that the proposed curriculum would not expand the faculty. Rather, the number of faculty per department would change, according to communications director Jamie Yates, though nothing is set in stone.

As of Jan. 15, 2022, nearly one in six faculty positions were vacant, leaving the College to resort to hiring more adjunct professors as well as professors teaching oversized classes and taking on more advisees than usual.

Earlier this semester, faculty members narrowly voted to delay any further discussion about the proposed curriculum until the fall 2022 semester. Through a Kahoot poll, 63 faculty members voted to delay the discussions and 60 voted to continue discussions, with one abstention.

Economics professor Charles Weise opposed delaying the curriculum discussions and expressed his concern about the cost that comes with it. Given that the proposed curriculum is connected to the new strategic plan, failing to pass the curriculum in a timely manner will affect the possibility of hiring more professors.

“We lack fundamental information to make our decisions,” said assistant professor of philosophy Mercedes Valmisa Oviedo. “We need to fix our channels for deliberation and conversation. … This [curriculum] delay won’t be effective unless we acknowledge the issues now.”

Other faculty members worried about the hybrid format of the bi-weekly faculty meetings as many members still join through Zoom.

“This is not how democracy works,” said physics professor Kurt Andresen. “We need active members who can physically be here.”

Small & Shrinking Departments

Small departments, such as the Italian studies department, have expressed concern to students and during faculty meetings that they will be negatively affected by the redistribution of faculty members as a result of changes to the curriculum. Growing departments, such as health sciences and public policy, may see their faculty roster expand.

Italian studies Chair Lidia Anchisi is currently the only full-time professor in her department, as they lost a tenure line this year and their only other professor is on leave until fall 2022.

“Under the current environment, I do worry about how we will be affected by the financial burden the College is facing, and it is unclear how committed President [Bob] Iuliano is to support the foreign language programs at the College,” said Anchisi.

Over the past five years, the Italian studies department had an average of one graduating senior in their major. Anchisi said that this is in part due to a lack of funding, especially compared to the other language departments. Italian also does not have a “proper Chair office,” unlike other more popular language departments, such as French or Spanish, both of which have their own office spaces in McKnight Hall.

The new curriculum puts a stronger emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which Anchisi said gives her hope that the Italian studies department will continue to play an important role in education at Gettysburg.

“We are also finding more creative ways to teach our courses—for example, I teach the second-semester intermediate course entirely through contemporary Italian songs that have social relevance—and are fully committed to ensuring that our courses and classrooms are dedicated to DEI,” said Anchisi. She described several Italian courses that both continue language education and emphasize cultural education. She is hopeful that diversifying course options within the Italian studies department, including adding courses taught in English, will draw more students to the major.

The Italian studies department has also begun a “student ambassador” program to advertise the major to new students. This year, Italian studies and political science double-major Victoria Staub ’23 serves as student ambassador. Staub is also the Arts & Entertainment Editor of The Gettysburgian.

“As an ambassador for the Italian studies department, I assist in planning engaging activities and events that advertise the department,” said Staub. “I also speak to classes and individual students about my personal experiences within the department and encourage the pursuit of a major or minor in Italian.”

A breakdown of the number of graduates in each major from the Class of 2021 (Chart created by Carter Hanson)

Beyond Italian studies, other shrinking majors include English and anthropology, which have graduated fewer and fewer majors in recent years. English graduated only 29 students in 2021, a 48% drop from their graduating class of 56 in 2015; meanwhile, the number of anthropology majors dropped by 67%, from 12 in 2015 to only 4 in 2021.

Other small departments that may be affected by the new strategic plan’s reevaluation include Africana studies, which has an average of 1.7 majors per year, classics, with an average of 2.3, and music education, with an average of 3.7, among others.

Large & Growing Departments

On the other end of the spectrum, some departments experienced rapid growth during the past five years, even as the overall student population decreased. Some professors in fast-growing departments have expressed concern that the administration lags when providing resources that they need to support the ongoing influx of new majors. These issues include overflowing courses—especially capstones, which are more focused on individual students and their research— and high advisee loads.

“We all have pretty high advising loads,” said health sciences department Chair Amy Dailey. “But in this department, we’re very student-centered and all of us spend a ton of time advising and making sure that we teach the classes that students need.”

The health science department’s graduates increased by 53 percent over the past five years. According to Dailey, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to the rise in the number of health science majors at Gettysburg, as general knowledge and awareness of public health issues increased. The unique nature of the major’s structure and the possibility of job opportunities post-graduation have also contributed to the department’s popularity.

“I think students are drawn to learning about the human body and human populations and they see direct pathways to their career plans in medicine, public health, physician assistant programs, physical therapy and other health professions,” said Dailey. “Given the pandemic and the growing health issues of our times, I suspect student interest in studying the health sciences will continue to grow.”

Dailey explained that her faculty are teaching overloaded classes during advising season, which coincides with the part of the semester when faculty grade midterm exams and essays. Managing the balance between classroom commitments and advising obligations can be overwhelming for professors.

“Several faculty have reported to me that [the fall semester] was the hardest they have had,” said President Iuliano.

Additionally, some faculty have reported that, aside from the pressures of pandemic learning in general, the tenure-track hiring freeze, in place since the fall of 2020 and in effect until further notice, has exacerbated faculty course-load and advisee problems.

“As we rely increasingly on visiting faculty to cover courses in larger departments (with larger enrollments), we may continue their visiting appointments beyond one year (contingent upon the quality of their performance in the first year),” said Yates.

While visiting faculty are hired to cover the need for more courses, they are discouraged and often not allowed to take on advisees, putting the burden on tenure-track and tenured faculty members.

According to political science Chair Caroline Hartzell, most political science professors have over 40 advisees. Additionally, the political science department has made significant sacrifices to make up for its deficit of tenure-track faculty relative to the growing number of political science majors.

“We actually just had to scramble to add a sixth capstone course for the 2022–2023 academic year because of the number of seniors that need capstone courses next year,” said Hartzell. “We could only do this by canceling another course.”

The political science and public policy departments have grown in the past few years as a result of a number of factors, including Gettysburg’s connection to Washington, D.C. through the Eisenhower Institute and intern housing opportunities, the connections they make with professors and the law school connection.

“The interests of Gen Z students, many of which likely align with ideas and issues we seek to teach students to analyze and engage with in the political science major,” said Hartzell. “These include conflict resolution, racial and other forms of social justice, a focus on global issues and on being conscious stewards of the world and the general belief that government should play a greater role in solving problems.”

Both Dailey and Hartzell hope the College can add tenure-track positions for expanding majors to more closely represent the College’s advertised 9:1 student-to-advisee ratio. Public policy Chair Anne Douds described similar reasons for public policy’s growth and explained that the major provides real-world skills where students can apply “operational knowledge.”

“I believe the growth in the program largely arises from students’ increasing interest in action-oriented education that focuses on how they can work for the betterment of society during and immediately after college,” said Douds. “No two public policy majors are exactly the same, which keeps it fresh and real for the students and the faculty.”

From the fall 2018 semester through the end of the spring 2021 semester, the number of public policy majors grew from 33 to 104. Douds said they are on track to exceed that number again by the end of the semester.

“There have been a lot of structural changes to how the major is run,” said Nick Silvis ’23, a public policy major and a co-chair of the Public Policy Student Council. “[Professor Douds] does a wonderful job, but we would like to see her have more support from the administration.”

Douds hopes to have a space for the department soon where professors and students can congregate as the major continues to grow. During advising season, Douds had back-to-back advisee meetings as the only tenured professor in the major. She carries the responsibility of advising the vast majority of the public policy majors. She hopes the administration will accommodate the growth and is excited to see what the department’s future holds.

Students sitting on the steps of Penn Hall (Photo Aly Leia Wein/The Gettysburgian)

What Happens Next?

The College plans to shrink the student body over the course of the next few years, mirroring the nationwide decline in the college student population. This would lower acceptance rates, therein increasing Gettysburg’s ranking and competitiveness relative to similar liberal arts colleges.

“We are intentionally getting smaller to stay ahead of the demographic cliff curve,” said Yates. “We need to expand out of our typical recruitment area, which is the [Northeast], so we can fill the classes with the kinds of students we want.”

While the total number of faculty members at Gettysburg will not be affected by the changes to the curriculum, the new curriculum will be an opportunity for the administration to reshuffle the number of faculty between departments. Until faculty pass the new curriculum, it remains to be seen which departments will lose current tenure lines and which departments will be expanded to accommodate the interests of the student body.

This article originally appeared on pages 6–9 of the March 31, 2022 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.

Author: Nicole DeJacimo

Nicole DeJacimo, ‘22, is the managing editor of The Gettysburgian and is a political science major with a double minor in writing and peace & justice studies. Outside of the Gettysburgian, Nicole is a Fielding Fellow and co-manager for the College Union Building Information Desk. During her free time, Nicole enjoys singing, reading, going to Waldo's and having movie nights with her friends. She plans on moving to D.C. after college to work as a political journalist.

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