Provost Jamila Bookwala Addresses Budgetary Pressures at Gettysburg College

By Laken Franchetti, Editor-in-Chief

On Friday morning, The Gettysburgian held an interview with Provost Jamila Bookwala to learn more about the budgetary pressures facing the college and the administration’s plan to combat these pressures.

Faculty Appointments

Full-time faculty, such as tenure-line faculty, have various appointments determining their contract to teach at the college. Tenure-line faculty positions include those who are pre-tenured and tenured. Visiting faculty positions are also full-time, and they typically are appointments for one to three years.

Bookwala explained that visiting faculty positions help to launch careers to tenure-track positions, whether at Gettysburg College or elsewhere.

“So when they’re [visiting faculty] here with us, typically they’re also looking for a tenure track position, or a position that aligns with their career interests. Some of them may decide, ‘I don’t think teaching is my thing or extensive teaching is my thing. I think I’m going to apply for a research position.’ It’s an opportunity for them to evaluate their own career goals,” Bookwala said.

Part-time faculty, which includes adjunct positions, have had year-long appointments in the past. However, the administration has made the decision to change adjunct faculty to semester-by-semester appointments. These semester-by-semester appointments will allow the administration to reevaluate the need for adjunct faculty members depending on the gaps that need to be filled. Year-long contracts made it difficult to do that.

“They [adjunct faculty] used to get year-long contracts, and they could teach up to five courses. That’s an unusual way to hire adjuncts because part-time faculty are really intended to fill gaps. You have to be nimble in your use of part-time faculty, or adjunct faculty,” Bookwala said. “What happens is you [the Provost’s Office] get locked in, and if you don’t need a section or you can actually cancel one section, it just becomes more difficult if you already have a contract in place.”

Adjusting these positions and their appointment length can help to reduce budgetary pressures. In the faculty meeting on Sept. 21, Bookwala addressed that about 30 visiting faculty and about 60 adjunct faculty are hired every year. This reaches a total cost approaching $3 million, yet with semester-by-semester appointments for adjunct positions, the administration believes they can lower this annual cost. Bookwala also shared that the administration will need to limit their reliance on visiting faculty positions.

Lab Teaching Credit and Course Capping

The current system at the college is that labs count as one teaching credit, the equivalent to teaching a course or a lecture. Tenure-track faculty, who are faculty that are currently tenured or are on the pre-tenure track, teach the equivalent of five courses over the course of a year.

Bookwala shared that many other institutions have had labs count as half credit, and this has been proposed to the faculty. This proposal has not yet been finalized.

“So, if we have 182 labs in a given year, we are talking about 182 courses or course equivalents… yes, they are teaching very important work, not to deny that that is important information and important skills that our students are learning, yet it is an unsustainable model,” Bookwala said. “Their instruction could have been redirected to a first-year seminar or the sophomore seminars that are soon to go online.”

Bookwala believes this is the right decision based on budget constraints and the right decision for students.

“I do think that it is right by our financial resources, and it’s right by our students because more of our students will have interaction with our tenure-stream faculty in different courses,” Bookwala said.

Bookwala explained that department chairs and their faculty have been asked to share their thoughts and ideas about the proposal. The administration has given faculty members a proposal worksheet with adjusted course caps to evaluate how their curriculums could adjust. Bookwala said these course caps would change 100 level courses to be capped at 35 students or more, 200 level courses to be capped at over 25 students (instead of the current 20) and 300 level courses or higher would be capped at 18 or 20 students.

Bookwala recognized that these course caps would have to be adjusted for classes such as first-year seminars, writing courses and capstones, which typically have much smaller caps.

Merging of the Language Departments

Bookwala acknowledged the possibility of the language departments being combined, which was discussed at the Student Leader meeting earlier in the week. She said that this idea was not new and had been talked about prior to her arrival at the college. Larger discussions with department chairs and faculty members will take place in the spring semester to workshop the idea.

“This conversation has occurred well before I came here, about the languages being combined because there are currently very small departments that each have a chair. That means we have chairs getting course releases, therefore we are relying on adjuncts and visitors,” Bookwala said. 

Course releases refer to when a chair of a department can get one course reassigned for the work that they complete as a chair. This leaves a course open for adjunct faculty and visiting faculty to teach.

Bookwala reiterated that nothing has been solidified, and faculty will be consulted on how this proposal may work.

“The faculty will have agency. We will ask them, ‘Can you come up with a model that works?’ So, that way, we can combine this [language departments] and really, once again, look at how we are using our teaching resources,” Bookwala said.

Bookwala urged the importance for faculty to get involved in these discussions and workshops of proposed decisions.

“I hope the faculty are listening to us in terms of how we are trying to engage them. It cannot be long drawn out, and we have certain guardrails in which we have to function,” Bookwala said. “We want to protect our tenure track faculty, tenured and pre-tenured. We also invest most of our resources in them. We want them to teach our students as much as possible.

Consultant Firms

When asked if the administration is utilizing consultant firms for these budgetary decisions, Bookwala clarified that the academic division is not utilizing a firm. There is, however, a consultant firm working with the administrative division.

Teacher Certification Program

Bookwala said that she has been approached by numerous faculty that have responded to student concern about the teacher certification program going away. Before Bookwala became the Provost, the Department of Education was discontinued, and the teacher certification program was ended as a result of that decision.

Bookwala made it clear that the Education Department will not be resurrected, yet there could be a chance of the teacher certification program being reinstated separately from a department.

“Is there a way for us to resurrect just the teacher certification, maybe through an institute or a center of teacher certification? It would not be a major. It would be a separate entity that would allow students who want to get teacher certification… like they were in English and history, perhaps then some of the sciences like math, physics, or chemistry as well,” Bookwala said.

Bookwala shared that she has a proposal to read from faculty members that workshopped the idea. There have been no decisions on whether the program can return or not as the proposal would have to be taken to other administrative groups like the President’s Council.

“We have to make sure that there aren’t hidden costs in that, but I am very happy that the faculty are getting together—this is a faculty initiative—to try and reinstate the teacher recertification piece that we have lost that students are very interested in. We’ll see what happens,” Bookwala said.

Author: Laken Franchetti

Laken Franchetti ’24 serves as the Editor-in-Chief for The Gettysburgian. She has previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and as a staff writer for the news and arts and entertainment sections. Laken is an English with a writing concentration and history double major. On-campus, she is the Editor-in-Chief for Her Campus, the Nonfiction Genre Head for The Mercury and a user services assistant at Musselman Library. Laken is also a Lincoln scholar and spent the Fall ’22 semester abroad in London and Lancaster, England. In her free time, Laken is an avid film fan and enjoys reading.

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  1. To whom it may concern:

    We are three STEM Gettysburg College alumni who are current Ph.D. students at the University of Michigan and the University of California-Berkeley. We are deeply concerned with the current budgetary pressures at our alma mater, particularly with how it affects the quality of the STEM curriculum. While we recognize that changes are needed in light of financial constraints, we urge the administration to reconsider their proposal.

    Increased course caps and decreased teaching credits for faculty teaching lab classes pose a significant threat to the quality of STEM education. Lab classes are essential for STEM education, and they are rigorous and demanding, requiring as much, if not more, time as lecture classes for both students and faculty. Diminishing credits for teaching labs undervalues the challenge of administering these crucial courses. Our science faculty are incredibly dedicated and their time is already stretched thin (with most working well beyond normal hours and weekends). An increased teaching load would make it impossible for them to maintain research-based courses and research labs. Removing these experiences and focusing on “cookie-cutter” labs with no substantive research component would greatly diminish the unique research potential at institutions like Gettysburg versus larger state schools.

    Personal anecdote #1: Why were we drawn to Gettysburg?
    I transferred to Gettysburg College from St. Mary’s College of Maryland. I was disappointed by the science program at St. Mary’s. Rather than solving real-world problems, we spent the majority of the semester memorizing shared derived characteristics to group organisms into clades, a skill I could not see myself using as a future biomedical scientist. In their general biology course, little to no time was spent discussing assays that are frequently used in biology (PCR, Western blot, etc.). We were also encouraged to simply follow a formulaic template when writing mock journal articles. As a result, my scientific writing was disjointed and barely critiqued by professors. It felt like I was trapped in a high school biology course. At the end of my first year, I had made little progress towards becoming the scientist I wanted to be.

    Touring Gettysburg College, it quickly became apparent that I wanted to attend this institution. I vividly remember Dr. Hiraizumi sharing how his Cell Biology students use mouse melanoma cells to test the therapeutic potential of various drugs. Unlike St. Mary’s, Gettysburg College was equipped to provide meaningful research and writing experiences.

    Why are Gettysburg courses valuable?
    Research-based courses, especially small labs like X-lab and independent research, were the most important experiences we had at Gettysburg.

    – X-lab and similar courses taught us how to integrate knowledge across multiple disciplines, a key part of modern research.
    – These lab-based experiences engaged us in the entire scientific pipeline, including: 1) generating research questions and thinking about how to answer them; 2) proposing ideas for mock funding; 3) writing journal and review articles (some of which were published!); 4) collecting data; 5) hosting lab meetings; and, 6) presenting/discussing data with colleagues in the lab and at conferences. These skills are essential for a scientific career. The numerous research opportunities offered at Gettysburg College provided us with opportunities to hone and master these skills.
    – The high faculty-to-student ratio allowed for exemplary, individualized training, replicating the mentorship model at higher levels of academia. We gained practical, hands-on experience performing standard lab experiments that we still use daily.
    – We were familiarized with multiple model systems that we have since encountered in our postgraduate/doctoral work.
    – We honed our collaboration skills by working closely with fellow lab members and the scientific community at Gettysburg College.
    – In the face of unexpected obstacles and difficulties, we were trained to think critically and problem-solve. This built our confidence and helped us develop the appropriate mindset for persevering during scientific research.
    – The incredible research experiences we had at Gettysburg College made us competitive candidates for funding and awards.

    Personal anecdote #2: Labs with known outcomes and lecture classes cannot substitute for the skill sets developed by engaging in real research. Furthermore, most post-graduate STEM career opportunities are contingent on substantive research experience. My doctoral program prioritizes students with the most research experience, not the highest GPA.

    I served on a steering committee for undergraduate education for my university alongside faculty and administrators. We concluded that research is the most significant component of STEM education. Large, elite universities like UC Berkeley are struggling to implement more research opportunities for their undergraduates. The scarce opportunities cannot meet the high demand and are often unable to provide the depth and engagement that the Gettysburg research experience offers. I feel incredibly fortunate to have my Gettysburg education and would not trade it for that of undergraduates at my current institution. Research is an area in which Gettysburg excels, and it should be emphasized rather than minimized per the administration’s current plan.

    How Gettysburg research helped us with jobs/graduate school
    These research experiences were critical in obtaining both jobs and graduate school admission. Two of us obtained highly competitive research technician positions at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University research hospitals. Having pre-existing “research hands” to perform experiments was one component; the other was demonstrating impressive transferable skills such as research integrity, critical thinking, and hypothesis formation atypical in other new graduates.

    Each of us were highly competitive for graduate school admissions. We collectively received interviews from MIT, Caltech, UC-Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke University, Baylor College of Medicine, Brandeis University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, University of Wisconsin- Madison, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This was largely due to our many research experiences during undergrad. Cutting the budget by reducing research would almost certainly limit future Gettysburg students in a competitive job and graduate school admissions landscape.

    Personal anecdote #3: How Gettysburg STEM students stack up for entry-level positions
    After I was hired as a research technician, I drew on my Gettysburg training of hypothesis-driven research and obtaining external help and advice when needed. I learned new techniques quickly and performed independent experiments, which secured me a raise 5 months into my job. I also frequently aided in new hire interviews. I was surprised to learn that many students, even those from prestigious R1 schools with a publication, did not have the opportunity to form and test their own hypotheses or think critically about experimental design. Many applicants struggled when asked straightforward questions, such as “what would be your positive and negative controls?” and “how would you troubleshoot X result?” Even if this wasn’t a barrier to entry, these critical thinking skills later correlated with aptitude for training and individual work. I credit my success and adaptability to the training in my research lab at Gettysburg and the numerous lab-based courses I took that emphasized these skills.

    Personal anecdote #4: Class-based research experience is critical for graduate admission
    I serve on my program’s Ph.D. admissions committee. In the past year’s application cycle, students with an excellent GPA from small liberal arts schools like Gettysburg were rejected for having “only one”, short research experience at their school. As we outlined earlier, Gettysburg students have access to multiple unique and novel research opportunities that bolster their applications to graduate programs. Having a longer-term project shows tenacity and future long-term success in 5-6 year PhD programs. These unique opportunities will ALL be at risk if Gettysburg moves forward with its plan to increase faculty teaching burden, lowering the quality and time they have to guide research in class and in their independent labs.

    The intricate research opportunities offered by Gettysburg sets it apart from other institutions; without them we would not have attended Gettysburg. We are grateful for the education we received. We strongly encourage Provost Jamila Bookwala to reevaluate this proposal and do so in accordance with the wishes and recommendations of all STEM faculty. We believe this is critical for the development of future Gettysburg-trained scientists and necessary for STEM to remain “Gettysburg Great”.

    Three concerned alumni

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