Students and administrators discussed faculty and academic affairs at the second Student-Administrator Forum of the semester on Wednesday. Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Joy Moore; Akua Sarr, vice provost for undergraduate affairs; Billy Soo, vice provost for faculties; and Amy Boesky, chair of the English department, talked about the faculty hiring process and answered questions from students.
In the past, on multiple occasions, students have requested that Boston College continue to concentrate on making more minority hires—specifically in the wake of the Silence is Still Violence protests and after Michael Sorkin, CSOM ’21, allegedly vandalized Welch Hall with racist epithets.
Boesky opened by explaining that her department wishes it could hire people in many different areas—such as ethnic American literature or disability studies—but that it can be difficult to get hiring requests approved by the administration.
“Resources are limited, and we’re competing with all the other departments in the Morrissey College, but also across the University,” she said.
Soo said that the basis for determining which departments get to hire is the number of student credit hours they are drawing in, but the University also sometimes chooses to invest more resources in a program because it deems it is important for the school.
Soo mentioned that the number of faculty who are retiring or leaving is another important factor in the hiring process, since this determines how many free slots for new faculty members there are. But the process is complicated by timing: When departments are given approval to look for hires—which typically happens around April or May—they don’t actually know which faculty are going to be retiring or leaving at the end of the next year.
“Often times we get really stressed out as the year ends, and the number of departures and retirements are falling behind the number of approvals that we give,” Soo said.
The number of hires that are approved in a given year is usually two to three times lower than the number of requests put in, according to Soo. He said that even the number of hires that is approved is still usually higher than the number of faculty that they anticipate leaving.
Boesky said that typically around 200 people apply for each tenure-track job that opens up. Each applicant submits a resume, writing sample, teaching portfolio, and an extensive set of letters, and the reading committee works through the fall to get the group down to 12 finalists who get in-person interviews.
Usually three finalists are invited back for a campus visit, where they will meet with an undergraduate committee, graduate student committee, the dean of the school, and then give a job presentation, which students are welcome to attend.
“We take very seriously our undergraduate committees … and it goes both ways, because the faculty who are coming here really like meeting with students,” she said.
Boesky said that while she believes her department has done well with hiring the best candidates in the past, things still aren’t perfect.
“We’ve made strides in becoming a more diverse community in our department—we have a long way to go, and fortunately there’s time for that, and I think we’re committed to it,” she said. “It’s a process, a work in progress.”
One student asked about the possibility of the return of a faculty senate, which would serve as an official way for faculty members voice their concerns to the administration. In the 1960s and 70s, BC had a University Academic Senate, in which faculty and students debated and made decisions about academic affairs. The re-implementation of the senate was part of the campaign platform of the current president and vice president-elect of the Undergraduate Government of BC, Michael Osaghae, MCAS ’20, and Tiffany Brooks, MCAS ’21.
Soo said that while he knew that some faculty members were strongly in favor of the faculty senate, in BC’s case, there are many University or school-wide committees that fulfill the same role as a faculty senate, such as the Faculty Grievance committee, the Faculty Hearing Committee, and the Provost’s Advisory Council.
Soo also brought up the fact that there is a faculty forum held every semester, where faculty members can have a conversation with the University provost and president—while there are 860 faculty members, the turnout usually reaches around 100 at most.
“And so the question that has been raised is, if we have a faculty senate, how sure are we that all the faculty are committed to it?” Soo said. “Often times, when you have a faculty senate, you’re deciding on certain very important issues, and if it’s being driven by a small subgroup that doesn’t represent the interests of the entire faculty, is that really a good thing, or is that a bad thing?”
Soo also noted that many faculty members don’t want to serve on the elected committees—there are often only just enough candidates to fill the positions.
“I know that there’s some groups of faculty who feel very strongly that we should have a faculty senate, and I understand the feeling … but I would hope that if we ever got to that point, that there’s truly at least a majority of the faculty who support it,” Soo said. “But my sense is that based on past participation rates, if you get 25 percent, that’s a big number.”
The last time a faculty senate was considered was in 2013. The administration and faculty clashed over what kind of power a prospective senate would hold, specifically in regard to how the Board of Trustees had to sign off on an election. The last time any election took place was in 2006—turnout was just under 50 percent, meaning less than 400 faculty members voted—but 88 percent of faculty members who voted were in favor of creating a senate.
The students and faculty then discussed the topics of racism, sexism, and other sensitivities in the classroom. Boesky emphasized that in this area, it is not the responsibility of the students to educate faculty and administrators, but for the faculty and administrators to keep themselves educated.
Soo said that there are are many programs designed around teaching faculty ways to be more sensitive and culturally aware—such as workshops run by the Center for Teaching Excellence and Office for Institutional Diversity—but much of the problem lies in getting faculty to participate.
One student asked if the Cultural Competence Engagement Modules (CCEM), which are currently an optional training program for faculty, could be made mandatory in order for faculty to receive tenure. Soo said that it would take a long time to expand the bandwidth of the program enough to accommodate everyone, and if it were to be required, it would mean demanding one more thing from faculty who are busy teaching and researching in order to get tenure.
“I’m not saying it’s not important, but I think we need to balance it out in terms of what more we can demand from our faculty,” he said.
Soo said he suspects that if the program were offered immediately to everyone, the faculty who need it the least would be the ones who would sign up. To have the maximum impact, he said, he would like to see the CCEM target the groups that need it the most instead.
One student in the Connell School of Nursing asked about the hiring process in the nursing school and the Carroll School of Management, which she said seem to have had slower progress in this area in comparison to the other colleges.
Soo said that usually there is a lack of candidates of color for positions in these schools, according to the deans, but that the nursing school has hired one faculty member of color who will start next year and has extended an offer to another.
“The challenge … is that faculty of color are in demand,” Soo said. “If it’s a question of a higher salary, we will stretch as much as we can.”
Soo said that people will ask why the school doesn’t just stop hiring any faculty unless they are a person of color, but he noted that just bringing faculty members of color isn’t enough—it’s also important that they stay. Soo noted that the University has been tracking faculty retention rates: In 2009, the retention rate for faculty of color was half that of white faculty—in the last four years, it has been slightly higher.
“I think we’re really doing a much better job of attracting the faculty who will stay. … We’re getting there—I’m cautiously optimistic,” Soo said.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor
Correction (2/26/19, 12:11 p.m.): This article originally indicated that the Provost’s Advisory Council was solely made up of faculty members. It is not, and the article has been corrected to reflect that.