United academics

Tour groups on campus always remind me of my first campus tour and of why I decided to come to the University of Vermont.Actually, that’s a big fat lie. Tour groups usually make me want to strip naked and do the chicken dance while yelling about drugs, alcohol, big classes, sex, small dorm rooms and crappy food-all parent nightmares of college. Most of the time, I’m able to suppress the urge.But in all seriousness, campus tours for prospective students emphasize certain characteristics. For me, it was the typical we’ve-all-heard-it UVM tagline that got me on the plane: “We’re a premier research institution small enough to guarantee intimate classes with outstanding professors.” Unfortunately, this is changing.Administrators continue to build the student body and hike both in-state and out-of-state tuition prices – 31 percent for in-staters and 27 percent for out-of-staters – but the slice of the pie delegated to unionized faculty salaries have dropped 12 percent.All the while, the University hasn’t seen any increases in the number of tenure and tenure- track faculty-those professors who make long-term commitments in mentoring and significant research. For example, the Environmental Studies department- one of UVM’s outstanding major programs-has only six long-term, full-time professors for roughly 350 undergraduate majors.Also, the nursing program – one of the nation’s best – had an explosion of applicants, doubling their undergraduate and tripling their graduate populations over a very short period of time. This past yearalone, an extra ten to 20 nursing students were forced into already capped classes. All the while, the school lost fulltime tenure and tenure-track professors.The bubble will eventually burst.But it doesn’t have to – administrators just need to reallocate funds back to where they belong, back to the faculty. It’s sad that oftentimes when money’s tight, as it always is in a public university budget, we get so wrapped up in the dollar sign and decimal points to remember that the human faces of the issue aren’t those on the bills.This is a respect issue. It seems like administrators expect both faculty and students to just look the other way while they neglect to fill necessary full-time professor positions and force remaining, already overworked professors to take on more and more students. I didn’t mean to come to a school that exploits its main asset.There’s no doubt that University administrators should shift their priorities to highlight faculty needs. After all, without competitive salaries, decent benefits and manageable work hours, the reason for the tour guide boastings might choose to move to UNH or UMass.We look to our professors to inspire, challenge and encourage us. And that just doesn’t happen in a class of 350 students with an underpaid and overworked lecturer.