Around 10 years ago, students began taking four, four-credit classes each semester, the same system that is in place today. That meant most faculty taught a 3-3-3-2 course load, which means they would teach three classes for three semesters and then only two classes for a fourth semester. Over time, stresses such as faculty constraints under a tightening budget led to a 3-3-3-3 system, according to Professor William Karstens, the chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee.
Now, there is a chance that additional requirements will increase faculty loads. During open forums, the majority argued that a 3-4 or even a 3-3-3-4 could be detrimental to the well-being of the faculty. While nothing has been decided upon, a decision is likely to come this week, according to Karstens.
“We’re trying to work on something that tries to minimize the amount of extra work that has to be done, in the midst of solving issues of getting more students on campus and stuff like that,” Karstens said.
When requirements were increased to a 3-3-3-3, some faculty thought that it would eventually go back to a 3-3-3-2. After a few years, it was clear that due to budget constraints and declining enrollment, this was not going to happen.
Either way, an increase in teaching requirements will require faculty to make sacrifices. For Karstens, it’s a tradeoff with the high demands, and that’s what the committee is trying to help with.
“We know we have to step up and do something because of the stressors we are undergoing, and it’s just how are we going to do it in such a way that spreads the pain as fair as possible and not overwhelming what’s already a pretty packed plate,” Karstens said.
An added course in a semester involves more than lectures in the classroom. “There’s homework, assignments, discussions, and meetings with students. That’s where I think the true learning happens, and we don’t put a time limit on that, nor a limit of effort,” said Dean of Faculty Tara Natarajan.
“As people get stretched further, the things that get dropped off the plate are the ones that aren’t in the contract,” said Patricia Siplon, professor of political science, who, outside of teaching, is the treasurer for St. Michael’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the faculty advisor for the school’s chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, and an instructor for the Adventure Sports Center. She worries that there aren’t enough faculty to fill positions, and she worries about what will be cut first due to the limited personnel.
“Social justice pieces [are] not what we are contracted to do, so that’s what’s going to get shorted,” she said.
Natarajan said she is currently involved in faculty searches for several departments, including political science, sociology, criminology, environmental science and studies, biology, and art and design.
Like Karstens, she acknowledges there’s a problem, but is hopeful that dedicated faculty can pull through. Over the summer, an ad-hoc committee was developed to help better allocate resources.
While Natarajan believes faculty need time away from school, it’s far from a conventional job.
“It’s not just a nine to five. I call it getting on the running train that never stops.”
For some professors, however, it’s just part of the job. “I wouldn’t call it stressful. I’m here to teach, so I’m going to teach,” said physics professor Alain Brizard, who teaches both physics courses and core science courses.
With all the talk around the number of courses and time spent, quality of work can get lost, especially when it comes to interaction with students, say some faculty.
“We’ve made a big mistake, in my opinion, as a culture, in believing that productivity is more important than quality… that quantifiable output is more important than quality connections and quality expression,” Siplon said.
The quality connection and expression usually comes in the form of interaction with students, especially those that come outside of the classroom. In the end, faculty hope that the existing stress and increased workload won’t deter these relationships with their students.
“A lot of people feel pretty stressed at this particular moment in time. We’re professionals, we try not to let it affect what we do with our students. But I’m not going to lie, it’s a tough time, and we’re working hard,” said English professor Elizabeth Inness-Brown.
When Alain Brizard, one of only three faculty members in the physics department, talks about physics students, he doesn’t use technical jargon present in his recently published work on gauge-free electromagnetic gyrokinetic theory and perturbative variational formulation of the Vlasov-Maxwell equations. Instead, he calls them unicorns. “Sometimes I think that a physics student is like a unicorn. They’re very rare, but if you go to a place and you ask ‘Do you have any unicorns?’ and the answer is no… something must be wrong, they can’t attract unicorns,” Brizard said.
Last spring, the administration proposed a cut to three programs: Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MATESOL), French, and Physics. The abrupt proposal gave little time for the programs to respond, said Elizabeth Inness-Brown, chair of the Curriculum and Education Policy Committee (CEPC). So, a summer committee was formed to review them. Each at-risk program compiled a report, and so did the CEPC. Last week, all four reports were sent to the president’s office. Details of the report could not be released at that time.
Despite the proposal, Inness-Brown said she has a positive outlook for the three programs moving forward. There was a similar consensus among the three at-risk programs.
Brizard acknowledged that the physics department has a small enrollment, usually only two or three new majors a year, but this allows for opportunities other institutions can’t offer. Just this past summer, three physics majors were accepted to nationally-competitive internship programs at places such as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
In addition to teaching courses in the major, physics professors teach core science classes. After professor John O’Meara’s departure last year to the Keck Observatory, the physics department started counting classes as half-classes for professors. While they still count as four credits for students, it allows the professors to continue teaching core science classes as well as the physics courses.
Brizard, who thinks the caliber of physics students reflects on the college as a whole, said the termination of the program would have rippling effects, even on his competitiveness in research.
“[Physics] looks like an easy target, but when you look closely, then the implications are sometimes a little more nuanced than just saving money… just because we don’t have unicorns,” Brizard said.
He recently met with a consulting agent who is helping the school to market in an attempt to highlight what the program offers. In the future, Brizard hopes to see three to four majors per year, as well as seeing more minors coming from the other sciences and programs such as education.
Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
As for the Master’s TESOL program, a program that runs both on-campus and online, changes were being made well before the administration proposal. In the past two years, the number of MATESOL courses being offered in a calendar year has been reduced from 32 to 23.
“To be fair, the administration has been working with us, and it sounds like they’re going to be providing a little more support on the marketing side,” said Benjamin White, director of the MATESOL program.
The program currently has an international presence, highlighted by five Fulbright students from countries such as Nicaragua and Sudan, but White said he wants to work with agencies that provide these students to obtain even more. According to White, the MATESOL program usually has between 40 and 50 students.
Other MATESOL programs in the area have struggled as well. The School for International Training in Brattleboro has moved away from on-site MATESOL programs, and Marlboro College recently graduated their last students in the program.
“The MATESOL program has been around for a long time here, it’s one of the oldest MATESOL programs in the country. So it does seem like a core part of the institution and obviously, we would hate to lose it, so we are doing what we can to keep it healthy,” White said.
Professor Peter Vantine, the chair of the Fench program, said he was not surprised when he found out that the program was in danger of being cut because smaller majors are under more scrutiny. Currently, there are only about 10 French majors, with 12-16 minors. Last year, the program graduated six majors. Only one of them had declared the major before enrolling. According to Vantine, French is commonly doubled with another major. So, while students might come to St. Michael’s with an interest in French, they don’t declare it as a major right away.
Similar to the MATESOL program, the French program had plans to adjust even before the cut proposal announcement was made. One of the required classes, Literary Studies in French, was switched to an elective, and students will make up for it by taking another elective class. Additionally, one advanced elective that is taught in English can now count for the major. The largest change comes with two new classes, Business French and French for Health Professions, two-credit courses that will alternate every semester.
In addition to these structural changes, Vantine highlighted the extracurricular activities of the program. The French club hosts activities including film screening and trips to Quebec every semester. Additionally, academic study trips led by French professors have increased in number, including a trip to Senegal led by professor Laurence Clerfeuille this upcoming winter.
While factors such as proximity to Quebec and the language’s growing popularity worldwide assists the program, other decisions such as the dropped requirement for second-language for bachelor of science programs have reduced enrollment in French courses.
“I don’t know what administration is going to decide, but I have optimism for what we’re able to do in French. We’re highly motivated to serve our students well,” Vantine said.
Protests in Hong Kong have meant changes for St. Michael’s students who hope to get an internship through the Freeman Foundation this summer. Over the past two summers, St. Michael’s has sent students to Hong Kong, but due to ongoing protests over an extradition bill that would allow authorities to send citizens to mainland China, the committee that oversees the internships decided to send students to Singapore next year.
“I think Singapore is still going to be an outstanding opportunity for students to get real-world workplace skills for eight weeks in a major international city,” said professor Jeff Ayers, a coordinator for the internship program.
While Tokyo was a top option to replace Hong Kong, Singapore was chosen due to the 2020 Summer Olympics being held in Tokyo.
While no one knows if the protests would turn violent during the time the students stay in their internships, the committee didn’t want to take chances. “It’s not about what I think or what we think. It’s what parents think,” said professor Robert Letovsky, who also coordinates the program. “We can’t control perception.”
Sophie DeFries, a senior biochemistry major, spent her time doing pharmacological research at the University of Hong Kong. While the protests didn’t affect her daily life, it did play an impact on some decisions.
“For example, on the weekend we had to be diligent about what we were doing and where we were going or else it was easy to get stuck in sticky situations. One time we accidentally found ourselves at the same MTR station that had a protest surrounding it,” said DeFries.
This past summer, 11 students from a variety of majors spent time interning for businesses, nonprofits, and universities.
The experience went beyond his career interests, Diego Calderon, a senior business major who interned at a tech startup, said. “There are many social cues and norms that students need to experience in order to be open and adaptable to a more globalized world.”
Letovsky said he is hoping 10 or 11 students will be sent to Singapore from May 31 to August 1, 2020.
The application, which is due on October 25, is open to all current sophomore and juniors who will have spring 2020 residency on-campus.
Students receive 4 credits, and St. Michael’s waves the fee for a summer course. Most of the $7,000 scholarship allotted to each student goes to the Academic Internship Council, which helps place students into their internships and houses them. Most airfare charges can be covered within this budget as well.
Contact Professor Robert Letovsky, firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Study Abroad, Peggy Imai, email@example.com
Thailand trip canceled due to air quality concerns
Political tensions in Hong Kong caused the Global Citizen Internship Program to switch its location to Singapore, but it is not the only study abroad program at St. Michael’s that is dealing with locational issues.
The Education Abroad Network canceled the Thailand 2020 semester trips to Chaing-Mai over air quality concerns. While this wasn’t St. Michael’s decision, Director of Study Abroad Peggy Imai said problems like this sometimes occur, but instances such as Hong Kong and Chaing-Mai are quite rare. While the school still could have sent students to Hong Kong, the Academic Internship Council recommended against it.
“Our level of risk aversion is higher than some other institutions,” Imai said.
While student safety is the school’s top priority, other factors such as whether insurance will cover a program, also plays an important role in decisions.
Matt is an executive editor this semester after having the role of photography editor during the Spring 2019 semester. While his passion lies in landscape photography, he also enjoys reporting, especially investigative stories that promote transparency. When he’s not working on a story or preparing for a print publication, you can find him in the mountains as an instructor for the Adventure Sports Center. His hobbies include hiking, photography, mountain biking, fishing, weightlifting, and waking up at appallingly early hours to track moose and sasquatch in the mountains.
Lorelei is the environment editor for the fall semester. Her hobbies include both alpine and nordic skiing, spending time outdoors with friends and family and various arts (painting, photography, singing and playing guitar). Her role allows her to live out her keen passion in working towards a better society; her goal is to provide The Defender readership with tools to preserve our environment, knowledge to understand how Saint Michael’s works on making our campus green, and motivational stories to encourage personal initiative to establish a more sustainable society. She works in the MakerSpace as a lead and tunes into her vivacious and creative personality via her authentic fashion and quirky sense of humor.
Meg is an executive editor this semester after serving as news editor during the Spring 2019 semester. She’s been writing for newspapers since her freshman year of high school, when she got randomly assigned to a journalism class that just so happened to become her longtime passion. Meg especially loves writing, but also has an interest in videography and graphic design. When Meg isn’t held up at the computer lab, working on pages or crafting her stories, she’s binge watching movies with her roommates or exploring around Vermont, her new home only second to Maine.
Emma is the multimedia editor this semester. Ever since high school, she has been interested in design and media, which stemmed from creating small edits of her favorite celebrities. Once she took a film class in her first year, she fell in love with video editing and wants to pursue a career in it along with going into the social media aspect of marketing. When Emma is not in Jeanmarie until the wee hours of morning, she can be seen giving tours on campus, making grilled cheeses (her favorite lunch-time food), watching anything Disney related or relaxing with her roommates.
Matt is the managing editor this semester. He likes writing and discussing about interesting things across many topics, which almost never includes sports, as it’s a waste to be dull. In his free time, he often hangs out with friends, listening to records, and goes on adventures, even if they get him into trouble sometimes. He recently got into photography and enjoys learning about new ways to create. Whenever he isn’t scrambling to get an assignment in on time, or being skeptical about some otherwise harmless thing, or just being grumpy for no apparent reason, he’s actually fairly pleasant to be around.
Talia is the visionary editor this semester. She hopes to promote the presence of The Defender on and off campus. This is Talia’s second time working on The Defender. Talia has an interest in photography, writing, and public relations and hopes to tie in all her skill sets into the paper this semester. When not hunting down a lead for a story, Talia can often be found taking photos in the rain or working at the school store.
Angelina (Lena) O’Donnell
As the Visual Editor for the semester, Lena gets to overlook the photography, illustrations, and other visual components to the Defender. Growing up in a sheltered house she had never seen what the news and media was really about, the good or the bad. She hopes that this experience will help guide her down the path of activism and being able to use her art and writing to make a statement. She is aware of social justice issues on and off-campus and wants to bring awareness to them through the paper. She has a fire that she knows will not be extinguished.
Questions? Comments? Want to contribute to the Defender? We’d love to hear from you
When classes began in late August, Saint Michael’s College, like many higher education institutions across the nation, welcomed an incoming class that fell short of expectations, along with an ongoing budget deficit.
President Lorraine Sterritt declined to comment on the number of students in the class of 2023, explaining that the school wants to avoid having multiple different numbers published. The final number will be released October 15 as part of a census that will be sent to the federal government. Sterritt did say, however, that the school year started with fewer students than she would have liked.
Additionally, Sterritt said the school’s deficit for Fiscal Year 2019 is projected to be around $2 million.
Declining enrollment has been a trend at St. Michael’s in recent years. In 2014, 2,065 full-time undergraduates were enrolled at the school, highlighted by 610 first-year and transfer students, according to statistics obtained from the college’s Institutional Research. Four years later, in 2018, enrollment had dropped by 396, with only 1,669 undergraduates, including an incoming class of 478 students.
Declining enrollment isn’t just a problem for St. Michael’s. The population of high school students in the Northeast, where Saint Michael’s recruits students, is decreasing. From 2010 to 2017, the number of high school students in the Northeast declined by about 200,000, according to the United States Census Bureau. And the numbers will keep going down.
The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education predicts a decrease from 610,000 Northeast high school graduates in 2017 to 562,500 in 2031. This leads to increased competition between schools to recruit from the limited pool of students. The number of high school graduates in the foreseeable future will continue to decrease, a factor colleges are watching closely.
“The days are gone when you can lay back and have students come to your door,” Sterritt said. For St. Michael’s, this reality has evoked a need for more advertising and recruitment. Sterritt mentioned that the school is advertising on public radio, television, billboards, the Boston transit system, and the school’s newly rented coach bus, sporting a bright purple knight logo.
Sterritt has also promoted new academic programs and a new Center for the Environment as investments intended to attract prospective students.
With most of our students coming from the Northeast, the school is looking to expand recruitment both domestically and internationally. According to this academic year’s Admission & Enrollment Profile, 74 percent of St. Michael’s students come from New England, including 31 percent from Massachusetts and 15 percent from Vermont. However, from 2017 to 2018, Vermont saw more than a 10 percent population decrease in people under the age of 18, ranking the state last in the nation. Massachusetts decreased by more than three percent, according to an analysis of census population estimates.
“We are certainly looking towards places that the population is not having a dramatic decrease as it is in New England,” said Michael Stefanowicz, director of admission. This pipeline development method is one of the ways the school hopes to target the right prospective students. The school has also employed a search program that helps target students with SAT, ACT, and survey question responses that match our general student profile.
Some staff was laid off this summer and positions vacated by retirements have remained unfilled. However, the Admission Office has added two regional representatives, according to Stefanowicz. One is based in Worcester, Mass. to sustain reach in the primary market, while another is based in Annapolis, Md. in an attempt to build a secondary market. Additionally, the school has two international admission staff, including Kevin Spensley, who has recently spent time recruiting in Japan.
St. Michael’s currently has representation from 37 countries, according to the Admission & Enrollment profile.
“We can’t be this place that’s just up in Northern Vermont. We have to be a place that is global in perspective,” said Kristin McAndrew, the new vice president for enrollment and marketing.
McAndrew, whose first meeting on-campus upon the start of her position was with President Sterritt, was told to write a “new and robust” international recruitment plan. McAndrew was most recently the director of admission at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. She has dealt with similar declining enrollment as director of admission at Saint Mary’s College, as well as nationally-declining enrollment for MBA programs during her time at Notre Dame.
“What made me choose to come to St. Michael’s is the fact that every member of this community that I’ve interviewed with is committed to being a part of the solution… it’s a campus problem that the whole community is going to tackle together,” said McAndrew.
One of McAndrew’s new relationships will be with Institutional Advancement to garner alumni support. She said the work of the two offices are “inextricably linked,” as a better connection with alumni can bring in more money and help spread the word to prospective students.
Why choose college?
In the eyes of a prospective student, tuition is a major factor. According to the College Board, the average tuition and fees for a private, non-profit, four-year college rose to $35,830 in 2018-19. According to the St. Michael’s website, tuition for the 2019-2020 school year is $45,050. However, with most students receiving financial aid, the 2017-2018 average net price for full-time beginning undergraduates was $31,323, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In that same year, 1,754 undergraduates received grants or scholarship aid, totaling over $42 million, averaged at $24,153 per student.
The popularity of alternative, often cheaper options such as trade schools, has grown as a result of escalating college costs. The U.S. Department of Education reported a rise from about 9.6 million trade school students in 1999 to about 16 million in 2014.
Given these trends, institutions must prove to students why they should invest in a college degree.
“I’m confident college continues to be the very best investment somebody can make in their future. We need to really be able to show and tell what you get for investing in yourself and attending a place like St. Michael’s,” Stefanowicz said.
Institutions must also be able to retain the students they enroll. In 2018, St. Michael’s had an 84 percent retention rate, according to Institutional Research. This means that 84 percent of incoming students enrolled in the fall of 2017 returned in the fall of 2018. By comparison, Middlebury College had a retention rate of 96 percent, and the University of Vermont had a retention rate of 87 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In the past year, Southern Vermont College, Green Mountain College, and the College of St. Joseph all struggled to meet financial demands with their accreditor, the New England Commission on Higher Education, and ultimately closed their doors. According to Inside Higher Ed, Southern Vermont had a deficit of around $2 million, approximately the same as St. Michael’s. The school had to lower enrollment numbers and made the decision to shut down.
“I think it’s unfair to compare ourselves to [Green Mountain College] or to [Southern Vermont College] because they really are in a completely different experience,” said Stefanowicz, noting endowment, the composition of the student body, and a more rural location as factors that set these schools apart from St. Michael’s. According to the St. Michael’s College website, our endowment is approximately $85 million, compared to endowments of less than $4 million for each of the three schools that closed. Despite this advantage for St. Michael’s, other Vermont institutions, including Norwich University ($209 million), the University of Vermont ($405 million) and Middlebury College ($1.1 billion) have much larger endowments.
Sterritt referenced the new branding language regarding doing well and doing good when she talked about the school’s future, noting that many colleges are facing financial challenges and must innovate.
“For Saint Michael’s College,” she said, “ that is preparing students to do well in their chosen fields and inspiring them to do good in the world. There will always be a market for that.”