College to implement liberal arts council

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • March 28, 2013

Pelton verrill
President M Lee Pelton discusses the forthcoming liberal arts changes
President M Lee Pelton discusses the forthcoming liberal arts changes

President M. Lee Pelton announced his changes to the structure of the college’s liberal arts program to a faculty forum on March 21, including a new oversight council, smaller class sizes, and changes to the tenure process. 

The tenure process will be put to a vote by the staff before finalization, but the council and class cap will be put into effect in the 2014-2015 school year. 

The liberal arts program, which has been in an internal review process since 2006, currently includes 25 faculty members from across the college, according to Emerson’s website. 

Liberal arts faculty members are largely responsible for teaching general education requirements; to complete this, students must take one class from each of the 10 “perspective” categories: aesthetics, ethics and value, historical, interdisciplinary, literary, scientific, social and psychological, global diversity, U.S. diversity, and world language. Liberal arts faculty often teach some major-specific courses and classes for liberal arts minors and interdisciplinary majors, in addition to the general education classes they teach. 

Tenured liberal arts faculty work within the departmental offices across the college. The six contract scholars-in-residence are currently not eligible for tenure. They work in the liberal arts and interdisciplinary studies office and teach perspective courses. A contract worker is one who signs either a one or three employment contract with the college, said Cara Moyer-Duncan, scholar-in-residence and contract employee.

This structure can cause problems among the staff, according to Pelton.

“What that has created for some liberal arts faculty [both tenured and contract] is a position where they feel disenfranchised from their department faculty, and that the work they do in liberal arts in not fully acknowledged,” said Pelton. 

Moyer-Duncan said she feels the current program is ineffective.

“The way that Emerson is run when it comes to liberal arts doesn’t make a lot of sense,” she said. “The faculty housed within the majors doesn’t teach to the majors, for the most part, and we don’t have a space to come together.”

Other liberal arts staff members could not be reached for comment. 

Pelton’s proposal will create a new faculty group called the Liberal Arts Council. This council will work to provide oversight into the curriculum and innovation within the liberal arts at Emerson. Amy Ansell, the dean of liberal arts, will oversee this committee.

Ansell declined to comment on the proposed changes. 

Moyer-Duncan said she thinks this is an improvement, but would have liked to see a dedicated space created for faculty meetings.

“I wish we had a place where we could all come together under one roof, but we are not getting that,” she said. 

Pelton said this council will function similarly to an alumni association in that participation is optional. Members of the department will become a part of the group, but can contribute as much as they want. The college will allocate funds to the group, according to Pelton’s presentation. The amount has not been decided, he said.  

“The program budget is supposed to help the faculty do three things: teach, research, and service the Emerson community and their departments,” he said.

As part of the restructuring, all classes liberal arts faculty teach will now be capped at 30 students instead of 45, Pelton said. 

Other courses are generally capped at 15-20 students. 

“Liberal arts faculty is always saying, ‘Why am I teaching more than the faculty in my department?’ ” he said. 

Moyer-Duncan said she supports this change.

“Teaching 45 students is a lot,” she said. “It becomes a primarily lecture-based class, and there is not a lot of discussion.”

The final changes will occur in the hiring, promotion, and tenure processes for the group.

A committee of liberal arts faculty and a departmental head, depending where the faculty member resides, will now work together to recruit and recommend faculty to Ansell, and the designated department chair, said the proposal. Currently, the liberal arts faculty and administrators do not have a formal input in the process. 

Ansell will now have a voice in the tenure process for liberal arts employees, said Pelton.

The contract staffers will have an opportunity to seek tenure through Ansell, the faculty status committee, and Linda Moore, the current vice president of academic affairs. 

This change will make tenure available to the current contract staff members. 

“The contract faculty tenure is really important,” said Moyer-Duncan. “Right now, we don’t have the recognition we deserve.” 

Next year, the vice president of academic affairs will work with faculty leadership to restructure the Faculty Handbook and add these amendments. In the fall 2017 semester, the group will review the new structure.