Dear Chancellor Skirving,
When prospective students visit the Domain, they are cleverly exposed to our small class sizes, diverse offering of courses and majors, the beautiful Domain, and an unmatched culture of community. Furthermore, the University of the South is renowned throughout the Southeast, and greater United States, for its robust academic reputation. During the two academic years that have come and gone under the threat of an international pandemic, Sewanee students have been asked time and again to trust the administration of this university to protect the community and maintain Sewanee’s unique culture and academic reputation. Time and again, students have, often reluctantly, trusted administrators to deliver us through this pandemic safely and keep the University community intact. The undersigned organizations write today to voice our frustration over the administration’s limited alleviation of the hiring crises, and we petition the administration to meet the staffing needs of our academic departments without delay.
The student body is well aware that the University is a business, and in the wake of our time in the “Bubble,” the University, as a business, took a major hit. However, the student body’s main concern is not the financial status of the institution nor what is considered the ideal student-faculty ratio. What is important to students is the status of their own education. Though the administration has approved the hiring of 15 tenure track positions over the next two years, this gradual and minimal mitigation of hiring crises does not do enough to ease student or faculty concerns regarding the academics of this university. There would still be around 14 tenure-track positions that remain open in the College. Though we are acutely aware that the University is preparing for a perceived admission cliff in the coming years, the needs of current and future students in the College are being overlooked out of caution for the future. The administration’s current approach to faculty hiring along the lines of a student-faculty ratio is untenable and though this method of managing faculty hiring may be out of an abundance of financial caution for the near future, it jeopardizes our university, its students, its faculty, and its reputation in the long term.
Faculty hiring crises have taken a toll on faculty and students alike. For faculty, class sizes have increased, course loads are growing, and the number of advisees has rapidly expanded, all of which contribute to a more strenuous teaching experience. Majors are growing increasingly narrow in their scope, and some departments are seeing a rapid decline in their ability to educate students; the new Creative Writing program boasts only one tenure-track professor, and the widely popular Psychology department has lost five faculty members whom the department has been unable to replace. The faculty resolution addressing the hiring freeze rightly claims that the hiring freeze “has gutted course offerings and led to insufficient tenure-line faculty to carefully and consistently engage with students”. The concerns voiced and felt by faculty are reflected in the student body: faculty shortages constrict majors and increasingly limit course offerings while class sizes seem to expand; the number of available advisors has diminished; notably, students have voiced concern over efforts to conduct research with faculty. Ultimately, these troubling trends have greatly diminished students’ ability to engage meaningfully with faculty.
Students and faculty of Sewanee in 2022 are being neglected over concerns for 2026. As the perceived admissions cliff approaches, and universities across the country grow concerned about how to best carry their institutions through the potential stagnation, we feel the best advertisement for Sewanee is undoubtedly its students and professors. The best way to protect Sewanee’s future is to continue to offer a phenomenal education and to produce intelligent, well-rounded, inspired, and experienced adults who are equipped to successfully go out beyond the gates and put this education and training into action. The ongoing faculty hiring crises greatly imperil the University’s ability to continue offering a top-tier education to students of all majors and will undoubtedly harm this university in the long term.
We are aware of concessions made by the administration to allow a certain number of tenure-track faculty searches to proceed in the coming two school years, but this is wholly insufficient. In proceeding with the hiring of 15 new tenure-track educators over the next two years, there remain 14 positions unfilled – and likely more than that, with retirements certainly coming in the next two years. Painfully and confusingly, the University has approved the hiring of several deans and associate deans over the last two years, certainly to positions worthwhile to the operation of this university, but at the expense of the actual education being offered to the students of the College. As Dr. Bardi of the Psychology department noted in an article for The Sewanee Purple: “We’re an institution of enormous resources and a strong endowment,” and if we can hire administrators, we can certainly hire the faculty that our departments need to adequately operate. We must meet the needs of our faculty and students. Student success is found firstly in the classroom, and departments should not have to negotiate their basic educational needs.
We, the undersigned, understand that issues of equitable and living wages, housing stability, and opportunities for career-advancing research are all interconnected when discussing faculty retention and hiring in Sewanee, and these issues should be addressed. However, today we ask the administration to seriously consider the implications that these continuing restrictions have on the hiring crises that the College currently faces, and we ask that the administration move hastily to meet the staffing needs of our academic departments. To ignore the pains that this faculty shortage incurs on faculty and students alike not only alienates and endangers the educational experience of current students but imperils the academic reputation of our institution and its stability in the years to come.
Alex Robinson C’23
President, Order of the Gown
Izzie Berthelot C’23
EQB Chair, Order of the Gown
Anna McCasland C’23
President, Student Government Association
Sarah Jane Kemmer C’23
Chair, Honor Council
Jane Austin Murdock C’23
President, Intersorority Council
Cleo Smith C’23
President, Student Athletic Advisory Committee
Brown Myers C’23
President, Interfraternity Council