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In Wake of Budget Cuts, Many Departments Are Stretched Thin

Students take an exam in an Intro to Puerto Rican and Latino Studies class. Despite having fewer than 20 majors, the department has more than 400 students enrolled in its courses, and only two full-time professors. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor
Students take an exam in an Intro to Puerto Rican and Latino Studies class. Despite having fewer than 20 majors, the department has more than 400 students enrolled in its courses, and only two full-time professors. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor

By Faraz T. Toor

Published: December 14, 2015

Alan Aja throws his hands into the air. Wearing brown pants and a plaid shirt that compliment his green eyes, short hair and fiveoclock shadow, Aja runs his right index finger along his computer screen while sitting behind his desk.

“One, two, three, four—you can count it yourself,” he said.

The 10-year professor in the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department is looking at the Brooklyn College website to count the number of full-time faculty members in various departments.

Then he goes to his department’s page. He knows the numbers, but he shows them anyway.

Aja can’t run his finger very far down the list; there are only two other professors listed other than him and one is on sabbatical. The department has nearly 500 students enrolled in its classes.

“When I speak to professors at other colleges and tell them we have two full-time professors for the entire department, they say, ‘That’s impossible,’” Aja said.

Although full-time faculty members have majority of the work in departments, many departments — especially in the wake of recent CUNY budget cuts caused by a lack of adequate funding from the state — operate with just a few. Some professors and students blame college administration for prioritizing large departments over small ones with regard to the hiring of full-timers. But data show that large and small departments have disproportionate student-to-faculty ratios.

One of 11 departments in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department, offers a wide swath of courses about Latino arts, culture, history, literature and society. According to students who take these courses, the professors encourage critical thinking and open discussion.

“We spend pretty much all of our time…hearing about everyone’s experiences and how they relate,” Shadiq Williams, a senior computer science and Caribbean studies double major. “It helped me understand my culture a lot more.”

Despite the department having only 16 undergraduate majors, the professors had 438 students in their classes in the spring 2015 semester, according to data from the Office Institutional Planning, Research and Assessment (IPRA). With the fewest full-time faculty members of any department, the ratio of students-to-full-time professors in the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies department is 219 to; the largest ratio in the college.

“The very fact… that they would allow us to be in this position in the first place, we find that to be very insulting,” Professor Aja said about Brooklyn College administration. “It’s very hard to work here. It is very hard to do our jobs.”

“They always tell me how stressed out they are,” Ary Ariano, a senior major in the department , said about the professors. “I feel really bad because I can’t do anything. I wish could go up to their classes and help them teach.”In James Hall, one of the other smaller departments in the college goes through similar issues. Despite having only 528 students, the Africana Studies Department has a 132 to 1 student to-full-time faculty ratio; one of Brooklyn College’s largest.

“The entire department has to do everything,” said Department Chair Lynda Day, one of its four professors.

“They’ve probably just been hiding it,” Francoise Foster, a second-year transfer student who is majoring in Africana Studies, said about her professors’ workload. “They’re more like, ‘Let’s focus on what we have to do here.’”

Many professors have expressed a desire for more full-time faculty members because they find the difference between their workloads and the workloads of adjuncts to be distinct. Even though some departments may hire a concentration of adjuncts, the lion’s share of work falls upon the full-timers when their numbers are sparse.

“I’ve seen the effect in computer science classes. A lot of teachers are adjuncts and not full-time. Finding someone to talk to is difficult,” said Christian Budhi, a junior creative writing and computer science double major. “I’d assume full-timers have a lot of work.

In addition to being full-time professors, these faculty members are also given the responsibility of advising students.

“It’s part of being a small department, and then there’s the hidden cost — or rather hidden responsibility — of also mentoring other students of color around the campus, no matter where they are, even if they’re in other departments,” Professor Day said. According to her, many students — including those who do not major within the Africana Studies department — come to their professors for advice about the material, their career, or other matters.

It’s a sentiment to which students in Puerto Rican and Latina Studies and Africana Studies can attest.

“The relationships with them, they can vary from student-professor…or just having regular conversations, talking about what classes they have to take,” Williams said.

“For the most part, the professors seem to really, really care about what you’re learning and if you’re retaining information,” Foster said.

“We just go to have regular conversations,” Gekeira Taylor, a junior Africana Studies major, who is also a Puerto Rican and Latino Studies minor, said about her professors’ office hours. “You can sit and talk to professors.”

 Professor Alan Aja (front) administers an exam to his Intro to Puerto Rican and Latino Studies class. Professor Aja said he has never seen morale so low among professors at Brooklyn College, due to the disproportionately high ratios of students to full-time faculty members. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor
Professor Alan Aja (front) administers an exam to his Intro to Puerto Rican and Latino Studies class. Professor Aja said he has never seen morale so low among professors at Brooklyn College, due to the disproportionately high ratios of students to full-time faculty members. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor

However, adjuncts cannot take part in departmental tasks such as serving on committees or the Faculty Council, and cannot teach more than three courses a semester. As a result, professors like Aja and Day, whose days are already usually booked for classes, advisement and other responsibilities, have even more responsibilities..

The college has continued to replace full-time faculty with adjuncts. Therefore, when full-timers leave for another university or retire, some departments lose a chunk of their staff.

That is what has happened to whittle down the ranks of both the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies and the Africana Studies departments.

Ideally, departments replace their lost full-timers by requesting a hiring line, which allows a department and the college to search for a new professor to fill the role.

But this year, CUNY has not received of full funding from the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo, causing budget cuts that left the School of Humanities and Social Sciences with one hiring line after the spring semester.

“The college said that just because someone retires or leaves doesn’t mean we have to replace that person,” Professor Day recalled.

Provost William Tramontano said it was “probably accurate” that the school only received one hiring line because of the college’s more limited resources as of late.

Richard Greenwald, the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, did not respond to requests for comment in time for this story’s publication.

Puerto Rican and Latino Studies was the beneficiary of the hiring line initially, but Professor Aja and Professor Maria Perez y Gonzalez, the department’s other full-time faculty member, said that the college later notified them that the line had to be deferred to another semester because of the budget cuts.

“We had brought [the candidates] to campus, and then we had to make the embarrassing phone call that our line — our search — had been cut. That is unprofessional,” Professor Aja said. “To be in that position sends the wrong message. This disallows us from hiring and attracting the best faculty possible.”

“We have been in dire need of permanent full-time faculty; we cannot do all of our work without having to borrow faculty from other departments to help us fulfill our obligations,” Professor Perez y Gonzalez said in an email to The Excelsior. “We have been fortunate that the other departments/faculty are generous and committed to BC students and the mission of our Department. This also affects how well we can serve our students’ academic needs, but we do our best to ensure that quality remains high in spite of the number of full-time faculty we have.”

As a result, both the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies and the Africana Studies departments have had to hire more adjuncts (ten and nine, respectively). Professor Aja called this model “unsustainable.”

“This is a sort of reduction by attrition. In other words, as people go, the more they ask us to rely on adjuncts,” Professor Aja said. “The adjuncts that we hire are the best, I cannot speak any higher of our adjuncts. The problem is that their jobs are semester-by-semester.”

But Puerto Rican and Latino Studies and Africana Studies are far from the only departments that have faculty-size issues. Many other departments have disproportionate student-to-faculty ratios as well. With the exception of the School of Education, every Brooklyn College school has at least one department with a student-to-faculty ratio of more than 100:1.

IPRA data show that, factoring for its latest seat count tallies (spring 2015), these departments include Anthropology and Archeology (eight full-time faculty members for 1,744 students for a 218:1 student-to faculty ratio); Accounting (169:1); Classics (107:1); Mathematics (145:1); Psychology (147:1); and the Conservatory of Music (111:1 ratio).

By the numbers in regards to the ratios between seat counts and full-time faculty members, the departments of Economics, Accounting and Finance and Business Management (IPRA combines the two departments in its seat count measurements) have ratios of at least 130:1. Five of the 11 departments in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences have ratios of at least 100:1 and three have 130:1 or higher ratios.

Seven of the 10 departments in the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences have ratios of at least 100:1 and four have ratios of 130:1 or higher. The Conservatory of Music is the only department in the School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts that has a student-to-faculty ratio over 100:1.

Overall, students outnumber full-time faculty members by at least 100 to 1 in 16 of Brooklyn College’s 32 departments. Ten of those departments have ratios as disproportionate rates of at least 130:1.

Professor Lynda Day, the Africana Studies Department’s chairperson, argues that Brooklyn College prioritizes larger departments over smaller ones with regards to the hiring of full-time faculty members. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor
Professor Lynda Day, the Africana Studies Department’s chairperson, argues that Brooklyn College prioritizes larger departments over smaller ones with regards to the hiring of full-time faculty members. PHOTO/ Faraz T. Toor

According to Professor Aja and other professors at the college, they see this as a trend that is happening at public universities throughout the country as they try to collect as much tuition from as many students as possible.

“I believe it’s cheapening people’s education,” Professor Aja said. “But this is the way of the moment right now. In other words, it’s to operate with as few costs as possible.”

Many Brooklyn College professors and students put the heaviest blame on Governor Cuomo and Albany for the budget cuts and the resulting lack of resources. But, they also argue that BC administration has not prioritized their allocation of their reduced resources properly and that the largest departments — particularly the Murray Koppelman School of Business’s departments — get the most hiring lines and other resources.

“I think when you hear those numbers, it’s just obvious that someone in charge cares about one thing more than another,” Foster said. “Whether it be business or science rather than Africana Studies. That’s what they’re teaching people, whether they’re doing it on purpose or not.”

“They obviously don’t have all the fault because there’s budget cuts,” Ariano said about BC administration. “But they should actually put the effort in to help these departments that are struggling…I don’t even know want to know how much money they’re spending on the theater and these new buildings.”

“Humanities and social sciences are not the favorite fields anymore. The focus of money and lines are geared towards schools of business and psychology. Just look at how huge those departments and fields are,” said Professor Sara Reguer, the chair of the Judaic Studies Department.

According to her, the Judaic Studies Department is just one of countless departments throughout the country that has to operate with less. “Across the United States we’re complaining that the focus is going towards the practical field than the intellectual field.”

Willie Hopkins, the dean of the School of Business, did not comment on these matters before this article’s publication.

Professor Aja and other professors also argued that the administration seems concerned with how many majors a department has when distributing hiring lines. To these professors, small departments with fewer majors have been low on the totem pole.

“I think they value our work, but putting it into money is part of the problem,” Professor Day said about college administration. In her view, it is difficult to measure all the work that departments like Africana Studies do for students beyond just the number of majors and then determine how to prioritize resources like hiring lines.

But the IPRA data suggests that a department’s number of majors is not the be-all end-all. While some departments do follow this direct relationship between number of majors and number of full-time faculty members, other departments have few full-timers even if they have popular majors. For example, the English Department has 44 full-timers, more than any other department, and has 354 majors.

Yet, the Early Childhood Education/Art Education, which has 73 more majors, only has 10 full-timers. And then there is the Accounting Department, which has 1,019 majors, yet only 14 professors, associate professors, and assistant professors.

There is not even a clear correlation between a department’s seat count and its number of full-time faculty members. Some of the largest departments, including psychology and accounting, have disproportionately high student-to-faculty rates; while some departments, like political science, have smaller seat counts but have twice as many professors; and some departments fall in-between.

Although Provost Tramontano disagreed with the argument that the numbers of majors a department possess has been the biggest determining factor in how many hiring lines it receives, he did admit that Brooklyn College has prioritized the distribution of the lines.

“Some may feel they have not received the initiatives, but they’ve gone places, there’s no doubt about that. We have to respond to the needs of our students and the strategic priorities… such as the film and business schools’ accreditation,” he said. “22 percent of all Brooklyn College majors are in business, but only around 60 faculty members are in business… It was fair and wise to give the resources to business.”

“The college does look around and hires people based on the needs,” Professor Day said. “So at a time when there was not much hiring, they hired a whole lot of people at the School of Business. I’m not begrudging for that, but the school does make its choices based on the formulas that are important to them.”

While the question of where resources are most necessary varies from department to department, all parties agree on the larger problem: across the board, individual departments and professors are being stretched thin.

“Morale is the lowest I’ve seen it,” Professor Aja said about Brooklyn College professors.

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One comment

  1. so true, good article

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