The fall 2020 semester may be coming to a close, but that hasn’t stopped Binghamton University from planning ahead for the spring. The Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science has added eight new assistant professors to its faculty list, set to begin teaching full time next semester. There have also been two more senior level faculty positions filled, but the specific positions have yet to be disclosed and will begin in fall of 2021.
It appears that Watson College will continue to hire more faculty, and there have been a number of open positions on the BU website. The positions available are largely administrative, with a few positions for general lecturers open as well. The BU administration is looking for an affirmative action officer, an associate director for financial aid, a graduate admissions recruiter and an organic chemistry lecturer, just to name a few. While these actions may have many believing the current hiring freeze has been lifted, that isn’t strictly the case. No announcements regarding these decisions have been made to students, nor has there been any updates on the future of BU faculty as a whole.
It is important to keep in mind that BU is currently suffering from an $11 million deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This deficit is due to a multitude of factors, including decreases in enrollment, construction costs, reduced fees and a loss in housing payments due to students remaining home and studying remotely. The administration has also not been clear as to where the money to pay these professors’ salaries is being sourced from. It’s unclear whether these funds come from Watson College tuition and fees or from the entire undergraduate body as a whole. Rather than attempt to let this decision go under the radar, BU should’ve been forthcoming with students, many of whom are already under financial stress due to the ongoing pandemic.
While it appears that this decision was made to meet enrollment growth for Watson College, it just feels like the wrong time to hire such a large number of professors at once. As of last year, there were approximately 3,300 students enrolled in Watson College and the administration plans to reach 4,000 students by the year 2023. This hiring may be an attempt to meet this growth projection. These individuals are clearly distinguished and understanding of BU’s rise throughout national rankings, especially in research, and deserve recognition, but by hiring these professors, it appears that the administration is assuming that the deficit will heal itself by next fall — which doesn’t seem likely, especially if the pandemic doesn’t get any better.
The average faculty to student ratio at BU is currently 19 to one, with Watson College having an average of 3.7 to one for the Ph.D. programs. Students in Watson College may be meeting more often in-person due to lab components, but with class sizes already small, BU is giving more resources to programs that may need it less when compared to many other, already overburdened, programs.
Out of all the positions listed, there have been no new positions created to combat sexual assault on campus, despite a massive outpouring of student accounts over the summer. There are also no new positions open for the University Counseling Center, a program that has long been unable to fully help the student body due to a lack of available staff. Students are already suffering due to their mental health as a result of the pandemic, so one would think BU would be taking steps to help students as much as possible.
It makes sense that out of all the colleges at BU, Watson College, the School of Management and Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences would be the first to receive faculty expansions, as they rank higher nationally than Harpur College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Community and Public Affairs. The administration is going to want to put more money toward expanding more “successful” programs before other programs that may be struggling. That being said, it isn’t fair to students who are studying in already underfunded departments. They, too, deserve a quality education, well-supported programs and available faculty. For those who chose BU as a cost-effective measure or to take advantage of SUNY scholarships and opportunities, these actions may further alienate them from the University. Even if BU was their first choice, students shouldn’t have to suffer if their department isn’t as well recognized as others.
Keeping up with program growth is important, but transparency and circumstance must be considered when making decisions that will affect the student body. Successful programs should be rewarded, but only expanding some faculty areas over others is a double-edged sword, as it has the potential to deter students from majors that receive less attention and accolades. This action feels like, yet again, a short-term solution to a plethora of long-term problems. We, as students, should know where the money to pay these new faculty members is coming from and just how the administration is manipulating the deficit to make this happen.