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Would this happen if my department were larger? I’m not sure, but I wonder if comparatively large departments would naturally tend to become more inwardly focused, and if the faculty itself would gradually become somewhat less unified, perhaps even balkanized. It’s true that our largest departments—biology and English with 10 faculty members each—are minuscule compared to departments at big universities, it’s true as well that faculty in our largest departments are no less communally oriented than those in our smallest, and it’s true that, in absolute terms, departments at Reed will never get very large.

But the new-found financial resources of the institution, which in the short run have made these additions possible, need to be used in the long run with special care. Some of our sister institutions—far wealthier than us—have seen enormous faculty growth during the past two decades, and one result, arguably, has been a certain change in character. It’s clear, for example, that at least some such institutions have explicitly adopted a “mini-university” model involving serious and rigid publication requirements, a subtle but inevitable decline in the centrality of the teaching mission, and a degree of departmentalization quite different

 

My own ties with colleagues in philosophy, literature, and history have been as important to me—as influential upon my own thinking and teaching—as those within my home department.


Peter Steinberger, Dean of the Faculty

Dean of the Faculty Peter Steinberger

 

But at present, 20 out of 24 departments at Reed have 6 faculty members or less, while 14 of them have 4 or less, and I do wonder what things would be like if more and more of our departments became larger, even moderately so. During the first stage of the president’s initiative, we have added or will shortly be adding new tenure-track positions in the anthropology of China, economic sociology, Latin American literature, African American religion, neuropsychology, creative writing, and Anglophone or post-colonial English literature.

These positions will provide extraordinary educational opportunities for our students. They will bring to our conversations a new range of voices, a new set of perspectives. They will also help us achieve our quantitative goal of a ten to one student–faculty ratio. Far from undermining our sense of community, they are certain to enrich it, indeed to stimulate ever more interactions across departments.

 

from anything that we have at Reed. This is a model that I hope we would avoid, but if it were to become our model, it should do so only as a self-conscious decision, not as the unfortunate by-product of other seemingly unrelated decisions, perfectly well intended but adopted without sufficient attention to the law of unintended consequences.

Peter Steinberger is the dean of the faculty and the Robert H. and Blanche Day Ellis Professor of Political Science at Reed.

 
Reed Magazine Feb. 2001
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