A few years earlier, under conditions of serious financial exigency, the faculty and board of trustees had raised the official student/faculty ratio to 12:1 (90 faculty members for 1,080 students). This action included a proviso that acknowledged the importance of the conference teaching method: once the college's financial crisis ended, the ratio would return to 10:1.
During the ensuing years, the college's actual student/faculty ratio has hovered around 11:1, largely through the addition of newly endowed faculty chairs and temporary positions. The result is that average class size at Reed-the number of students actually enrolled in the average conference-is about 14. This is an admirable figure, but variability about the mean is considerable. We have plenty of courses that enroll less than 10 students, but also too many that enroll over, sometimes well over, 20. We want to use the conference method wherever feasible, but it's difficult or impossible to do so when enrollments are high. A conversation is possible among 12 or 15 or even 18 students. With 24 or 28 participants the chances for a true discussion decrease dramatically.
This spring, in the interest of maintaining our tradition of conference teaching, President Koblik has proposed, and the faculty and board of trustees have formally ratified, an initiative to lower the student/faculty ratio to 10:1. This historic initiative- a centerpiece of the Campaign for Reed College-promises to strengthen our ongoing commitment to the highest level of undergraduate teaching. The fact that we are undertaking this initiative reflects the unprecedented financial health of the college. But pursuing it successfully will require completion of the capital campaign as well as continued support for the academic program.
The presidential initiative to return the student/faculty ratio to 10:1 has many goals. One is that by adding new tenure-track positions, the college will reduce its reliance on visiting faculty members. Traditionally, visiting faculty have done excellent work, but their time at Reed is quite short (usually one year), and this makes it difficult for students to formulate intelligent curricular plans. The initiative may also be useful in helping strengthen selected small departments at the college, and perhaps increase the number of departments that participate in Humanities 110. Further, the addition of new tenure-track faculty members may allow the college to address certain important curricular needs, especially in the social sciences, literature, and the performing arts, as well as in areas that contribute to the diversity of course topics.