Seminars to benefit from new faculty

Erin Ghere

After only four days on campus, about 25 bleary-eyed freshmen walked into their freshman seminar to see University President Mark Yudof in front of the class.
The University’s freshman-seminar program has attracted a wide range of instructors, including Yudof and other administrators, retired alumni and current faculty members. And over the next year and a half, 30 more faculty members will be hired to continue the program’s growth.
With legislative funding received three months ago, the University has now begun hiring eight new faculty members for fall 2000 and searching for 22 more for fall 2001.
The state Legislature allocated funding for the new faculty members last spring, part of $119 million in University funding. Other undergraduate priorities included offering a better undergraduate experience to all first-year students by beefing up the study-abroad program, offering more unique learning opportunities and expanding the freshman-seminar program.
Freshman seminars are small courses designed to improve one-on-one student-professor interaction early in undergraduates’ academic careers and to cater to freshmen’s special needs.
Although the University asked the Legislature for 100 new freshman-seminar faculty members this year, the Legislature only approved funding for 30 to be divided up between departments, primarily in the arts and sciences. In the past two years, the Legislature has funded 70 new general faculty positions.
This year’s new faculty members will improve undergraduate offerings, particularly freshman seminars, as well as help enrollment in key fields, Bob Bruininks, University vice president and provost, has said.
The College of Liberal Arts received the largest number of this year’s new positions; 16 new faculty members will join CLA in the next two years, creating 64 new freshman seminars. Each new faculty member will teach four courses.
“The faculty positions have been assigned to different departments that were identified as priorities,” said Tom Cook, assistant to the CLA dean.
Each CLA department is now beginning to interview candidates, with signed contracts expected in late spring. Departments are selecting candidates based on subfield specialties.
“The funding will bring faculty into high-priority subdisciplines and round out the departments,” Cook said.
While faculty members will aid the freshman-seminars program, they will all be tenure-track, Cook said.
When dividing up the 16 positions, CLA officials had five priorities: ensuring the excellence of CLA’s top-ranked departments, building the arts and humanities, internationalizing CLA, integrating human and social perspectives into health education and increasing diversity.
The freshman-seminar program began in fall 1998, and Yudof has said he would like to see it expand until every freshman can be involved. During its first year, 454 students participated; this year, 100 seminars are serving 1,500 students — a 245 percent increase from last year.
About 5,000 freshmen are attending the University this year.
Cook said the seminars are not mandatory because University officials want students who want to be there.
Research at other universities has shown the courses lead to better retention and more satisfied students with better undergraduate experiences, Cook said.
Each year, new faculty members are hired to fill open positions and meet new academic needs, but this year’s surge in new hires results from large state appropriations.
In addition to the 30 new faculty members for freshman seminars, 24 new positions will open in genetics, molecular and cellular biology studies during the next three years. Fourteen new faculty members are being hired for digital-technology advancement. Moreover, eight or nine faculty members will be hired to fill positions in the Institute of New Media, which will open when the Murphy Hall renovation is complete.

Erin Ghere covers faculty and state government and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3217.