After a two-day celebration and ceremony last week, University President Steven Leath was finally installed as Auburn’s 19th president. In the Auburn Arena, Leath delivered a speech that laid out his goals for the University and was intended to inspire Auburn faculty and students.
Leath’s overarching goal is for Auburn to become a top-tier academic, research and service institution. To accomplish this, our new president shared his intention to hire more than 500 tenure-track faculty by 2022. Most of this new staff is expected to be in STEM fields, and the plan is intended to attract more Ph.D. students and research projects.
We commend Leath on his commitment to hiring more personnel for Auburn and for his long-term goals of having Auburn become a premier research institution. However, we feel strongly that incoming resources and new tenure-track professionals should be evenly hired throughout the University’s colleges. A commitment to bettering Auburn must benefit all students at the University.
From 2012 to 2017, the percent of classes taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty decreased from 62 percent to 56 percent, according to a report by the University Senate from March 2017. The same report shows that classes taught by GTAs and other non-tenured instructors has increased from 23 percent to 24 percent.
This trend is worrisome. While non-tenure-track faculty are often great teachers, many students fare better and learn more in classes taught by tenured professors, having access to the knowledge of someone who has gone far in their field.
Students pay high tuition to attend Auburn, and they’re entitled to the most experienced faculty. By having too many classes taught by GTAs, students may feel they are losing out on a part of their education.
We understand the opportunities that come with having a GTA teach a class, as it gives them an income and experience in a line of work they themselves may enter. But an overreliance on GTA-taught classes can be unfair to undergraduate students.
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The steps toward increasing tenure-track faculty are appreciated, but we feel it is important to be deliberate in placing the new faculty throughout the entire University.
Hiring more tenure-track faculty for all majors ensures better education at Auburn for all students and can help recruit more prospective students.
A high school student knowing they’ll receive an education from a score of tenured professors, whether they head into the history track or an engineering track, is more likely to keep Auburn high on their list.
An intent to better Auburn as a research institution should come as part of a plan to better Auburn as a whole. This requires hiring more tenure-track professors for all colleges and majors and ensuring resources are distributed fairly across disciplines.
We believe in Leath’s vision for Auburn, and we’re excited to see it come into fruition.
We understand his focus on Ph.D. programs, attracting research projects and working to boost Auburn’s name recognition. We want to make sure this initiative doesn’t leave behind other undergraduates at Auburn.
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