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Growing Sociology Dept. Struggles Amidst Tight FAS Budget

By Julia L. Ryan and Kevin J. Wu, Crimson Staff Writers

As the Faculty of Arts and Sciences continues to recover from the impact of the financial crisis, a growing Sociology Department remains constrained by a faculty size that has not kept pace with the rise in undergraduate concentrators.

While the number of undergraduate concentrators has risen from 85 in 2006 to 200 in 2010, the department has lost the equivalent of three full-time faculty members since 2003, according to Department Chair Mary C. Brinton.

“We find ourselves stretched thinner and thinner with committee work, teaching, and thesis advising,” Brinton said.

As a result, sociology professors say the number of faculty is too small to adequately handle a department whose number of concentrators more than doubled in the last five years.

Sociology Professor Frank Dobbin spoke to the lack of resources in the growing department.

“We’re running a concentration with a lot of majors, with one of the most competitive graduate programs in the industry,” he said. “The undergraduates are the ones who are getting left out.”

Dobbin, who is currently on leave but normally teaches Sociology 25: “Introduction to the Sociology of Organizations,” says that over the years his class has increased from about 25 students to 100 last spring.

And while he once was able to teach a freshman seminar, the growth in concentrators means he has not been able to do so for the past several years.

“They just don’t have the resources for us to be able to teach more classes,” Dobbin said.

Students have also noticed growing class sizes.

“I think the sociology classes are a lot bigger than the department would like them to be ... most of your classes you have one lecturer and a bunch of TFs,” sociology concentrator Kara M. Hollis ’11 said.

“You never really get to interact with the professor,” she added.

While the department did oversee a successful junior faculty search this year, Brinton stressed that the hiring is not necessarily increasing the number of faculty but only “replacing” a gap created after an unsuccessful tenure case several years ago.

“Ideally, we want to get three or four [new professors],” Brinton said, adding that this was probably not realistic given that “FAS needs to balance the needs of all departments.”

FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal echoed this need in an email statement yesterday.

“The dean wants to maintain the excellence of all FAS departments,” he wrote. “While we have made very significant progress in tackling the originally-projected deficit, we are still in a period of constrained resources.”

FAS currently faces a $35 million deficit which it hopes to close by 2012.

In the meantime, the department has used short-term lecturers to fill in the gaps, creating a problem for concentrators looking to write theses.

“It’s hard to function if we have a lot of one-year lecturers because again we need a stable faculty to be able to advise senior theses,” Brinton said. “And we need faculty who are here for many years to guide [graduate students] through the program.”

—Staff writer Julia L. Ryan can be reached at

—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at

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Social Sciences DivisionFAS AdministrationBudgetsSociology