Last fall, David B. Seligman was appointed Western Maryland College's new vice president and dean of academic affairs.
Seligman replaced Melvin D. "Del" Palmer, who, after seven years in the position, returned to teaching comparative literature courses full time at WMC. Palmer first came to the college in 1965.
A Newark, N.J., native, Seligman has a doctorate in philosophy from Duke University and a bachelor's degree in the same discipline from the University of Rochester in New York. He comes to Westminster from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he was associatedean of the faculty for the past eight years.
What follows are excerpts from a recent interview with Seligman conducted by Sherri Kimmel Diegel, managing editor of the Hill, Western Maryland's alumni magazine, reprinted with permission.
In your view, what are Western Maryland's strengths?
The greatest resource that this institution has is its faculty. I think that this is a faculty of astonishing ability and accomplishment.
There is a tendency, I think, on the part of a lot of folks, to assume that the faculty of Harvard, or Princeton, or Swarthmore or what have you, are clever, bright, energetic and accomplished people, but that the faculties of other places, like Western Maryland College, are simply toilers in the field, sort of your plain, ordinary, garden-variety folk who just go out there every day and teach their courses. Well, they're wrong.
The fact of the matter is these are enormously gifted, exciting, energetic, talented, resourceful, humane people. The real powerhouse resource of this college is the faculty.
You've mentioned two plans you have for improving the faculty. One was expanding the faculty grants program. The other is scholar lectures, having people in certain disciplines giving lectures in their area of expertise. Could you discuss these ideas?
My understanding when I came to the college was that one of the objectives of moving to a standard (teaching) load (for professors) of three courses per semester rather than four was to enable the faculty ofthe college to spend more time and devote more energy, more effectively, to such things as improvement of their teaching, development of new instructional methods or materials; to strengthen their roles as advisers to students as part of our efforts in improving retention and at providing a more effective educational experience for undergraduates; and to upgrading their involvement with research, scholarship and artistic productivity in their disciplines.
One of the ways to do that is by seeking external funding, grant funding to help them todo those sorts of things -- the scholarship research, the artistic production and so forth.
I'm trying to be very active in calling tothe attention of faculty members opportunities for grant funding in their disciplines as I come across them.
The second thing that I have done is to enlist the aid of some professional assistance in thatarea, and we have retained a firm out of Washington, D.C., which specializes in assisting faculty in developing grant proposals and seeking outside funding.
The second thing you asked me about was something that I mentioned when I was appointed. I suggested that a tradition which exists in many other countries and in a few universities andcolleges in this country might be something that we'd like to try onat Western Maryland College. And that is the so-called inaugural lecture, the notion being that when a faculty member is elevated to the rank of professor, or full professor, as it is sometimes called, it would be appropriate for him or for her to give an inaugural lecture to the entire campus community.
I have suggested that to the faculty affairs committee, and there's a great deal of interest in it, and we'll see what comes of it. The first such inaugural lecture will occur sometime this spring, and it will be mine. I will be presenting tothe community a lecture either on some issue or topic or concern in higher education or, preferably, on something from my own research.
A large proportion of the faculty at Western Maryland is aging. Many professors were hired in the early and mid-'60s and are nearing retirement age. Do you foresee a problem in a few years with mass retirement? Are there plans to deal with such a time?
I just did a study for the academic affairs committee of the board of trustees on the graying of the Western Maryland College faculty. It is a concern, because there are a couple of bulges in the faculty age pattern.
One of them is in the age group from about 55 to 65, and those are the people who, in the next 10 years or so, will be retiring, or approaching retirement age. There is reason for concern, primarily because there is a national concern. There is reason to believe that there are not as many folks in the pipeline as there will need to be to fill those faculty positions as those retirements come up.
Frankly, I'm notquite as concerned as I might be, because although some substantial proportion, perhaps 43 percent of the faculty, will reach age 65 by the year 2005, the distribution is relatively well spread out. We're not going to see particular years in which 10 or 15 faculty members are retiring. It is all pretty much manageable.
There is no year in which there are more than about five people, and that may be the peak, retiring in any one year. I think that is manageable for the college, because that is spread out across a variety of disciplines and even if you add to them additional hiring for the normal kind of attrition -- failure to get tenure, people who simply leave for other reasons -- I still think that keeps us within a manageable range.
You mentioned some prospective problems in hiring. Are there disciplines that are harder to recruit people from than others?
Well, in the last few years it has been the case that in business, computer science,economics, it's been difficult, and we in the higher education community have had to pay a premium to bring faculty members in those areas, mostly driven by market forces.
Predictions are that there willbe, in the next 10 years or so, something of a shortage of faculty members in the humanities -- an interesting phenomenon. Nobody, I think, would have suspected that it would be so.
It may well be that it will be a good time to have a Ph.D. in philosophy or in history or in English -- the jobs will be out there and screaming for you.
I'm not overly concerned with that as a problem for us so long as we maintain our competitiveness -- our competitiveness in salaries and benefits, in the kind of supportive environment that we provide for faculty members.
Every college and university faces difficulty recruiting minority faculty members. Do you have a strategy in that regard?
Yes and no.
Yes, there is a game plan. The game plan is to try to make this as supportive an environment, as attractive an environment as possible for minority faculty members.
No, in the sense thatI don't have much hope for us as an institution. If you look at the demographics it's quite clear that the actual production of Ph.D.'s and graduate school products from the underrepresented minorities -- primarily blacks and Hispanics -- has been declining rather than increasing. And that means there are fewer and fewer qualified folks out there to hire, and the competition is increasingly stiff.
This college, I think, has a remarkable record, an enviable record, of recruiting minorities in administrative and staff positions at every professional level, and I think we are obligated to continue to sustain thatrecord. But, frankly, I'm very pessimistic about our ability to recruit minority faculty members.
There are calls for reform in pre-college education. Are there
some areas in higher education that need reform?
In higher education the period of reform is, in fact, I think, waning. The period of the last 10 years or so has been a majortime of reform in higher education. Revisiting the core curriculum, revisiting the canon, revisiting a number of other issues -- the roleof women's studies and feminism, the role of black studies and minority studies programs, the role of science and technology in higher education and so forth. All of those have been on the higher education agenda for a number of years.
Is there anything that you would like to talk about that we haven't discussed?
Well, how about them Green Terrors? This is the first time in 11 years that I've been in an institution that had a football team. It does a great deal for schoolspirit, institutional spirit. It certainly helps with one's visibility in the media -- no question about it. And I think it will help us in recruiting our freshman class for next year. I'm delighted with it.