Letter from the Faculty Executive Committee to HMC Students

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Dear students,

As elected representatives of the faculty, the Faculty Executive Committee sometimes functions as a voice for the faculty. Often that takes simple forms like updating language in the faculty notebook, while at other times it involves setting priorities and facilitating actions on behalf of the entire faculty. For the past two days, we have been wrestling with language to try to convey our feelings of concern and support for all of you.

We look forward to participating in a dialogue with you tomorrow at 5:15, but in the meantime we feel compelled to share these thoughts with you.

First, you are remarkable people who certainly deserve to be here. You are here because of your intellect, creativity, commitment to a larger world, and, yes, because of your work ethic. We know what a privilege it is to teach students such as yourselves, because we are consistently and newly impressed by you in our many interactions with you — in classes, labs, office hours, Clinic, co-curricular activities, and social events. You challenge us. You inspire us. That you have recently been made aware of statements that suggest anything other than this gives us pain, and we share in your feelings of betrayal. We are committed to your success and are confident that you will achieve it.

Second, regarding the Wabash study, the report focuses on three important areas of student learning and experience, each of which we believe requires a different kind of consideration and response. One set of observations in the report looks at student workload, another at the Honor Code, and a third at what the consultants described as a “divide” among the faculty in their attitudes toward students’ challenges and preparedness. On the first point, work/life balance, the report presents powerful evidence that some students feel overwhelmed by the workload and by its seeming never-ending nature. Those of us who have looked at this issue, both in the Wabash report and in other surveys conducted over the last few years, must confirm that this is a serious issue that demands attention and action. In our email of March 7, we look at some of the things we have done to date, and agree that more is needed. Similarly, the information gathered by the Wabash consultants about the Honor Code contributed substantively to recent work done by student leaders and faculty members to clarify and deepen the understanding of the Honor Code within our community.

While there has been near consensus on workload and the Honor Code, the faculty have not shared a similar consensus on questions of diversity and inclusion, although the conversations surrounding these issues have been more complex, dynamic, and evolving than the word “divide” might suggest. A small number among our faculty have expressed their concern that the admission of women and marginalized students has led to a lowering of standards, but a majority of faculty members disagree. One only has to examine student performance in a wide range of courses to see that the intellectual richness we love at Harvey Mudd has been enhanced by a diverse student body. Faculty teach classes that are as challenging as ever and see student success across all the lines one might draw. In the bluntest possible terms, we reject claims of any “lowering of standards,” not only because we wish to, but also because that is where the evidence takes us.

We also acknowledge fully that teaching a more gender and ethnically diverse student body requires reflection and re-examination of our pedagogy, course materials, and syllabi, and we will continue and expand on the work already in progress in these areas. We applaud the many positive steps that our colleagues have taken to increase inclusivity, to focus on equitable outcomes, and to involve student feedback in course design, such as the recent revisions of E79, CS5, and Chem23 (among others). In large part, these specific changes were instigated as a direct response to increased diversity on our campus, but they also reflect the commitment our faculty members continue to demonstrate to teaching excellence and innovation.

This is a difficult and demanding time for many members of the Harvey Mudd community. We look forward to hearing your thoughts during the upcoming forum, and we embrace the challenges that we face in making this the place you imagined when you chose to come here.

Patrick Little, Johnson Professor of Engineering Management, Chair
Erika Dyson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Nancy Lape, Associate Professor of Engineering
Susan Martonosi, Associate Professor of Mathematics
David Vosburg, Associate Professor of Chemistry
Ben Wiedermann, Assistant Professor of Computer Science